A Tale of Six Publishers – Part 1

Never do business with someone who threatens you

My novel publishing journey began in 2016. I’d had stories and articles published before then, almost all of which were business or neuroscience oriented. A few fiction pieces here and there, and only enough to keep me in the game, so to speak.

Prior that that, my publishing experience came from back in the days of Print (note the capital “P” Print). The late 1980s-early 1990s were my heyday, and specifically for trade-technicals (it was the height of the PC boom. Technical publishers offered book deals to anybody who knew how to program and could put two words together) and science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories and novellas.

My strengths were a powerful, engaging, authoritative voice, and a deep knowledge of my subject material.

These two things carried over into my fiction writing. I’m repeatedly told I have a unique, engaging, authorial voice and a deep knowledge of what my characters are experiencing (when the PC book market collapsed, I studied a variety of things. At one point people referenced me as a world-class neuroscientist, mathematician, … I heartily denied then and deny still all such appellations. What is does mean, though, is when my characters talk neuroscience, it’s real neuroscience, when a scene involves AI, it’s real AI, when my characters do anthropological excavations, it’s based on real anthropological excavations, …).

What all this comes down to is I had some expectations about the publishing industry. Said expectations focused on three critical issues I learned from my previous publishing experience:

  1. Marketing – how would the publisher get word of my book out to potential readers?
  2. Distribution – how would the publisher get my book into potential readers’ hands?
  3. Career Development – what would the publisher do to help me become a better author?

What I share now is how deeply erroneous those expectations were (although each was firmly rooted in my previous publishing experience), and why.

I’ll be covering five publishers who failed (and not due to unfulfilled expectations, due purely to a lack of business expertise, management skills, and, in two cases, downright deceit) and one who succeeded unexpectedly. I’ll post one per week starting today.

The first publisher under consideration approached me after receiving a prelim version of my The Augmented Man. Nice email, strangely worded, and a contract offer.

I replied asking if I could meet publisher’s principals (via Zoom) and they agreed.

…your surroundings tell a lot about you, your habits, your practices, who you are, what you are, your credibility, …

Rule 1: If you agree to a Zoom meeting, remember your surroundings tell a lot about you, your habits, your practices, who you are, what you are, your credibility, …

I remember looking around the publisher and realizing he was zooming from a basement. Not a basement office, a basement. The echoes on the call came from sounds bouncing off concrete walls. That wonderful wall of awards and such behind him blurred when he moved – which wasn’t often – so it was most likely virtual.

His lack of movement – including expression – concerned me. Perhaps a back problem? Perhaps some phagia inhibiting expression?

Except his language was defensive and he wasn’t forthcoming when I asked questions which, to me, seemed obvious questions to ask and necessary to doing business with any organization offering to produce, market, and distribute a product with my name on it:

  • What’s your distribution?
  • What’s your marketing?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • How many years have you been profitable?
  • May I see your business plan?

His answers – when he gave them – were revealing:

  • It’s too expensive to ship across the border (he’s based in Canada) so he fills his trunk and drives to shows in the US.
    Translation – he has little to no distribution beyond how far he’s willing to drive, and when he does, it’s to a show. He doesn’t distribute to bookstores.
  • He had a website and gives PDFs to his authors for their use.
    Translation – any marketing is the responsibility of the author, not him.
  • He was still in startup mode. Nothing wrong with startup mode, and be up front about it if you are. The goal is to instill confidence, not concern.
  • He hadn’t turned a profit yet. Again, nothing wrong with that and be up front about it.
  • No, I wasn’t an investor, I have no right to see it.
    Well…not quite.
    Whether or not a private business shares it’s business plan is their choice.
    But when you’re basically still a publishing startup with only a few books to your credit and won’t release sales figures for them, and when you have no marketing or distribution to speak of, and when you’re zooming from your basement, it’s a sign of good faith to let your possible authors know your business plans for however long you plan on publishing their book.
You’ll be sorry if you don’t publish your book with me!

But the real kicker came when I received an email informing me I’d be sorry if I didn’t give him the book.

Never, never, never do business with anyone who threatens you in any way shape or form.

For that matter, don’t do business with any individual or company or group when you’re not comfortable doing so.

Whatever the reason!

One editor threatened me long ago. She said if I didn’t accept her edits she’d have the publisher pull my contract. I was one of the top three trade-technical authors in the world on the book’s subject and a recognized SME. I received a substantial signing bonus which was non-refundable regardless of who pulled the plug.

I said fine, have the publisher contact me, and if the publisher didn’t contact me, I’d contact them.

No idea what became of the editor.

Do know my edits went in, the book was published, and it was on bestseller lists for quite a while.

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