Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sympathy Depression

Lately, it feels as if the indie publishing world is falling apart. Maybe it is, or maybe it's always been in flux and I'm just now realizing that Terra Firma isn't so firm. The plates are slipping and shifting in a subduction zone where big publishing houses push over the smaller ones and make them disappear forever. (Forgive the wording - we had a small earthquake today, so things like subduction zones are at the forefront of my brain)

Last year, one of the biggest distributors of books (read: wholesaler) went bankrupt. It survived, but many small presses were destroyed in the process. The fallout continues.Haworth Press, an academic press, owns the imprint Harrington Park Press which publishes many GLBT books. Haworth sold out to a bigger academic press, and according the their website, Harrington will be divested separately. That's the only news. So writer friends with contracts in hand are finding out, as I have in the past, that a contract from a publisher has little meaning if the publisher chooses to ignore it. Those contracts do not protect the writers. Friends with books that were supposed to be released this winter have no idea if their books will be printed. Friends with books already published have no idea what will happen to their books now. And of course, the employees of Harrington Park Press have no idea if they'll have jobs when they wake up tomorrow. It's possible that the imprint could simply shut down.

Early this year, when I was trying to decide which publisher to submit my novel to, I was tempted to go to Harrington. It wasn't the perfect fit, but the company seemed viable and published a good number of books every year. Many of the writers I knew had projects pending there and a few strongly encouraged me to submit. I know the editor and feel I could work with him. It was tempting, but instead I choose to submit to the publisher I thought was the best fit for my novel. That little sidestep around chaos doesn't make me feel any better though. Options are disappearing.

Even though they get little respect, e-published books are looking better and better. I have an e-published novel. It sells pretty well. Reviews have been incredible. I'd like to see it go to print though, because I feel it would do well with a male audience, and women are by far the biggest consumers of e-books. And then there's the snobbery factor. Many of the genre industry groups have declared all e-publishing to be equivalent to vanity publishing. In other words - not "real" published books. Heck, even print on demand books aren't good enough for them. Even though e-published books have been around for over ten years, these guidelines cutting of e-published authors from recognition have come down just this year. Strange timing considering that the big print publishers are adding e-publishing language to their contracts and are giving customers the option of purchasing e-books.

E-publishers have their problems too. Several have gone under. One did because it tried to get into print books and misunderstood the business. Others have simply been mismanaged. Writers I know are caught in the middle. It's coming to light that the owner of one e-publisher won't respond to emails, and several of their authors are openly questioning accounting for their royalties. One writer I know would love to walk away from that publisher and take her e-books to a different publisher, but escaping from a contract even when this is happening isn't easy.

It's been frustrating summer for writers. It's been disastrous for editors and publishers. I'm feeling it too. I can't even summon up enough energy to be the voice of reality when a writer posts a "If that's the way it's going to be, I'll just start up my own press," conversation on one of the forums I belong to. I can't even manage a snarky, "Terrific idea! And while we're at it, why don't we put on a play in the old barn!" I'm completely drained of energy. Is it possible to have sympathy depression?


Unknown said...

I'm one of Haworth's "about to be published" authors whose book may now never see the light of day. 8-(

I'm posting info in my lifejournal as I get it, both public info and personal correspondence.

People might want to keep an eye on my lj as a centralized place for updates.

Thanks for the supportive comments.
~ Stormy

Kathleen Bradean said...

Storm - You have my deepest sympathies. About three years ago, I sold my first novel, and I was in heaven for about three months. And then the publisher decided to fold that imprint and wouldn't honor the contracts. It took almost a year to recover from that blow. (Maybe longer. I'm just now thinking of submitting that novel elsewhere. It's as if it has bad karma attached to it.) It was a horrible experience. I suspect this situation is even worse for you, because you have no idea what will happen. At least I knew where I stood.

I'm so sorry that you're going through this.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the support. While I don't wish this on anyone, it is nice to know that someone else has had this happen to them.

Next time, I'm getting an agent! (If I can.)

~ Stormy