Not all of us can be published by the “Big Six” (which is now the “Big Five”.) So when we send our books to other publishing companies and get accepted it’s a time for celebration. Sometimes it’s even like we’ve found a home. We make contacts with other authors working for the same publisher and communicate, share, and help one another. We learn about the different types of editors, artists, formatters, and all the people involved who bring a single book to market. Our submissions may even get priority over those not “in the fold.” It feels like a community.
But what if that publisher ceases to be? Nightmares are possible. At the very least, there is heartbreak and scrambling. What happens to the books? Who owns the rights? What about the cover art? What about the editing? What happens to the readers? To the reviews?
The answers to those questions depends on the publisher and their sense of fair play. There are horror stories on the internet from authors whose house’s just dropped out of existence one day. With no certainty to rights, they couldn’t resubmit or republish their own work. Worse, some of the newly extinct publishers absconded with royalties due.
In my case, I was lucky. Yes, my publisher went out of business. Yes, I had to scramble to figure out what to do, but the publisher reverted all rights back to the authors legally— something of major consequence to every author. Cover art was a different story. We had to buy back our covers if we wanted them and that was if the artist even wanted to deal with the whole debacle. Not all authors had the option to retain cover art on their books.
Then comes the quandry: if an author resubmits, he or she loses all reviews and readership accumulated from Amazon, Goodreads, and other establishments. There is also no guarantee that another house will publish the book again. However, if an author self-publishes and puts the book back up with no changes, there is a chance that the reviews will “catch up” to the book, which is what happened with one of my novels. No mean feat because part of ownership required ensuring that the entire manuscript was reformatted to delete any trace of the previous publisher.
More of a blow to me personally though was the fact that I had quite a number of books out by that publisher and now, should I put them back out they will be listed as published by Createspace. Self-published.
There’s nothing wrong with being an indie-author. I chose it on purpose for several of my novels. However, I submitted other works under my previous publisher specifically because I had that publisher, so it feels like a defeat to describe them as self-published. Maybe I should pdf the contract for each one in the front, saying essentially: this once had a home. I know. Bitter much?
There is an upside, however. The fact is that the relationships you create under a publisher or in any authorial community can continue on. We kept the Facebook page up and the authors still talk to each other on it all the time. Some of the people formed a new publishing company. I published a book under the new company. My editor for many books from before remains one of my biggest supporters. When I grew so sick that I literally couldn’t fulfil the editing portion of my contract, those people stepped in for me. That kind of support and sense of morality is something magical. So, while the publishing company that gave me my very first contract no longer exists, the legacy it created through the people within continues on.
May all authors be so lucky.