I received some sad and disappointing news this week. Hindered Souls Press, who published my novel, Eat the Rich, has closed. (You can still purchase their titles on Amazon. Click the photo for the links:)
I think I’m most disappointed that you all won’t get to read Leo X. Robertson’s Jesus of Scumburg just yet. It was supposed to be released by HSP on Christmas Day. I’m currently reading it and I know it’ll find a new home. You can click the cover to read the early reviews and you’ll see why I’m confident this can’t be the end for this particular book.
This isn’t the first time I’ve gone down this road, as regular readers of my blog know, and I doubt it’ll be the last. HSP doesn’t deserve any negativity, though. While there wasn’t much notice, there is no confusion about rights, and HSP is allowing its authors to keep rights to cover art (which many publishers don’t do) and is sending all files pertaining to works published to the authors. It’s a shit situation for everyone involved, but it is what it is. I know that everything possible was done to keep HSP going, and I hope that maybe, a little down the road, maybe we’ll see it again. Anything is possible, so join me in crossing our fingers that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Mr. Tapia.
At first, I’ll admit I was really frustrated. Here we are again. I’ve killed another publisher. Of course, I’m joking. Obviously, the entire world doesn’t revolve around me. It should, but it doesn’t. And my shit luck isn’t powerful enough to cause problems for other people. God, I hope it’s not. It’s just an unfortunate and common occurrence for indie publishing. Most of indie presses are very small, with a tiny staff (if they have a staff at all) selling books in a niche market, so unless the person behind the press is extremely devoted or rich, the life expectancy of these publishers is often short. Depressing, right? For me, it’s particularly sad because most of the interesting, genre busting fiction I’ve read comes from small presses. This is why it’s so important that anyone who loves an indie author should support and promote the shit out of them. The only way we get new readers is if our current ones spread the word.
Anyway, after thinking on it for a day or so, I thought this is a perfect opportunity to share my experience with other writers so that if your publisher closes, you’ll have an idea of what you should do, once you’re through crying and breaking things. Now, I’m not a lawyer, so the legalities involved aren’t something I can advise you on. If you can afford it, consult with an attorney, particularly if the split from your publisher isn’t amicable or if you’re owed money.
If you can’t afford a lawyer and/or you don’t have an agent, and many small press authors don’t, it’s on you to protect yourself, your rights, and get what is owed to you. Sometimes, there’s not much you can do about the money. Cut your losses if this is the case, but the rest of it has to be dealt with.
First, get a letter from said publisher (an email will do, I’m told) saying that all rights have reverted back to you in regard to the works you’ve had published with them. Some will continue to sell said titles for the duration of the contract, so it’s important that all parties are clear on what happens after you part ways. The best and easiest ending is to cut ties entirely and immediately, and don’t be afraid to demand your work be pulled and no longer sold after the publisher is closed. When that’s agreed upon, in writing, follow up. Make sure that the publisher has removed your titles from all relevant outlets.
When I experienced this the first time, the titles published by my ex-publisher remained available for sale for months on Amazon and a couple of other sites. This was a problem, because for one, I couldn’t resubmit the books anywhere else as long as they were still in print. It was also difficult to publish them myself, because the duplicate titles credited to me was confusing for readers. Finally, if that book is still selling through the publisher (who is supposed to have closed up shop), then there’s money being made and it’s not going to you (unless you really luck out and are still being paid – highly unlikely). I never received a single royalty payment from that publisher, and I know the books were selling and had sold prior to its closure. I did try to get my money, but eventually, email accounts were shut down and I could no longer chase them without taking legal action. I had to decide if it was worth pursuing. In the end, I decided it was not and to look on it as a learning experience I could use to avoid such a disaster in the future.
During this process, you may have to send multiple emails, nag a little, but don’t back down. Demand the publishers pull the titles entirely, or pay you for their continued sale. Keep all correspondence between you and your ex-publisher, “just in case” things go south. Sure, you might split on good terms, but you never know what’ll happen down the line. Protect yourself, no matter what. Oh, and
And ask questions. Tons of questions. Even stupid ones. Check your contract thoroughly. Gather as much information as you can in the early days. Why is the publisher closing? When? Is it an imprint of a larger company? If so, the parent company may continue to sell the books for the duration of the contract after the imprint is closed. So, find out if your book will still be available to buy. For how long? How will royalties be paid? When will they be paid? Who should you contact in the future if the book will remain available? If it’s not going to be available, when will it be removed from retail outlets? When will your rights revert back to you? Get specific dates and don’t be afraid to be pushy (although not rude) and get the information you need.
Okay, let’s say the rights are yours again, books are off all retail outlets and it’s like this failed relationship never happened. What now?
Make a plan.
Do NOT bad mouth the publisher. I know, it’s the only thing you want to do. But when you’re feeling all,
You’re not in the emotional place to be vomiting any feelings publicly. Maybe try a little
and stay away from the keyboard until you’ve calmed down and sobered up. Then, you can share FACTS, but avoid name-calling and all that nastiness, because even if you’re in the right, it makes you look like a juvenile asshole. By all means, share your experience, but try not to be petty. It’s hard, I know, but we’re professionals. I wanted to rant and rage over a couple of really shitty things that happened to me, but I didn’t. Not publicly anyway. Why not? I looked at the bigger picture, and in that picture, the short-term satisfaction I may have gained by expressing my anger wasn’t worth the long-term consequences. Other publishers, who might be interested in working with you in the future, are still out there, and may see your tantrum and decide working with you isn’t worth the drama. Keep that in mind if you’re tempted to indulge in a tantrum. You’ll thank me for this advice later.
So, what’s your plan? Submit the books/stories somewhere else? Publish yourself? It’s up to you. I recommend you don’t just let your work die a quiet death. Someone thought it was worth reading, so do something with it. Re-vamp it, view it as an opportunity to create a new marketing gimmick, or just quietly put it back out there.
Now, sometimes a publisher closing feels like a personal failure. If only your books had sold more. If only you’d done more marketing for both yourself and the publisher, if only you’d seen this coming. If only you’d gone to that other place you considered submitting it to before signing with this publisher. If only, if only, if only…
Look, this is not your failure. Sometimes, it’s no one’s fault. Often, it’s poor management on the publisher’s end, but in some cases, it’s just the way the cookie crumbled and that’s that. However, you couldn’t have done anything to change the result. You did your job, wrote the book, did the edits, marketed your tail off, and you got a shitty deal. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. You tried, it didn’t work out, and you’ll try again. This is not about you, although it does feel very personal. Keep you head up and move on.
Learn from your experience. For me, there are usually signs a publisher is circling the drain. I didn’t see them at first, but it’s happened to me so many times now that I have noticed a pattern.
Publishing schedule dramatically changes.
I’ve seen this happen two ways: Sudden and noticeable increase/decrease in signed titles. With one publisher, it seemed like they were signing as many new books as possible, while others cut their new releases down to almost nothing. Both are indicators that the publisher is trying to save itself, either by selling as much as possible, or by cutting costs.
Of course, both could mean absolutely nothing. Maybe the publisher is doing extremely well. So well, in fact, that it can afford to release more titles, or it can afford to be more choosy. I think this is rare, though, and in the end, a dramatic change in the way your publisher operates is a red flag you should be aware of. There’s nothing you can do about the end result at this point, but you can start preparing for what you’ll do after you part ways.
Lack of or limited contact.
If your editor/publisher was good about answering emails, questions, etc. and suddenly goes radio silent, or takes days or even weeks to respond to your emails/messages, there’s something wrong. Maybe it’s not closing, but communication between an author and their publisher should be clear and easy. You shouldn’t have to nag your publisher for answers to questions or responses to your emails, no matter what the subject matter. If you’re having trouble connecting, there’s a problem. If this is an issue right out of the gate, I’d worry about the future of your relationship.
Most publishers, including small/independent presses, have a payment schedule in place. This schedule rarely changes without good reason. Some publishers pay quarterly, some pay twice yearly, some pay every month. No matter what their schedule, if it suddenly changes, that’s a red flag. If payment is late, or you have to ask for it, be prepared for bad news down the line. If a payment doesn’t clear the bank, also a bad sign. Even something as innocuous as changing the method of payment, like going from Paypal to cheque or cash in the mail is a troubling sign.
There’s not much you can do once shit goes south, so my advice to you is to be clear on the royalty schedule BEFORE YOU SIGN YOUR CONTRACT, so that down the road, you’ll notice when changes happen, and so you know when you’re supposed to expect money. Also, ask for invoices. A reputable publisher will provide some kind of record of your book sales for all retail outlets and the royalties earned, and usually, you don’t have to ask for this. If your publisher doesn’t do this, I’d be concerned. If you get hassled over requesting an invoice, be very concerned.
Finally, a major indicator for me that a publisher is considering packing it all in is a serious slow-down in their marketing efforts. This boils down to psychology, I think. I mean, it’s sad when you have to quit something you’ve put a ton of time and effort into, and I think for many small presses that close their doors, the knowledge that it has to happen occurs long before they finally pull the trigger. It’s a business, but for many of these people, the press is personal and depression may be a major issue in the final days. So much so that the idea of marketing anything is just too much for them. Why bother if it’s all crashing down anyway? You might think, well maybe they’d market MORE because they might try to save it. Maybe, but in my experience, the opposite happens. So, if you notice your publisher isn’t as active on social media or isn’t as keen to sell books as it once was, it could be a sign of trouble down the road. It doesn’t hurt to check in. Just a little email saying hey, what’s up? Everything okay? Maybe they’ll answer honestly, maybe it’s nothing, maybe you’ll get no response at all. Each answer will at least give you an idea of what’s going on.
And to be clear, any publisher that doesn’t attempt to promote its catalog and its authors is troubling. If yours makes no effort from the start, I’d be worried. Before you sign the contract, check the publisher’s social media pages and look for marketing terms in your contract (many include what marketing efforts are expected on both sides). If you don’t see a lot of action in terms of marketing before you sign, then you can discuss it before the deal is made or go another route.
Now, with all that being said, in my current situation, there weren’t a lot of red flags. One, perhaps, and in the past week or so, maybe two, but leading up to this point, there really wasn’t much to signal a problem. That’s because Manuel Tapia, who owns HSP, is a stand up guy, and decided to pull the trigger immediately, rather than drag it out. He is also attempting to take care of his authors. I wish more break ups ended as amicably as this one. I won’t get into the particulars about the reasons for HSP’s closure, except to say I believe that he is doing what has to be done and if he could avoid it, he would.
What’s my plan? Well, I’ll probably publish Eat the Rich again myself. Same cover, done by A.A. Medina (who also published Syphon, one of my favorites books of 2018 with HSP), and same story. As for The Man from Nothing, the book I recently signed with HSP for release next year? I don’t know. It’s a pretty niche kind of story. Weird, dark comedy. I’m not sure I’ll find a home for it, so maybe I’ll still release it myself in the spring. My plan isn’t formed yet, as I’ve only known about this for about twenty-four hours. I’ll keep you posted.
My 2019 publishing schedule is a little more “open” now than I care to admit, so I guess I’ll get back to submitting and see what happens. I’m pretty used to setbacks now, so while I’m going to lick my wounds a bit longer, I will keep chugging along. I have to if I’m ever going to convince you all I’m a big deal.
And if any of you go through the same thing, don’t get down. Not for long anyway. Dust yourself off, do what you gotta do, and keep being awesome. It’s a speed bump. Nothing more.