Friday, June 22, 2012

The Story Behind My First Ebook

     I thought I should have another rare blog that wasn’t about food, so here’s my account of Dead Reckoning’s history.
     I first began to get serious about writing in the mid to late 1990’s.  Like many authors, I went through many years, and many rejections, before my first sale, in early 2002.  Following that, I had some more, albeit limited success:  short stories in various small magazines, often only for a free copy(s).  There were a couple of magazines (“Morbid Curiosity” and the wonderfully named “Cthulhu Sex Magazine”) which I did find on the shelf in Tower Books in NYC, which was awesome.  However, my submitted novellas and novels didn’t find homes.
     In the spring of 2009 all of this changed.  A small ebook publisher accepted one of my novellas.  I won’t use its name, for possible legal issues, but the details which follow will probably make it pretty obvious.  I’d been burned by a scam agent before, so I was more careful this time.  I followed advice I found online and did some research.  The publisher had a decent reputation, and the authors who worked for it had good things to say when I contacted them.  (I did make one embarrassing mistake here—I chose names from the publisher’s author list pretty much at random, and as a result, accidently asked the owner what she thought of her own company through her pen name—whoops!)  Since everything seemed okay I signed my first contract, and was elated.  It was nice to finally have more significant news about my writing to tell family and friends.  I couldn’t wait to get started.
     Then months passed.  And still more.  I started to get a little antsy.  I certainly didn’t want to piss off my first publisher so quickly, by appearing high maintenance, but it had been about six months with no further contact.  Therefore I sent a brief email, essentially checking in and asking if there was anything I should be doing in preparation, say some preliminary editing.  No response.  I waited a respectable amount of time and tried again, this time using another staff member’s email address.  Again, no reply.  More time passed.  Periodically, every six months or so, I would try again, to no avail.  Now I was getting very concerned.  Granted, I was brand new to publishing, and I knew that sometimes publishers didn’t print books for a year or two after signing the contracts, but this was pushing it.  More to the point, a lag in publication would have been understandable, but to never answer emails at all seemed rude and troubling.  I continually checked the website, and it was still up and running, and everything seemed legit.  On a personal level, it was quite humiliating, too—friends and family had asked what was up quite frequently at first, then less so as time passed and I never had any more info.  I’m guessing some may have questioned whether I’d been lying, or had fallen for a scam again, etc.  I had paranoid thoughts about the latter myself.
     Finally, over two years later, I heard back from the publisher.  Sort of.  Actually I heard back from someone working with a sister publisher who was acting on behalf of my publisher.  This woman (Celina from Musa) explained that she was helping out due to the original publisher’s family and health issues.  But no matter—everything started to run smoothly.  I was assigned an editor, started choosing a book cover, began to devise taglines, blurbs, etc.  Perhaps most surprisingly, when I emailed questions, they were actually answered in a timely manner.  How refreshing!  My credibility was repaired, as I informed friends and family that now, after such a long wait, the book was finally coming out soon.
     Then, just as we were finishing up readying my book for publication, I got a strange email.  It was couched in vague terms, but the gist of it was that there had been some sort of disagreement, or falling out between the folks from the other publisher I’d been dealing with, and my actual publisher.  I didn’t know what to make of this, but I figured things were still going okay.  Everything was set, and my story was second on the “Coming Soon” list.
     Then it happened again.  The weeks passed, and my book stayed in second place, unpublished.  I once again carefully emailed the publisher to see what was up, and nothing.  Finally, after about six weeks or so, I contacted my book’s editor (again, from the other publisher) and learned crushing news:  My publisher was closed down.  Technically “temporarily”, but perhaps forever.  She nicely gave me the information to my publisher’s authors’ forum.
     This was a revelation, too, all of it negative.  My publisher (in this case, “publisher” refers to the individual owner/publisher) came off extremely poorly.  The authors reported unpaid royalties (allegedly up to a year in some cases) and complete lack of communication.  Personal things, too—words and actions that sounded literally crazy, all wrapped up in 1980’s televangelist-style religious hypocrisy.  Every day brought more messed up stories.  Much later, even allegations of reporting false tax info.  I realized, as bad as my experience was, it could have been much worse.  I’d dodged a bullet by a hair, since if my story had been published before this hiatus the legal complications could have been stickier.  The most important detail, though, was the news that if sixty days passed without the publisher being active, as per our contracts, our stories were ours again.  Emails and certified letters to the publisher formally asking to be released from the contract were, you guessed it, ignored.
     One again time passed, but on this occasion I eagerly counted down the days.  The two months were eventually up (on my birthday, too, how’s that for a coincidence?) and “Dead Reckoning” was mine once again.  More good news—Celina responded to my email by telling me that Musa was adopting the stories from the closed down publisher.  I was contracted, and put on the fast track to publication.  Since my editing had already been done (by the same editor, now working with Musa), aside from switching to Musa’s format we were basically finished.  And while my former cover was good, the new one was much better—excellent, in fact.  About six weeks after I signed the contract my book was published.  Well, six weeks, and over two and a half years, sort of.  Thus far, Musa has been nothing but very fair to me, across the board.  So this tale has a positive ending.
     Hope I don’t come across as being whiny—as I said, I’m well aware that some authors have had much worse experiences.  And in some ways, this experience may have helped—I got the bad part out of the way, so now things can’t help but be improved.

P.S.  To date, still no answer to any of my post contract-signing communications with my original publisher, with some emails being close to three years old.  Part of me hopes to receive a reply to one in like forty years, when I’m sitting in some rest home somewhere.  But I think I can be forgiven for not holding my breath.

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