THE COMPLETE VERY BAD PUBLISHERS, now in one handy linkpalooza HERE. These tales are lessons I learned from The SECOND worst publisher I ever worked with.
Anyway, this company is no longer in existence in the form I knew. It has completely shut down its trade divisions and only does “specialty market” books. It no longer publishes fiction of any kind and the people I once knew are no longer there. It does not use its old trade division name in any of its literature anymore.
There is no mention whatsoever in its marketing information or company history that it had ever published trade book lines or graphic novels. I guess they have decided to leave that bit of the past in the past.
And since they are no longer in any position in our market, and the people that once caused these problems are no longer there, I publish this tale as a warning to creators who might encounter these interesting contract difficulties elsewhere.
These posts were originally published about ten years ago, and cover my publishing history with this company up to 1989. The lawsuits mentioned further down began sometime in late 1990.
OK, this epic missive is a bit rambling and redundant, but what the heck. Here’s where all of the disparate elements come together.
When a publisher announces signing a contract for reprint editions of your book, sometimes it’s good news. Another publisher buys hardcover or foreign rights, you reach a new audience, and there’s a little bit more money in your pocket. Most authors don’t make much on foreign rights, but they still cash the checks, you know?
But expanding the audience with reprint editions wasn’t what was happening here.
I told you of how one day my old publisher had me in the office and bit my head off, told me I had no talent, and then told me to get out of the business.
Mere days later, I was his bestest little artist, like a daughter. He loved me and my work, denying everything he had said before. Either he had schizophrenia or something was up.
Something was up.
The publisher was in financial trouble and had been for years, sinking into debt before I even got there. They had been bought out by their printer quite some time ago because they couldn’t pay their printing bills and even though the long departed Woman claimed their graphic novel division had more gross revenue than any other division of the company, gross is nothing. Net is everything. The net was in the red and had been for years. (At one point, they had also sunk huge sums of money into a travel quide book scheme that had bombed badly. So, their GN division wasn’t the only trade book line that was sinking the company).
My publisher was pissed off because the printer/owner was pulling the plug on the trade division and he was about to be out of a job. He was not in a good mood, especially where flaky little artists like me were concerned. He had bet that we would bring in huge bucks with our graphic novels and save his company, and he had lost his gamble.
Only a few of the GN’s made any money. Yet some authors had received far larger advances than mine, including one comics artist who was paid $10,000 to produce about a dozen black and white illustrations and a color cover for a novel that only sold about 1,000 copies. While I was getting chump change, bigger name creators were getting big advances, but their books were selling less than mine was. The publisher was unable to figure out how the comics market worked and how to get popular comics creators from the direct market to sell in the retail trade (in all fairness, the rest of the comics market didn’t really figure that out for another decade either).
The printer/owner had a plan to continue to bring in revenue on those books that were still profitable like mine. Our printer/owner was working up a secret deal to sign our contracts over to another publisher, but had no intention of telling any of the authors about this. Only 12 authors were being bought out including me, because we were the only ones bringing in any real dough. We weren’t making any money on our books, but the publisher sure was. Most of the books were New Age books. I think mine was the only GN that was bought.
However, they had no right to transfer our contract agreements without our permission. Instead of contacting us for permission or to negotiate a contract sale deal, the publisher told all of the authors involved that only reprint rights to our books had been sold.
My publisher was glad to see the back of the lousy comic creators he believed had helped ruin his company when we failed to make him really, really rich (he lived the good life anyway, but he wanted a really, really good life), so he blew up at me in the office that day and got it all off his chest. However, when my publisher realized that my book was one of the ones picked up by the reprint licensor, he had to keep me happy so I would continue producing new volumes. A core feature of the secret contract sale was that the creators were going to keep producing new works.
So, the next time my publisher saw me, he was all smiles again. He brightly asked when I would have a new volume ready only days after he had told me to give up art for good. He had not remembered that he had signed all my licensing rights and black and white publishing rights back over to me. “I don’t recall that!” was one of his favorite phrases (right next to “Artists sell themselves so cheap.”)
The printer/owner had sold my entire contract to the licensor without letting the licensor know that there were virtually no rights left to buy, because my publisher had simply neglected to let the printer/owner know he had signed those rights back to me months earlier. So, one day it was “Get out of publishing!” and the next it was “I love your work and when are we going to get a new book?”