Saturday, October 15, 2011

Know When to Walk Away

You gotta know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run...  

Every Writer is The Gambler, playing for high stakes, betting their arrangements of words will be enough to win a hand or two--or The Big Tournament. But as the song says, you gotta know a few things. Sometimes it's when to ditch that phrase that just doesn't work, or an action you keep trying to force a character into that rings false, or even an entire project must be set aside for a better time. But what if the stakes are higher than that? What if what you need to know is when to walk away from a publisher and cancel a contract?

No, no! I'm not talking about Champagne Books--Relax!

I really debated about whether to blog about my recent experience. But you know, it's important for authors to remember they have options within the bounds of a contract--including the possibility of ending one.

I submitted a nonfiction mss to a publisher who may have overextended herself to the point of total paralysis. Promising to release a book within a certain amount of time encourages the author (that would be me) to begin marketing to target that time frame, such as printing promotional postcards, taking pre-orders, scheduling signings and talks with the notion that books will be in hand by the projected date, give or take a couple of weeks. It does not make for a happy author to 1) get no response to emails, and 2) be informed that said publisher now planned to "get to it over Winter Break." That could be reasonably interpreted as the book would not be published until after the New Year--missing the holiday gift season as well as all the previously mentioned scheduled talks. Timing is everything, and there are rare opportunities to promote this book during the next eight weeks that will never come again. I agonized, ranted and raved all last weekend and most of this week about what options I might have. As much as I hate quitting on anything, this arrangement was not going to work out. I asked to terminate the contract since no work had been put forth on it. After a rather snarky email the publisher agreed. 

I'm not unsympathetic. I understand problems come up. Crap happens. But I would think a publisher would have a moral and ethical obligation -- or at least plain old courtesy-- to inform an author of snags and time management problems. A week or two delay, okay; I might not be thrilled but I can handle that. But to go from initially stating it would take a month or so to get the book ready and published to saying it has to wait until you "get to it" sometime toward the end of December to even start? I think that merits an email at least or a phone call--especially when said author had informed you of all the marketing efforts and events she'd already arranged around the original projected release. Honest and open communication could have made all the difference (to the point I might not have blogged about it)  but what's done is in the past. We learn and move on.

Good news: another education-oriented publisher not only agreed to take a look at the project but sent me a contract within an hour of discussing it on the phone and is pushing the project forward with great enthusiasm. It is now not only likely but downright probable I'll have copies of this nonfiction book in hand in time for events I had scheduled for the end of this month.

Know when to fold 'em, when to walk away, and when to buy in on a fresh game with a new dealer.



Linda Rettstatt said...

I'm with you, Jude. Stuff happens and sometimes plans are taken out of our control But there is no excuse for the lack of communication and just plain business sense. As an author, I do everything I can to interact in a professional manner with editors, publishers, etc. I think it's fair to expect the same in return.

Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Linda. Courtesy goes a long way in cooperative endeavors! each experience teaches us something.


January Bain said...

Right on, Jude! Professionalism and courtesy on all sides is of vital importance.

Jude Johnson said...

Thanks January!

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

That had to have been a hard decision. I'm glad it didn't sap your energy, but rather spur you on to get the book out.


Jude Johnson said...

Thanks, Julie. Sorry I am late in replying - had to review the new proof!