When small presses go bad

I’ve been debating whether to write this post or not. On the one hand, this issue affects some fellow authors who are very dear to me. On the other hand, there’s a lot of anger out there — mostly being very politely handled, at least in public, to folks’ credit — and I didn’t want to be seen as adding to the noise or trying to drum up a lynch mob.

But then I thought, I’ve written posts explaining why I chose to sign with a small press rather than self-publish. And the issue I’m referring to relates to the small press that offered on Isla’s Inheritance at the same time Turquoise Morning Press did…so this one would cut a little close to home even if I didn’t know others who’d been affected.

What I’m talking about, if you hadn’t guessed, is a small press that went belly up this week.

Fortunately the authors in this instance are all getting their rights back, but will they get royalties owed? Nope. Will the cover artists and editors ever get paid? Nope.

There’s nothing about this situation that doesn’t suck.

I don’t know whether the owner of the press set out to scam people or just went into creating a company with blinkers on and not enough startup capital to pay the bills till the royalties came in. I gather from reading this post at Absolute Write (which I found the day before yesterday) that lack of starting capital and a failure to do the proper paperwork are the two biggest reasons small presses collapse.

One thing I took into consideration when choosing which small press to sign with, out of TMP and the other one, was how long they’d each been around. I read somewhere that most small presses collapse within the first two years of being established.

When they offered on Isla, the press that collapsed was about four months old.

There were other reasons, obviously, that I chose TMP. But both had lovely editors who were really enthused about the book. Both were willing to negotiate parts of the contract I didn’t love. I really could have gone either way.

Collapses like this one are likely to be enough to scare writers off small presses altogether. I’ve got to say, if I’d been with this other press, I’d be self-publishing Isla rather than risking going through the same heartache again. And I don’t blame anyone that does a bit. (In fact, given there were three separate books from this press that I loved and was waiting for the sequel to, I kind of hope they do!)

Anyway, in the interests of trying to come up with something useful to drag out of this mess, here are the things I suggest you look at when considering a small press:

  1. How long has the press been around?
  2. Look for them on a site like Absolute Write. What does the thread about them say? If there’s not a board for that press, start one. (This is a great place to research agents too.)
  3. Does the press have a decent sales record on sites like Amazon? They don’t need to have a list of bestsellers, but if their books all rank in the billions, that’s a bad sign.
  4. If there are free book samples available online, what is the editing like?
  5. What do other authors signed with the press say about what it is like to work with? Find one that’s been with them for a year or more, ask about the royalties and statements. Are they prompt?
  6. Do they offer any kind of marketing? (Most small presses rely on you to do the gruntwork, but obviously more is better.)

Are there other things you’d want to know before you signed with a small press? Please leave a comment and I’ll edit them in.

And to everyone who’s feeling down this week after what happened, I LOVE YOU!

Kitten hug

8 Comments on “When small presses go bad”

  1. I really hope the editors get paid. Just as a note! 🙂
    Nice post, Cass. As always 🙂

  2. nestpitch says:

    Congrats on finding the right mix of words to bring this topic to the general public while not condemning all Small Press – tough subject & given your connection to so many personally affected, handled with grace, compassion and level headed professionalism. ❤

  3. Kate Sparkes says:

    That’s so sad for everyone involved! This wasn’t one of my reasons for not going with a small publisher, but it’s quite scary. I like the advice you’ve given about making sure they’ve been around for a while before you sign. I know some people will say, “but SOMEONE has to be the first!” Sorry, my work isn’t anyone’s guinea pig project. I’ll keep your tips in mind if I ever decide to go that route.

  4. Great, informative post! I saw what happened this week and I’ve heard horror stories about small press contracts that go horribly wrong. As someone published with a small press myself, I’d definitely advise doing some of the things on your list (especially talking to other authors published)!

  5. […] may also remember how last month I wrote about a small press folding, and the authors who were left behind. S.T. Bende and Ull were among the many casualties of that […]

  6. […] Those of you who have followed me for more than, like, five minutes will know that I’m a big fan of Stacey Nash. She’s one of the co-founders of Aussie Owned and Read — it was her that invited me to take part — and she beta read Lucid Dreaming for me. She received her contract offer for Forget Me Not at the same time as I received one for Isla’s Inheritance. I was lucky enough to sign with Turquoise Morning Press rather than the doomed Press Which Shall Not Be Named. […]

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