It’s May. Since November I’ve been thinking of writing this article and have gone back and forth. For a long time I’ve been training myself to focus on the positive side of things and I try to live my life by those standards, sometimes unsuccessfully. But then there was this blog that I’ve been thinking of and it involves a lot of rehashing the past. But there’s a reason I couldn’t just walk away from it. Because there are people out there at this very moment making the very same mistakes I’ve made and I’m hoping that this can shine a light for them.
Let me start from the beginning. In 2013, just months after my very first book was released, I met a woman at an event called LepreCon. She told me she was a local publisher and I was amazed by how open and personable she was. It wasn’t the type of thing publishers were known for and certainly not what my publisher at the time was known for. We became fast friends and as a brand spanking newbie in the industry I hung on her every word. So many times she would tell me about how publishers only look out for themselves and how she was about looking out for authors because no one else did.
What’s not to love? I had decided at the time that I was going to self-publish my next book, Sun Gate, and went the typical route with Create Space. I raised enough money on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding campaign, to get it edited, published, and distributed. Looking back, to date, this is my most polished book and the only self-published full length book I had. This was red flag number one – if we can count hindsight as a red flag.
But, I was running into a lot of walls. Industry walls to be exact and having trouble getting into doors. This friend of mine, we’ll call her Miss. X, said she’d help me self publish my next book and help with publicity. Undead Winter, a novella I had thrown up on Amazon (I don’t recommend doing this – as I didn’t have it edited or cleaned up) stayed in top 100 of sales for over a week. This was huge for someone like me, who had no experience in the industry and no big name publisher behind me. Miss X had convinced me to turn Undead Winter into a full length novel. So, in the middle of writing Creed of Anu (The third book in the Bohemian Grove trilogy) I began and focused on writing Apocalypse.
I started another crowdfunding campaign when I had a published author friend of mine tell me that I was making a huge mistake. I listened. After all, she was published with a big publisher and knew what she was talking about, right? Wrong. Advice isn’t universal. It works for some and not for others. Lesson 1. You don’t have to take advice from people just because they’re more successful than you.
So, I paid Miss X to publish Apocalypse and edit it. I asked her at the time why she wouldn’t just publish it under her own publishing house. She said that authors didn’t appreciate her and she was burned. (more on that later) She also said it was expensive and she couldn’t afford it. I said that I wouldn’t mind paying for my own publishing costs if she wanted to be the publisher and help her grow her business.
For those that know me, know that I have an affinity for people starting businesses and doing what I can to help their entrepreneur spirit blossom. I consider it paying it forward. I’ve had people nurture my love of business in the past to help me become who I am and I felt that I wanted to pass that on.
Eventually, she decided to become a publisher and publish my novels. When Apocalypse launched, she wanted to throw a big book launch party at LepreCon (this is the following year) and I was excited. Have my book be featured at a con and have a big book launch party there? She had me pay for a hotel room suite in order to book a room. Her friend at the time, who built trebuchets, was going to do a big ‘launch’ with the trebuchet and make it an exciting zombie party for the book.
In the end, two of my friends were at Denny’s making popsicle stick trebuchets and Miss X’s friend was nowhere to be found. Red Flag number two. Miss X was nowhere to be found.
The book launch was a big fat giant flop. Red flag number 3. It was a lot of money down the drain and 2 people showed up. Fortunately, I had a friend there who taught survival training and made it more interesting – but this was the party’s only saving grace. No one knew about the party and Miss X was late. Red Flag number 4. And didn’t stay. Red Flag number 5.
I blamed myself. Of course it was a flop. I suck as an author, I don’t have anything to offer, no one knows me – why would I expect the book launch to be successful? So we moved on.
At this time, I had a short story available on Goodreads for free called Alice Hill in Silent Wonderland. It was doing well on Goodreads and receiving good reviews. I liked having this short story for free up there because it let readers get a taste of my books without committing anything big. It was driving them to purchase my other books out there. Miss X convinced me to pull this book down and turn it into the start of a short story series and she’d have an artist illustrate the cover of each book.
I should’ve asked how much this would’ve cost me. Looking back, I never would’ve done it. She said she could negotiate the artist to take royalties instead. Well, no artist wanted to only take royalties and frankly Miss X’s negotiating skills left a lot to be desired. She ended up pissing people off more times than not and never made her intentions clear. When they’d ask her a question, she’d dance around the question instead of answering it. On many occasions I was jumping in and trying to rescue the negotiation before people ended up hating us both. Red flag number 6.
We found an artist to do the cover of Alice Hill. When I was working with the artist, things were going smoothly. I loved her inspiration behind it and what she came up with was perfect. She was supposed to do panels for the inside of the book as well, but got too busy. She is a very busy artist, but part of me can’t help but wonder if she just didn’t want to deal with us anymore. I couldn’t really blame her if that were the case. But it’s speculation as I don’t think I’ll ever really know.
At this time, Miss X was talking about turning my books into audio books and having me read for them. I wasn’t thrilled about this because I was worried about the quality. An audio read can completely ruin a book and the best readers are expensive. But we decided to give it a try and started consulting with someone she knew. I met with the owner of the recording studio, we ran some tests, and I was surprisingly happy with what we got.
And then on the way back from Tucson Comic Con Miss X started talking to me about how she thinks the studio owner has the hots for me. I was so completely turned off by this conversation that it took everything for me not to want to throw myself out of the vehicle. I thought it was disrespectful on so many levels to me as a person and the fact that I’m a happily married woman. She said people were ‘talking’. My mouth fell to the floor. Talking about what? That some guy has the hots for me? I asked her why she didn’t put a stop to the conversation when it was brought up to her and she didn’t respond. It never occurred to her. Instead, she just let people talk. This felt like a betrayal to me, not only as a publisher, but as a friend.
“Don’t tell me what people were saying behind my back, tell me why they felt ok with talking to YOU behind my back.”
Red Flag number 7. I think this is when things began to turn south for me. That day, I lost a lot of respect for Miss X. It was childish behavior on top of being very unprofessional. I let her know exactly how I felt and even though she said she understood, I really don’t think she ever did.
So now, Apocalypse is published and so is Alice Hill. After begging for a contract for Apocalypse I finally got it 6 months later. Red Flag number 8. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was not reading through it. It’s amateur and idiotic and I made the worst mistake any business person can make. On top of that, I let her continue on with publishing my books without making sure things weren’t in writing. I trusted her as a friend. I know – I shouldn’t have. It’s advice I give others and I failed to follow it. Get it in writing. I never did. If I read through it, I never would’ve signed it. She was taking royalties on top of me paying for all my own publishing costs. More on my stupidity on this later, because it really comes and bites me in the ass later.
As for Apocalypse. It came out in print and it took nearly 4 1/2 months for the e-book to follow. Finally, in the fall, after asking her a dozen times, she said it costs a lot of money to put it on ebook for wider distribution (I wanted it on Nook and iBook). And I reminded her that I had already paid for that cost. Once I provided a copy of the receipt of where she had charged me 4 1/2 months earlier for this cost, the book was finally converted to e-book. Mind you, this entire time, I keep telling my readers that my ebook is coming soon.
(EDITED TO ADD: After reviewing my log, Apocalypse was published in May and the e-book wasn’t released until Jan 24th of the following year along with Alice Hill – which was late as well.)
Her complaint is she needs an Apple to convert the files and after 3 days of battling her on this (after all, I paid for this – why was this such an issue) she finally gets it completed after I send her several articles on how-to convert the files.
There was a contract for the Bohemian Grove Trilogy – she was going to take over all 3 books. I didn’t sign it. Why? Because she wanted to charge me so much to republish Bohemian Grove and Sun Gate after I had already spent a lot of money on these books to self publish it. Self publishing these two books (I eventually got the rights back to Bohemian Grove and self published it along with Sun Gate) cost me over $2000. What a relief that I didn’t do this.
I had a couple of other stories up my sleeve and Miss X had a lot of ideas for them, but the big one that was coming down the pipeline was Clusters: Case of the Missing. It was something I had been working on for over a year and because of the genre and subject matter, paranormal mystery, I knew it would be my best seller. I was going to shop this to an agent and get a big 6 publisher. This was actually something Miss X had advised me to do and I didn’t listen. I trusted her as my friend and she seemed to be passionate about my work. This is something i still give her credit for to this day, she gets passionate about her authors books and it’s exciting to see someone else love your work as much as you do. In the end, I think this is what clouded my vision and reasoning.
When I told her I wanted her to publish it we got to the drawing board. This was going to be the big book we were going to put 100% of our energies into and treat it with kid gloves. I dropped everything and focused on finishing Clusters, per her request, so that she could get it edited in time to be sent out before the Christmas season. She was having several ARC (Advance Reader Copies) copies printed up and was going to send it out to over a dozen newspapers and reviewers to have them review it. (Remember this, because it also comes back to haunt me)
Finally, in December, it’s nearly Christmas and not only are there no advance copies of Clusters at the ready, it hasn’t even been edited. She edits the book (herself, even though she said she was going to have an editor do it) in a matter of days and sends it back to me. 24 hours later she’s bugging me that it needs to be completed so I accept all the edit changes without a thorough review and cross my fingers that it’s edited enough.Red Flag Number 9.
I receive the ARC copies a month late.
I send them out to my own bloggers and several loyal readers. A couple of things that were part of our launch plan. 1. To have Clusters be available for pre-order on Amazon. 2. To have the early copies available to be sent out.
Miss X continuously told me she was having issues on getting a pre-order set up. Telling me that it’s only available to the Big 6 (the largest of the publishing houses) and not small press like hers. My question was, how is it self published authors can log into Amazon and click ‘pre-order’ as part of an option to set it up but she can’t? She said it’s not available to her because she’s a small press publisher. (Which I later found out wasn’t true) Red Flag number 10.
Finally, she said she figured out a work around. She would set it up as an order but the book wouldn’t be available to download until the day of launch. This wasn’t the solution I wanted because it showed up on Amazon as already available and released with the earlier release date, but she said I needed to accept it. So I did. Red Flag number 11.
Until 2 days later I’m getting emails from people saying how much they love the book. Great. I’m happy they love the book. But how the heck are they reading it? I tell her what’s going on and instead of being apologetic, she’s pissy at me. Also, she tells me she’s known about it for 2 weeks but there’s nothing she could do. Red Flag number 12. You know about something that’s going wrong and don’t tell your author? When I ask her why she doesn’t tell me, her response is “because authors don’t like to hear the truth.”
All of this is in written conversation as well. So I know I’m not remembering incorrectly.
*Please note, at this point in the blog, I decide not to continue on and put it in draft mode. Then, I get the edits back from Undead Winter back from one of my editors and she’s noticed that there’s a section missing from the book. I think it’s just the file I have so I check the print copies. It’s missing from there as well. Last week, I get Clusters back – and there are over 1000 editing mistakes that were misSed. ONE THOUSAND +. This is in the final printed copy.
So now I’m continuing with my blog post. There were so many editing mistakes caught in Clusters that when I get the file, it’s crashing because it can’t load all the edits in track changes. I have to split the file in half to review them. Red Flag number… oh hell, you get the point.
2015 – was the worst year of my life. My father got into a car accident, had an aneurysm, and has permanent brain damage. Our lives became consumed with trying to handle this being his sole caregiver. From medical bills, to understanding the level of care that was needed – it was a mess. Somehow, I still managed to get Anna Hyde in Jekyll Park and Z Resurrected out the door.
Let’s talk about Anna Hyde in Jekyll Park. Remember when I said it was Miss X’s idea to make the short story series illustrated? That sort of went out the door when we couldn’t get the interior panels for Alice Hill, so we decided at least the covers would be illustrated. So I went on the hunt for an artist. I found one, but learned my lesson that there’s different levels of artists and graphic artists and what works great for comics doesn’t translate well for book covers. Long story short, it’s the 11th hour and we’re still scrambling for an artist cover. I find some GREAT covers on Deviantart that would work perfectly and it’s only $80 to buy the rights on one of them. I show it to Mis X. and she says she can just put something together cheaper since I’ve already lost so much money on this cover. (I had paid artists to do the cover that we weren’t happy with – but since they did the work and it was really our end that we weren’t happy, I didn’t think it fair not to pay them)
Great – she can do the cover and I’ll reproach this again later when I was in a better frame of mind. (My dad was in the neurological ICU at this point)
She sends me the cover – it’s ok. I’m not thrilled with it in the least, but it’ll work and the feedback from others is pretty decent. It’ll do.
Then she sends me a $240 bill.
And I lose my shit.
Mind you, I’m in the ICU with my dad dealing with that. I pay the bill and say F#%( it. I hate the book. I hate the series. I’m done with my fairy tale books. I’m so pissed at this point that I want to throw in the towel all together.
But some stupid link in my brain doesn’t let me give up.
A few months later I design my own cover and tell her to change it out. I’m up front. The cover she did sucks. She’s a terrible cover designer but I guess I’m the first to tell her this. She prides herself on her graphic artist skills, but they’re actually pretty horrible.
Ok, let’s be real here. My own cover isn’t that great either. But I hate her cover and I don’t hate mine. Here I’m thinking she’ll give me money back, right? Because not only does her cover art suck, but the DPI is horrible and prints terribly. It’s just amateur. She refunds me something like $60. Big whopping woo hoo.
I guess she realizes at this point (probably more around the time Clusters went to hell) that I’m fed up with her. Fast forward to October. I’m still asking her for my contract for Clusters and the short stories and I’m basically begging her for my royalties sheet.
It’s the eve before Halloween and I’m getting ready to head down to TusCon. (She’s supposed to go with me) and I’m, once again, asking for my royalties report. It’s been over a year and I’ve never seen it. She tells me at this time she’s going to release me as an author and revert all rights back to me because she can’t ‘meet my expectations’.
I tell her I still expect to be paid.
She sends me a royalty sheet. Something a monkey could’ve done. It shows 8 copies of Clusters were sold in the last 6 months. EIGHT. A ding dong can sell 8 books in 6 months – especially a new release. I call B.S. on it. I know there’s more because Clusters was ranking well enough on Amazon. I can see book sales on Amazon just from my end. This doesn’t include several signing events and other platforms. So 8? Please.
She releases me October 31st. November 1st I sign up (at the suggestion of a friend) for a Book Bub promo for Clusters and it gets accepted. For 3 days in December they’re going to promote Clusters.
(Also, she returns all the books that haven’t sold yet – which is fine. But guess what’s in the stack of those copies? The ARC copies that she supposedly had sent out to a bunch of reviewers and newspapers. And… she’s charging me for these. These are copies I can’t sell because it says in big bold letters across the cover “not to be resold”. )
BookBub is a huge success. Over 2,000 copies of Clusters is sold in less than 48 hours. (Ok, it’s a success for someone at my level – for others it’s probably nothing)
During this entire time, me and my assistant Jamie have sent over a dozen emails, messages, FB posts requesting a proper royalties report. (She promised a more detailed one when I got the half ass copy in October)
Nothing happens. By January, my attorney is sending her a demand letter.
Finally, in March, I get a royalty report.
And I also find out that on top of me paying for 100% of all my publishing costs, that she’s keeping a majority of all the royalties, including all my sales AFTER she releases me.
I’m going to repeat this.
I find out that, even though I’ve paid for EVERYTHING out of my own pocket, she’s keeping the MAJORITY of the royalties – even AFTER she released me. This means those 2000 + copies of Clusters sold in December? She made a nice dime off of that and kept it. How does she justify this?
My attorney asks her to provide documentation of the reports because we still don’t believe the sales is accurate and that’s slicing how many books were actually sold. She said she’ll do that if I provide proof of how much money I spent through her.
Sure, no problem. I have that proof to my attorney within 15 minutes. It’s all the receipts she sent me of the charges she charged me. It’s not even my own documentation. I guess she didn’t expect I’d keep all the paperwork.
So then she turns around and tells my attorney that the reports are proprietary information and she considers the matter CLOSED.
In over 2 years and over 2000 book sales, after paying 100% of my publishing costs, including getting her contract with Ingram which then helped her with other authors, she gave me about $200. My costs were over $3000. That means, I made about .05 cents per book – roughly estimated on her own sales. (I still think it’s more sales than she’s letting on)
This is why I’m writing this. Because she’s still doing business as a publisher. I thought after being confronted by my attorneys she’d wake up and smell the coffee. Close shop and realize she shouldn’t be in business. But a few weeks later her publishing table is sitting across from mine at a book signing. Salt in the wound.
My attorney said, the next step would be a lawsuit. And I was on the fence with it. But honestly? I don’t think I’d win. And the reason being is because I never got those contracts. I screwed up. Ultimately, it really is my fault. I ignored the red flags, I didn’t get things in writing that I should’ve, and I didn’t ask the questions I knew I should’ve.
I learned a major lesson – but more importantly, I’m better off now. I started my own publishing company and thanks to the last 3 years, have learned a lot of what ‘not to do’. 1. I will never charge my authors a penny for any publishing costs. 2. A lot of the things i asked if she could that she said she couldn’t do because she’s small press? Turns out to be a lie. Everything that a big publisher has access to, so does a small publisher. So don’t believe anyone if they tell you otherwise.
I didn’t mention any names here because it’s not my style. And I know what you’re thinking, what if an author is going to sign with her? Well, it’s not hard to figure out who I’m talking about with a little research if someone really needs to. If they go to that extent, they can find out who it is and I suggest they do their own research. But for the every day person reading this – names aren’t necessary. But the lessons I learned are.
If me rehashing and pouring my guts out on the table here helps at least one person make the right decision then it’ll all be worth it. The only thing that still bothers me to this day is I really don’t think Miss X ever learned her a lesson – because I don’t think she ever thought she was in the wrong.
There’s a lot of ‘should’ve’s’ Should I have stayed with my first publisher? Should I have just self published? No. I’m thankful for the mistakes I made. I just don’t want anyone to go through what i did.
There are good publishers out there. I’ve met many of them and some are even local. They really are trying to do their best. But there’s a LOT of bad publishers out there. If there’s a red flag – please don’t ignore it.