The Contract that Almost Destroyed my Writing Career

 

Note: the post below is a true story and is a warning to new authors that there are businesses out there that do not have your best interest in mind. If you take nothing from this post other than to be wary of bad deals then I’ve done my job. Hopefully you will also take my advice and hire a lawyer for the reason you will find below.

After I wrote my first book in November of 2012 I began searching social media for other writers in hopes of networking and cross-promoting. I imagine most authors do this and discover all kinds of groups of Facebook and other social media outlets. A lot of these groups often become spam groups after a hostile takeover by overzealous “marketers”, but some of them are a goldmine for finding new friends and often collaborators. I have no regrets in putting myself out there, especially in helping my fellow author friends, but a series of interaction led to a costly mistake.
My first book in The Dead Planet Series was published in March of 2013. I shared the link all over social media (because that’s what I thought I had to do) and sold a few copies. I also gave a lot away for free too as part of my Kindle Direct Publishing Select program. The problem was I did not feel I was doing a good job on my own of marketing my book. Surely, after a couple of months I should have been making some money, but I was not. Feeling disheartened I turned to one of the Facebook groups I was in and asked about small press publishers. I was soon linked up with a small press that wanted to sign a contract with me based on the praise of another author (also under contract with them).
I’m not going to lie; the feeling of my book being wanted by a “publisher” was a high I had not experienced since I finished that first book. I hastily signed away my rights for print, eBook, audio book, etc for a five-year period. I was told to pull my book off of Amazon immediately and that they would provide me with a new cover, editing, and marketing; all of the things I thought I could not do myself. The sad truth is that my book was starting to build steam and get some attention. I had no choice in the matter, contractual obligation being as it is, so I took my book down and waited for seven months as my book was “prepared” by the publisher.
After the long wait my book was finally released. The publisher had taken my original manuscript and slapped a new cover on it, apparently my manuscript required zero edits which I doubt, and the marketing they promised me was a few tweets and a couple of Facebook posts. It was the same kind of thing I was doing on my own, but now someone else was making profits from my effort with a minimal investment. I tried on several occasions to contact the publisher, requesting changes be made. One of those changes was to have my correct name on the cover. Imagine my horror at the fact the Amazon listing had my name, but the cover had a different name. To say it looked amateurish would be an understatement. The cover did change, but nothing else did, I received emails from the publisher telling me that I could not request my rights back for a year and even then I would have to pay thousands of dollars. That was money I did not have and I was devastated; all of the enthusiasm of being published was Spartan kicked in the teeth and there was nothing I could do until my contract expired in July 2018.
Was it a bad contract? Maybe, but I thought I was smart enough to interpret it without a lawyer. My zeal was my biggest weakness and my ignorance had me facing the reality of having set myself back five years all because I jumped on a sour deal. There is a lot of things I could blame for this unfavorable deal, the fact the contract was not met by the publisher, the fact I took another author’s word in regards to the legitimacy of the publisher, but the truth is I only have myself to blame for signing a contract and putting my work in jeopardy. It is easy to say I would not sign the contract if I had it to do over again, but that is hindsight looking back.
If you are starting your writing career then you have to be smart. Signing a publishing contract is legally binding and is not something to take lightly. I should have taken the contract to a lawyer and I advise anyone else to do so as well. Another good idea would have been to seek out the other authors signed to the publisher and ask questions about their experiences. Most authors are open to discussing their experiences with others, whether it is a positive or negative experience. Had I done either of those two things it very well could have saved me from making a poor decision, so please think about that before you sign your rights away.
For those of you wondering what the situation is like now, I have good news. The publisher closed its doors and reverted all of the rights back to the authors it had signed contracts with. Knowing what I know now, it is highly probably that the publisher had the right intentions, but bit off more than they could chew on the business side. If I had one piece of advice for authors seeking to publish with a small press it would be this: do not sign anything without a lawyer reading it first and do your homework, know what the publisher will do for you and what is expected of you as well. Your writing career is yours to protect, don’t let a contract destroy what you’ve built because not every story ends with a happily ever after.

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About

I am an active duty Navy veteran and self published science fiction author. I grew up in Mississippi and joined the navy at seventeen. I now live in Virginia with my wife and two daughters.

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7 comments on “The Contract that Almost Destroyed my Writing Career
  1. I clicked ‘like’ but that is not the sentiment I feel on reading this. It’s actually bloody frightening to think where all your hard work could have ended up.
    As an author about to put out his first novella, this makes me think I did right by trying to get some traction by self publishing. Like you say at the start, it’s hard and soul destroying at this point, but I think the long game will be the way to go.
    Thanks for this, Drew.

  2. Oh dear. At least your work is back in your hands. As Steve says, it’s frightening to think what could have happened.

  3. That’s unfortunate, glad it resolved itself, and I can understand the rush of being sought after as a writer and getting hyped about a contract.
    I bet plenty have fallen for that trap, there are unscrupulous people all over the place, and the ebook world seems to be an attractive space for rogues to operate in.

  4. captainjaq says:

    Glad it all worked out in the end. I signed a contract like that for a film script and was stuck for 36 months. A costly mistake but at least something was learned 🙂

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