Authors in Our Midst/Writers Chatting: Chapter 17

Welcome back!  We have another guest author and book to highlight. Hope this finds you writing away.

Today we will hear from Frankensteinbeck and he details some harrowing publisher experiences. But not to worry, he’s got a new book out. Rag Dolls

What would you do with an enchanted kingdom of living puppets? Would you look for adventures, or enjoy the sights of a stranger than strange land? Would you rest and make friends in this one safe place, or build new wonders for the next child who needs a refuge?

Would you rule?

Would you smash your toys, because the outside world hurts?

Two girls have come to the land of Here and There, and a little doll named Heartfelt was the first to meet them both. Sandy wants to heal and create, but doubts herself. Heartfelt has to help her believe, because Charity has no doubts at all. In the process, maybe she’ll ask the question no one else has—what do dolls want?

Now his story:

This morning, let’s talk about one of the bad sides of the business, because everyone can use the warning.

I had a publisher.  An up and coming small press, who took awhile to figure things out, but eventually did and were solid and heading up.  I was living off my royalties, which is a rare honor and joy.  Then, very slowly, things went bad.  My publisher started being late paying me.  At first, they would say my checks had been sent and they had no idea what happened.  Then they stopped paying by check, and their explanations why did not make sense.

Why am I telling you this?  Because I have found out afterward that this is very, very common.  If you deal with a small press, even one that treats you wonderfully, you have to keep an eye out for the symptoms.  In the case of my publisher, they spent all their money on an insane scheme to replace Amazon with blockchain.  I assure you, it was actually stupider than it sounds.  But way too often something goes wrong with a publisher and they start stealing from the authors to try and recover.  It doesn’t work.  If you see the signs, start looking for a new publisher, fast.  You got one, you can get another.

More symptoms.  People who used to be very responsive and helpful got slower and slower answering emails, and would evade direct answers.  The publisher’s staff, which had been growing, started to shrink.  The cover artist quit.  For awhile, they would miss payments, but eventually make a payment plan and catch up.  When I wouldn’t take bitcoin, they offered PayPal, which I didn’t like but would accept.  A check bounced.  Towards the end, even the payment plan would be missed.

Public symptoms.  Other authors started to complain about paperbacks not coming out on time.  The company stopped doing advertising – temporarily, of course.  Everything was temporary!  A major backup set in publishing new books, because the owner had to do cover art himself.  It took a long, long time for anyone to openly complain we weren’t getting paid, but it turns out to have been common.  We were just too professionally polite to go public about that.

Eventually, they mysteriously failed to add my book release money to my monthly royalties, and I had to pitch a fit to get them back.  So they just didn’t pay the money they admitted they owed me.

With the help of the SFWA, I have gotten some of my money, I am likely to get all of it, and I have my rights back.  I still have not gotten audiobook royalties switched to me.  I have a new publisher, and a new book coming out, A Rag Doll’s Guide To Here And There.  I went through a year and a half of Hell fighting to get my money and watching the career I’d built my life around nosedive.

You need to know this happens, and it happens often.  If you get suspicious, don’t stick around because they used to treat you well.  There is no un-circling that drain.  Get out.  Find someone new.

Don’t be me.

Thanks to Frankensteinbeck for sharing his story. Now on to our chat.  I got terribly behind this month and am trying to get back in the groove with mixed results. What’s going on in your writing world?

Let’s get to chatting…






59 replies
  1. 1

    I am in the middle of repairing the patio door screen after Scout went through it last week (adventures in Great Danes, never a dull moment). I’ll pop back in after. Hopefully, Frankensteinbeck will also show up to chat.

  2. 2

    I’m here! I wish I had a happier tale to tell, but people need to be warned.

  3. 3
    Daniel Price says:

    A local seller of used books had been selling Excruciverbiage titles on consignment but abruptly closed for business. The seller was kind enough to give a week’s notice to allow collection of unsold books and paid for copies sold (not many, but not the zero that I had expected). The closure is disappointing, as the store in previous summers had hosted local authors and their printed works as all-day outdoor events. Additional creative marketing is required of me and I have no skill with such, alas.

  4. 4

    @Frankensteinbeck: Thanks for being so open about this. Sometimes it’s hard for writers to hear what’s going on because nobody wants to get a reputation as a difficult author. I’m so glad you landed on your feet, though it apparently took some acrobatic moves to stick that landing. Rag Doll is on my kindle.

    This week, I got a rejection on a short story I have a fair amount of confidence in. I find it hard to write short stories, but I like this one. I sent it out again. I also got a new review of The Wind Reader on Amazon, so that was nice. And this afternoon, I’m participating in a local library author’s fair. I usually sell 1 to 3 books at these things, which isn’t much but boosts my mood.

    The tech drawing my blood this week told me her son is studying to be a writer but will get a teaching degree to support himself until he starts making money as an author. I fervently said “Good for him.”

  5. 5

    @Dorothy A. Winsor:
    I did land on my feet. Rag Doll is selling pathetically so far, but it’s proving the truth of something I learned before: To succeed small press level, you need books to sell each other. The more you have out, the more you’ll succeed. If this round of agent hunting doesn’t pan out, I’ll give Supervillain to Crossroad. Besides, I twitch with guilt every time someone asks me how to get them.

    Rag Doll is on my kindle.

    Yay! Leave a review after you’ve read it! EVERYONE LEAVE A REVIEW. Of every book from an author here! Reviews are so, so useful to us. If you get more than 50, Amazon treats you much better.

  6. 6

    @Frankensteinbeck: I think it’s a very important story to share and I’m so grateful you were willing to share it.

  7. 7

    @Frankensteinbeck: Cripes. 50 seems like a moon shot or something.

  8. 8

    Yikes, Frankensteinbeck, that’s awful! Glad to hear you’re getting it resolved at least.

    I’m working on five short stories right now for an anthology, four with different co-authors (it’s a round-robin collaboration format). So that’s interesting. It’s going much better than I would have guessed, though. I’m getting along with everybody at least.

  9. 9
    debbie says:

    I’m sorry to hear about this. I’m glad you have a new publisher, but small presses can be very flaky. The publisher I worked for started distribution for small houses, hoping it would help the bottom line. They started phasing out distribution after about five years because the headaches, lies, and scheming just wasn’t worth the effort.

  10. 10
    Brachiator says:

    Not a writer, and know just a little about business, but not the world of publishing. This part stood out for me.

    With the help of the SFWA, I have gotten some of my money, I am likely to get all of it, and I have my rights back.

    I have dealt with vendors before who were having problems and who tried to pass those problems along to me.

    But the idea that they rights to your own work could be tied up with the fate of your publisher, that’s just extra crazy.

    I’m glad that Frankensteinbeck was able to get this resolved.

  11. 11

    I’m off to the Gail Borden Library in Elgin IL. Come seem me if you’re around. Back later.

  12. 12

    @Brachiator: Frank may mean distribution rights, not copyright.

  13. 13
    Ruckus says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:
    A harrowing story of business life. And not all that unusual. I have two major stories than I’m not going to repeat here, having nothing to do with publishing. Failure of one kind or another, often through no fault of your own, is more common than a lot of people think. And often people don’t jump into something like writing because the fear of the unknown and/or of failure is strong and people feel like they put themselves so far out there that a failure would be a total disaster. And it often is. But then again one can often get through the tough times and try again. Because really, what else is there but trying to make what you know work?

  14. 14
    Frankensteinbeck says:

    @Major Major Major Major:
    While I meant distribution, Curiosity Quills had ALL of those rights, including any future Supervillain related books. It’s why I had to start something new, although now that I have, I am LOVING You Can Be A Cyborg When You’re Older.

  15. 15
    Ruckus says:

    @Major Major Major Major:
    I believe that’s what he wrote some time ago. Isn’t distribution everything in publishing? If publishing isn’t done well all the great writing in the world won’t mean much.

  16. 16

    @Dorothy A. Winsor: Right?! I’ve sold quite a few books (more than I ever expected) but reviews are like mining for gold. I’ve offered giveaways, treats, begged…sigh.

  17. 17
    Brachiator says:

    @Major Major Major Major:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    Thanks for the clarification. And again, glad things worked out.

  18. 18
    Barbara says:

    @Daniel Price: My daughter went to a college in upstate NY and over at least one family weekend, the local library had a local authors’ festival, with a few talks and lectures along with book signing. A lot of people attended and I found at least two new authors I have been following since that event. It is just an idea.

  19. 19
    debbie says:

    @TaMara (HFG):

    Have you participated in Goodreads’ giveaways?

  20. 20

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    Curiosity Quills had ALL of those rights, including any future Supervillain related books

    Ah jeez!

  21. 21
    JoyceH says:

    Any other self-publishers here? I’m writing the third book in my series and really dragging my feet about publishing the first one. I think part of it is fear that it won’t sell well, and part is intimidation about the marketing aspects. My self publishing groups are all about your book “campaigns” with marketing and newsletter swaps and audience magnets and street teams, and Excel spreadsheets to evaluate the effectiveness of your ads, and I’m just like… geez!

  22. 22
    joel hanes says:

    The Nielsen-Hayden’s blog “Making Light” used to be a great forum for this kind of problem.
    But for the last four or five years, new threads have been very rare over there.

  23. 23
    Daniel Price says:

    @Barbara: I much appreciate the suggestion!

  24. 24

    @debbie: I haven’t yet, because I wanted to wait until book 2 of the trilogy was done – more content and all seemed like a good idea.

  25. 25
    Daniel Price says:

    @JoyceH: The books of cryptics are self-published; there is no mass market for such. A friend has pursued a different route, but her deal with the publisher required her to purchase and attempt to re-sell hundreds of books.

  26. 26
    Miss Bianca says:

    Just sitting over here writing in my corner of the world – it’s instructive hearing you all talk who are farther along in the process. I have a published romance writer in the cast of the play I’m directing – she gave me two of her books, which I enjoyed! – and I have a feeling the poor woman is going to have to endure some “sooo…how did you find an agent/publisher/how are you publishing now?” kinds of questions at some point.

  27. 27

    @JoyceH: I was stuck in that kind of loop for a year after book one was done. And then something clicked and I said the heck with it, hired an editor, a proofreader, cover artist and after several rewrites, hit the publish button. The marketing stuff can come later- just get yourself published – then decide what marketing works for you.

    You’re going to make missteps and have some surprising successes and all that will give you the confidence to take the bigger steps.

    And go listen to John Grisham talk about his failed start of a journey and take comfort in that.

  28. 28
    Ruckus says:

    @TaMara (HFG):
    Sounds like any business.
    Do your homework, dive in and give it all you’ve got and find out if you can connect to the customers.

  29. 29
    Citizen Alan says:

    What experiences have people had publishing through Amazon/Kindle?

  30. 30
    oatler. says:

    Martin Amis’ “The Information” is a pithy take on the book biz, though it came out before Kindle and the like.

  31. 31
    Steve in the ATL says:

    What happened to the regular Sunday “golfers in our midst” posts wherein we could brag about shooting low nineties, if you don’t count all the mulligans?

    Steve having a post-round bottle of Caymus at [name of club on Lake Oconee redacted]

  32. 32
    Aleta says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: If you deal with a small press, even one that treats you wonderfully, you have to keep an eye out for the symptoms.

    Good description of symptoms and the backstory, and useful for other work and internet interactions too.

    Some thoughts that came up: If one recognized symptoms early on, how would one leave? Do small publishers typically offer an escape period or conditions under which a writer may leave? Are there typical end-contract clauses in most contracts, or are they usually no help in this kind of situation? Before entering a contract, what kind of clause for ending should one look for? What kind might be a warning sign to avoid?

  33. 33
    Aleta says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Don’t golfers get to play through all threads? .

    “bottle of Caymus” yum. year?

  34. 34
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Aleta: 2015. Our third one of the weekend. Normally we drink Conundrum on the afternoon and Caymus in the evening, but sometimes we get crazy!

  35. 35

    @Steve in the ATL: jeez, can’t you wait until the Drinkers in our Midst thread instead of derailing this one?

  36. 36
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Major Major Major Major: they’re all open threads!!!

  37. 37
  38. 38
    J R in WV says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    …they’re all open threads!!!

    Most all the threads are open threads!

    I never understand folks who tell us they have something to tell us, “but I’m gonna wait until there’s an open thread.”

    Just type it already…

  39. 39
    Frankensteinbeck says:

    @Aleta:
    Escape clauses are common. Ours snuck in a clause where they could charge us for all services. $500-$1000 per book. That is rare and I didn’t even know to look for it.

    However, when they don’t pay you on time, they are in breach of contract. It all goes out the window and you can start demanding an out.

  40. 40
    opiejeanne says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: I just checked for your books on Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and the Please Don’t Tell series have some interesting prices, from $576.89 to $899.99 for a paperback copy. The hardcover is a bargain at $94.84. The e-book option has evaporated.
    I bought and read them on nook and left you reviews on Amazon starting when your first in the series came out.

  41. 41

    hallo. In my personal good news category, I am a Semifinalist with the Florida Writers Association’s Royal Palm Literary Awards this 2019. In the Short Story-Published category, my work “The Pumpkin Spice Must Flow” which is part of the Strangely Funny Vol. 5 anthology. Blog flog link here.

  42. 42

    @opiejeanne:
    Yep, because with me separated from my previous publisher, they’re all taken down. The paperbacks are now damned scarce. I’m amused they’re selling for high prices, though.

  43. 43
    opiejeanne says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: Thanks for being willing to talk about this. I really appreciate the information in case I ever finish the rewrite of my book. I really have only a vague idea how to proceed when I get to that point, but this is a help in what to watch out for.

    I’m avoiding working on it because I think I need to remove a couple of chunks of it that I like. That’s aside from a necessary rewrite of a freed slave character that is going to take sensitivity that I don’t know if I possess. I don’t want readers to feel like I’ve candy-coated her story. She’s a strong character, based on a real person who grew up in similar circumstances, but I think I need to veer farther away from the white version of her story and give her more opinions at an earlier age.

  44. 44
    opiejeanne says:

    @Frankensteinbeck: Is there a hope that you can get the rights back for that series?

  45. 45
    JoyceH says:

    @Frankensteinbeck:

    The paperbacks are now damned scarce. I’m amused they’re selling for high prices, though.

    A friend told me that when you see used books listed at crazy high prices, unless they’re genuinely rare and collectible, that’s usually a front for money laundering. I don’t understand how money laundering works, but that’s what I was told.

  46. 46
    opiejeanne says:

    @PaulWartenberg: Congratulations!
    This top 10,000 blog has lots of writers. Not sure if that’s surprising or if there’s something about being a jackal.

  47. 47
    Daniel Price says:

    @JoyceH: Likely less about laundering and more about algorithms; scarcity of a title prompts the software to raise the price (as in: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=358)

  48. 48
    opiejeanne says:

    @JoyceH: Charging $900 for a book seems like an inefficient method to launder money, but what do I know?.

  49. 49
    Karen S. says:

    @JoyceH:
    My wife and I write and self publish LGBTQ romance, sci-fi, and paranormal books. We started self publishing five years ago. We make about $300 to $800 a month from our books, enough to cover most of our monthly bills, which makes us happy. Our lesbian romance and paranormal stuff sells the best, so we devote more time to that. We don’t spend a lot of money on marketing mainly because we don’t have a lot to spend on it. It’s become harder to gain traction because there are so many books published every day, especially on Amazon. Most of our books are available wide at Kobo and Smashwords in addition to Amazon. We didn’t like the idea of being completely dependent on Amazon. We write the best stories we can, get the best covers we can afford and make it easy for readers to buy the next book, if it’s a series, by including links to the next books that will take you to the online retailer where they’re available. We want to start having audio versions of our books made, but we haven’t taken any concrete steps toward that yet.

  50. 50
    Brachiator says:

    @Daniel Price:

    Likely less about laundering and more about algorithms; scarcity of a title prompts the software to raise the price

    But this is crazy because scarcity is unrelated to demand.

    Makes me wonder whether algorithms gone wild could have a similarly stupid effect on stock or commodities trading.

    OTOH, I would like to see bookseller algorithms find a happy medium in making books more widely distributed and authors getting reasonable payment. For example, I think that more digital copies of books should be available at libraries.

  51. 51
    opiejeanne says:

    @Daniel Price: That was a fascinating read, and so are some of the comments.

    I recently bought a copy of Mark W. Geiger’s book “Financial Fraud and Guerrilla Violence in Missouri’s Civil War, 1861-1865*. The price range on Amazon and B & N was insane. It’s out of print but I found a hardbound copy for under $15 on Amazon, and it’s in new condition, but that was after wading through offers of the same book in less good condition for $90. That high price has disappeared but it’s hovering between $40 and $60 now. The pricing doesn’t appear to have been the result of the extremes described in the article.
    *It’s a book that resulted from the author’s doctoral thesis, only interesting to a narrow readership, and the 300 page thesis is available online for free. The book is a bit more lively than the thesis, and has interesting illustrations.

  52. 52
    Bill Arnold says:

    @JoyceH:
    Here’s the earliest ref a brief search found on money laundering using Amazon book sales:
    http://fortune.com/2018/02/22/.....ks-amazon/
    That particular case was self-published books but it’s probably varied. Here’s another; the comments describe various sorts of bad behavior:
    https://news.slashdot.org/story/18/07/16/2038217/amazons-curious-case-of-the-263052-used-paperback
    Sometimes, though, the book is just rare and desirable. (e.g. I’ve payed double cover price adjusted for inflation for a used book.)

  53. 53
    JoyceH says:

    @Karen S.: I have a series already published on Amazon but they’re Regency romance, which has a pretty established readership. What I’m doing now is historical fantasy, still in the Regency, a Jane Austen variation with magic. I know the variations have a market, including fantasy variations, but I just don’t know how big the market is. And I’d like to expand outside the Austen market, but wonder if the Harry Potter fantasy fans will tolerate the digressions into Austen style comedy of manners. I hope so, because it sure is fun to write!

  54. 54
    opiejeanne says:

    @Bill Arnold: There is a book that is worth thousands because of its scarcity and it is precious only to the “small” group of people who appreciate Terry Pratchett’s writing. It was a paperback sampler with (I believe) short stories that was handed out at a sci-fi con in the goodie bags of participants. I can’t remember the name, but a friend owned a copy and had no idea what it was worth. She happened to bring it to the first North American Discworld Convention to have Sir Terry sign it.and I made her go back to her room and look up the value. She just about fainted. She got him to sign it, which increased the value by quite a bit. She handled it more carefully after that.

  55. 55
    Miss Bianca says:

    @JoyceH: I just finished “The Dark Days Club” (and subsequent sequels) by Alison Goodman, which is totally YA Harry-Potter-meets-Jane-Austen (or Georgette Heyer, I should say), and at least judging by the number of Goodreads reviews I read, it seems to have quite a fan base!

  56. 56
    JoyceH says:

    @Miss Bianca: Well! That’s encouraging!

  57. 57
    Aaron says:

    aspiring author here: any advice on which publishers to pitch my lefty political ideology book?

  58. 58

    @Aaron: trying the Sanders wealth plan?

  59. 59
    Mnemosyne says:

    Sorry I missed this thread, but I was actually, like, writing yesterday! I finishing up my entry for an RWA contest.

    @Karen S.:

    You should look into publishing on the iBooks platform as well. They seem to be making a big effort to attract authors and make them happy right now.

    @JoyceH:

    Three words: Mary Robinette Kowal.

    Yes, there’s a market, and it’s a pretty big one since “traditional” fantasy readers will often read fantasy historical romances. Make sure to use the right Amazon keywords, though.

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