The road to publication is long and, sometimes, fraught. And in the context of a constantly changing writing and publishing industry, it is all too easy for unsuspecting authors to fall into traps. I did.
As many of you would know, my previously self-published novel, Fake Profile, was picked up by a small publisher operating under a traditional publishing model at the end of 2013, and released in August 2014.
Those of you who follow this blog would also know how exciting that was for me. The work that goes into writing a novel is such a small part of the whole story, and for many writers, a publishing contract is validation that the effort was worthwhile. I was no different.
After many unsuccessful submissions to publishers, I released the novel myself. I had a cover designed; I wrote a teaching program, complete with resources, to accompany the book; I designed and developed and printed a schools information sheet, which I then mailed out to English departments. Basically, I worked really hard on getting the book out there. And it paid off. Fake Profile started selling. It sold well. It sold so well that I started struggling to keep up, particularly as I got further into my PhD studies, and had to balance employment, PhD, and writing, with maintaining the momentum of book sales.
When the publisher picked up Fake Profile. I was so excited! I was not under the illusion that I could back off from promoting my book, but I (naively) thought that at least I might now have a bit of support to do so. The contract was sound; I was happy signing it.
The publisher asked for the teaching program I’d written, but I told him I didn’t want to sell it, I wanted to give it away free-of-charge with every class set of books sold. In hindsight, this was a good move because schools then had to email me to ask for it, and in doing so, told me how many books they’d ordered. It meant I had a bit of an idea of sales.
An early indication that something wasn’t right came when I received the first statement of sales and royalties, and only two book were recorded. I knew this was incorrect because I’d already had requests for the teaching program from a school that had ordered 30 copies.
But I gave the publisher the benefit of the doubt and simply reminded him about the other sales. I heard nothing back. For months. The next statement due date came and went (six months) and I emailed again to get an update. No response. Another few emails, another seven class set sales later, and still no response. I started getting worried.
I contacted the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) for advice. They were fantastic. They had a look at the contract, confirmed that the publisher was in breach of his own contract, and advised on a reasonable but firm course of action for a dissolution of the contract under its own terms. As a result, the rights of my book were returned to me.
But still no royalties.
The ASA suggested I notify the publisher of intent to lodge a dispute in the small claims court to recover the royalties. I did this via email, and (surprisingly) received a reply telling me that they could not pay the royalties because the business was in trouble.
I suspected that this may have been the case, and, being a reasonable person who understands the nature of an industry in flux (it is, after all, the basis for my PhD study), I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Again. He told me that I would be paid eventually (though provided no payment plan nor any indication of when or how that this might happen). Nevertheless, I decided not to proceed with the claim lodgement. I could wait for my royalties.
Today, I got the shock of my life, and was really challenged to confront my own readiness to trust and/or give the benefit of the doubt. Today I was told that MY book, the book that I had written, the book for which I had received a mentorship award from ASA in 2010, the book that I had worked so hard to get off the ground and get out there – was on Amazon as being co-authored by me and SOMEONE ELSE.
At first, I was confused. Who is this person and why is their name of MY book as a co-author? I investigated a little further, clicked through to the actual entry, and unpacked the listing. MJ Ormsby is named as the illustrator. Strange, as there are no illustrations in the book. Fake Profile is a YA novel but NOT a graphic novel. There are NO pictures at all. Except for the cover.
But that didn’t make sense either. I had paid a graphic designer to design the cover back when I released the book myself. And the publisher used the same cover, albeit with a few minor adjustments to the files with which I’d supplied them. Surely they wouldn’t have claimed authorial credit, either writing or illustration, for that!
But I was wrong. That was exactly what the publisher had done. The listed co-author was a member of the publisher’s team. And they were claiming authorial credit.
I was gutted. I felt betrayed. I had trusted this publisher. I had given them the benefit of the doubt throughout the whole period they’d had the book; against my better judgement.
And they took advantage of that. Every step of the way. I’ve asked them [again] to take the book down. But typically, received no response.
I’m at a loss. I don’t want to give up on this book. I’m conflicted about my next course of action.
What would you do?