I have a very cordial relationship with several smaller publishers. We wrangle about how much money they can't advance me, and we duke it out over contracts, but we are generally pals.
I was talking with one of my publisher pals this week, and she was fresh off a phone call that, when she relayed the gist to me, took my breath away.
An author, published and in print with several hundred books in the warehouse, has found himself out of print, all rights reverted, we're done, thank you very much.
How? One too many "fuck you"*** emails. I didn't get the specifics, I was reeling from the sheer stupidity of someone saying that. Then the publisher reminded me, no he didn't say it. He emailed it.
The very definition of stupidity.
Here's the thing. Publishers aren't obliged to keep your book in print at all. They can revert all rights to you this minute, and take the book out of Books In Print, out of the Ingram data base, and not fill orders, and baby that's all she wrote.
It's not a violation of your publishing contract. It's not even a violation of the law. Publishers are not obliged to sell books if they don't want to.
Now, mostly publishers don't do this. There's an immediate and a long term financial hit. It's not a profit-based decision at all.
I've never seen a large publisher do this. Large publishers have reservoirs of staff to draw on. Make one editor crazy, might be you'll get another. Make your publicist crazy, you just don't get your calls returned.
But a small publisher is frequently the editor, the publicist and the marketing manager rolled into one. Too many pissy emails and you're reaching your quota not just for the day, but for the entire life of the book.
Small publishers don't make a lot of money. They do value their independence, and their ability to make their own decisions. They don't need permission to pull the plug. They can just do it.
So, one value of an agent? If you're the kind of person who flies off the handle or needs "translation services" an agent is a good medium between you and the publisher.
Another is we can save deals like that by smoothing things over sometimes.
And bottom line? I've been so angry I've said some things I shouldn't have. Hot angry words have fallen out of my mouth like lava from a volcano. Three minutes later though I recovered myself enough to say "wait, I said some stuff I shouldn't have. Let me cool down. Let's regroup."
You can recover from stupidity but you have to do it promptly and it has to have been SAID in the heat of the moment.
There's NO excuse for emailing that kind of intemperate language however. I'm sure none of you reading this blog would ever do such a thing...would you?
But just a word to the wise. Publishers can pull the plug on a published book, and leave you with nothing. I've only seen it happen twice but it does happen.
***a little youtube presentation on The F Word courtesy of my pal Lesia!