Some years ago I published several non-fiction books under a pseudonym with a major publisher. Then I decided to “retire” and learn novel writing. To my utter and complete amazement they are not the same. (Who knew?)
The question is, my contract obliges me to give my old publisher right of first refusal on my next several books, which I am certainly ready to do. I want to honor all my obligations. But the publisher has cut off all communication. They ignore e-mail, so I sent a s-mail letter and it came back unopened, marked “Refused.”
I have a smoking and steaming pile of drivel here ready to submit. I am convinced this book will sell better than covered wagons at a NASCAR convention. But is it OK to proceed?
The editor I used to work with is dead from cancer, and the other people I used to know there have all moved to parts unknown due to the musical chairs nature of publishing. So there are no current inside contacts.
You've left out the key piece of information: are the non-fiction books still in print, and for sale? Are you receiving royalty statements? If the answer is yes, then your contract is still in force.
Check your royalty statement for contact information and get in touch that way.
If you are NOT receiving royalty statements, make sure your books aren't for sale. If they're selling your books and not giving you an accounting, you have a bigger problem than the option book.
The bottom line though is you need to send a registered letter to the publisher, and I mean the person who is the publisher, not the company, to start the option period ticking. If they have 60 days to respond, it's 60 days from receipt of your letter. If they reply, good. If they don't, you're clear.
Generally you can find this person and the correct address on the website under Legal Notices, or Contact us, maybe even the Press Releases page. If you can't find it, email me with the particulars and I'll take a look too.
And I'm puzzled about how the option covers "next several books" rather than one, but I guess that's a tale for another night at the bar.
With all the mergers and acquisitions and general craziness in publishing in the last ten years, this problem is much more common than you think (and I like.)