Thursday, January 26, 2017

My publisher is imploding. Should I mention that in my query?

I was published by a small (but for a time respected) press, which is currently in crash-and-burn status. Victoria Strauss has written several posts about them. I signed with them using a literary attorney, as I was unagented. (I know, I know, but there was a contest, and I was querying agents at the time) Anyway, I managed to get my rights back to my books, and am moving on.

As I prepare to query a new, unrelated ms, I am at a loss as to whether I should mention this prior publishing experience. It's my only writing credit, but it's not particularly impressive, given what's happening. I would be grateful for any insight into what I should do. 

A publisher's implosion doesn't reflect on you. If this is your only previous publishing credit, it's worth saying something like "my debut novel was published by Asbestos Underpants LLC, which is now doing a spot on impression of a five alarm fire."

Most of us pay attention to Victoria's blog posts about publisher woes. A lot of the agents you query might very well  have clients in the same pickle.

I have a lot of sympathy for writers going through these kinds of experiences. I tend to read their queries more carefully for just that reason.

Far from leaving it out, it will help you to include it.



Theresa said...

Wow, bonus post! Or is it my computer?

No, I wasn't surprised by Janet's answer, but it was nice to see it spelled out.

Colin is in NY!

John Davis Frain said...

Color me surprised.

Both with the bonus post that says 7 a.m. so I'm thinking it showed up 12 hours early AND with the answer. Pleasantly surprised on both fronts.

But even with all that surprise, my biggest emotion is sympathy for you, Opie. Experience is a tough teacher, but it's a good one. You're better off now than you were, and with Janet's answer you're possibly in even better shape than you thought.

Good luck to you. Also, congratulations on your success in spite of how things have turned out ... so far.

Craig F said...

Op, you will be fine, except for the querying part. You made it there once and the path is already known to you. It is a shame that you stepped into a gator hole so close to the far bank but you didn't drown or be pulled under.

So go back out there and sic'em tiger. Even agents will be pulling for you.

CynthiaMc said...

That's great to know. Craig is right. Those gator holes are sometimes impossible to spot and deadly, but you made it. Wahoo!

Sometimes it seems the worst thing you can do to kill your career is sell a book.

Don't mind me. I'm on week 2 of the respiratory infection from hell. But hey, I'm still breathing and today I just may feel well enough to write.

CynthiaMc said...

That's great to know. Craig is right. Those gator holes are sometimes impossible to spot and deadly, but you made it. Wahoo!

Sometimes it seems the worst thing you can do to kill your career is sell a book.

Don't mind me. I'm on week 2 of the respiratory infection from hell. But hey, I'm still breathing and today I just may feel well enough to write.

AJ Blythe said...

Woot, I picked the correct answer. A publisher going under is different to having low sales, but still, what a terrible situation to find yourself in OP. At least there is a little silver lining to be found. Best of luck with finding a new home!

Colin Smith said...

This is tough, Opie, but there's hope. As others have already said, you have gained some valuable experience and some street savvy. Also, Janet says this situation may work to your advantage when querying. At least you may have some agent sympathy. Which I could do with today as I venture into the Reef... 8-0

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Snorkel man enters the reef
News at 11

OP, you are actually in a better place than those without the angst you've been through. It's called experience. Experience is a great learning tool. Sharing your experiences can sometimes open doors otherwise closed.

Oh and Colin, take a deep breath, you're swimmin' in the big pond, with the big fishes today.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am surprised but pre-coffee and all. Still, looks like it is not nearly the end of the road for our OP.

Colin Pictures. Lots of pictures. I am studying sharks in their natural habitats. In particular, their feeding frenzy behavior. Best of luck. :)

DLM said...

The sense I developed early on in educating myself about the publishing industry is that it also is a COMMUNITY. With real, actual people who often know or know of one another. Who have sympathy for any part of the business which is suffering or collapsing - and the people affected.

OP, best of luck! Very glad to hear you got out with your rights; as others have said, you could be in a good position right now. It's probably good *for you*, too, that the new work is unrelated. You're in a fresh place, ready for a new day. Hope it's a good one!

Megan V said...

Feel better soon Cynthia!

Best of Luck Colin!

And OP,it sounds to me like you know what you're doing. Best wishes to you as you return to the trenches.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I wish I had something useful to say other than that I'm sorry, OP. That's a tough situation to be in. I'm glad you got the rights back, at least!

K. L. Hallam said...

I'm in a situation where I worked on a MG book with for a year with a small publisher, and just as it went to copy edits the book (and its option) were cancelled (along with other 50 authors). I have my right back. So while no agents wanted to touch it, it's now being considered by another mid-sized publisher.

Meanwhile, I'm querying agents with my YA (completely different genre) and I don't think it necessary to mention my cancelled book, correct? And thank the heavens for Victoria Strauss, who reached out to me during my crash and burn offering words of wisdom. But it sure feels like you have a mark on your work once a publisher drops you. Thanks for this post. Timely, as your posts often are. Thanks, Janet.

CynthiaMc said...

Thanks, Megan!

BJ Muntain said...

OP: You sound like you're ashamed of not having an agent when you signed. Don't be. Granted, having an agent is ideal, the absolute best thing to do... but like traditional vs. self-publishing, it's only one path. An agent can be very helpful, but you got legal help with your contract, so you were covered that way. (I know an agent does so much more, but not everyone can get an agent.) You have nothing to be ashamed of.

Having an agent doesn't mean that sort of mess won't happen to you. As Janet said, many agents have clients in the same boat as you, OP. Publishers go under - some with a whimper, some with a cry of indignation, some with anger. It sounds like, out of that mess, you did the best you could - you got your rights back. That's not always easy, so congratulations on that front.

Cynthia: Feel better!

Colin: NYC isn't so bad. Don't block traffic on the sidewalks, and you'll be fine. New Yorkers can be very nice - if you don't get in their way. :)

Beth Carpenter said...

Cynthia, hope you're better soon.

OP, I'm glad you got your rights back. Best of luck querying. You seem to have a professional attitude. I predict success.

Kate Larkindale said...

A similar thing happened to me with the small press I published my debut with going bust a year later. I had already signed with my agent by the time that happened, but I'm still dealing with the fact my book is available on pirate sites all over the place (and it's impossible to get it taken down), and not anywhere legit anymore. So people are reading it (and leaving reviews on Goodreads), but I'm not making a cent.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Thank you for posting this. The answer did surprise me, and it's good to know.

Karen McCoy said...

I hope you feel better soon, Cynthia!

BREAKING NEWS for the 2Ns HEADLINE: Snorkel man enters the reef ahead of schedule, but is stymied by avalanche of books.

More at 11:30.

Casey Karp said...

What everyone else is saying.

And also, take the fact that you sold that book in the first place as a confidence booster. The fact that you've got a publication credit puts you ahead of a huge portion of the Querying Horde. (OK, yes, you've lost the "Debut Author Bonus" but you've got the "Someone Thinks You Know What You're Doing Bonus". That's nothing to sneeze at, especially on top of your sympathy points.)

Steve Stubbs said...

I am a little confused about the pub history bit. I assume your query begins with a few well chosen sentences that persuade any sentient person you have a gripping story that simply must be repped. If you follow that with a paragraph that says in effect, “Oh, by the way, I have a pub history that sucks, and here is the reason why,” it seems intuitively to this observer that could motivate the agent to hit the REJECT button. In the interest of full disclosure you would probably want to share every sucky thing you can think of with your agent, but you might want to wow him or her with the full first.

Of course if the agent is tech savvy and has heard of that beast called google, s/he may come back with, “According to google, someone with your name published a novel with Chapter Eleven Publishing, and they went out of business. Then the following year someone with your name published a novel with LOL, LLC and LOL went out of business, too. What’s this?”

The solution to this is probably to reduce your risk by publishing with the Six Sisters, and bet that they are less likely to go under than the small but respectable firms. If you publish six books with six different companies that all went bust after printing your book and your first name is Jonah, people are likely to get superstitious. Your books could be great, but Buttonweezer Scribbling, Inc. might be afraid of you.

Nobody wants to do business with a Jonah, Joinah.

If the Sisters reject your book, you could set it aside for the time and write something else.

Best wishes with your project,

Lucy Crowe said...

Victoria Strauss is a find, yay! And writing, querying, publishing is all an on-going learning experience. Personally, I am really hoping for an agent next time around - don't know that I will even try to publish without one, having been burned before. Thank God for sites like this one, where we can all hang out and learn the ropes.

roadkills-r-us said...

Opie- way to stay in the game!

Cynthia- I'm glad you're still breathing. Hope you got to write today.

Colin- it's been ~20 years, but my favorite thing about NYC was making eye contact with people and saying, "Howdy!". A lot of people looked away or glared back at us (two Texas boys). But the best was a woman who almost started crying and hugged us. She was from somewhere in the south, and was just dying for someone to talk to- preferably someone with an accent closer to home. She was a traditional deep south gal, and an extrovert to boot, and the NYC personal walls felt like rejection to her.

Claire Bobrow said...

This is 100% OT, but Colin: I just learned the Metropolitan Museum of Art has started a workout class in the museum (!!!) every Thursday morning before opening. Fifteen lucky souls get to parade past peerless works of art and sweat. There's even a literary connection. The soundtrack for the workout "...mixes audio from author and illustrator Maira Kalman with 1970s tunes from Elton John and Sly & the Family Stone."

If you're still there on Thursday, just sayin' :-)

ps - thank heaven for Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware. And our sharkly leader, of course!

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