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Publish or Perish

The paths before me are intimidating.

I have the full, 2.0 version of the fifth entry in my Night's Dream series finished. Once my beta readers give me their notes, it could be done in a month and ready to go to a publisher.

The problem is, I cannot give it to my current publisher (whose name I will not use here, so don't be a snitch). I should not have given them my last book except I was more hopeful/desperate than reasonable. When they fired their editors as a cost-saving measure, months later deciding that maybe publisher should have editor, I should have read the typos on the wall. I've had one superb editor while with them, Patricia LaBarbera, who edited Danse Macabre and Artificial Gods. I would not publish a novel without it having been professionally edited and would be apprehensive to read a book that went directly from an author's Word file to print.

I am not writing this to impugn my current publisher and will always be grateful to them for giving me my start. However, they are not the right fit for my future books (too expensive to buy copies top sell, no publicity, lower royalty percentages than similarly sized houses, seeming to be shifting their focus from publishing to offering publishing services, using CreateSpace to print the physical copies of my last book rather than their previous vendor - something I could have down on my own and which makes me look amateurish).

Agents reportedly won't pick up a series in progress, especially if each entry didn't sell ten thousand copies. Since 2012, when I started keeping track, my best-selling book is a bit over one percent of that. Collectively, all my traditionally and self-published books since then amount to around 1300 copies in the world in total. This is not nothing, but it will not entice an agent looking for a big score. I am known on the internet, Google awarding me a box identifying me as a novelist and Amazon Alexa answering that I am a contemporary author of fantasy and horror, but I am not the sort of famous that will make agents and publishers solicit me.

My publisher's submissions page is closed for the rest of the year, which is the first time I have seen this happen. I do not suspect this is because they were buried with outside submissions but because they are applying a tourniquet in order not to bleed out. I do not want to be on the roster of a corpse. Other authors signed to them say the publisher is "regrouping," but that is hardly reassuring from a business that once discontinued having editors and eliminated the solitary publicist they once had (though I do not know how much good a publicist did).

Three of my books are out of contract, though they continue to be published by this house because I have not told them to stop. Flies to Wanton Boys is under contract for another three years, but I do not doubt that my publisher would be fine canceling my contract, since it has only sold twenty-seven copies that I am aware (because I was the one to personally sell them at events). I am an insignificant proportion of their sales and they will hardly notice I am no longer there.

Based on professional forums I have visited to check the temperature, my publisher's prestige in the literary world wanes. It was once a badge of honor to be signed with them. Acclaimed authors praised them, but that time seems to be a decade in the past. Now, this badge looks rusty and I am not sure if keeping a place on their roster will count against me.

The best thing I could hope for would be another, larger publisher buying them out to increase their own catalog, but it is more likely that my current publisher will transition into exclusively doing publishing services and will void the authors' contracts, as is their stated right.

Counterintuitively, one method for saving my series is to stop writing it for a while. Instead, I need to finish one of the unrelated books I have begun (and I am in the process, though I am on an early draft of a literary novel). With a great deal of luck, I can then get an agent using this bait and then revive my series somewhere else where it will be better appreciated.

There is a chance I could get another publisher to pick me up, circumventing the need to go through an agent, and that might get me a better deal or better distribution. I would certainly be more prestigious than going from being a traditionally published author to a self-published one.

I would lose clout going from indie to self-published, but it is a possibility. If I did switch to self-publishing, I would revise my books, both for content and style - these last few years have demonstrated a marked improved of my style and skills. I would be able to have covers closer to my mental picture of the story (I could bring Shane back to a flat chested bookworm too modest to wear the belly baring shirt on We Shadows). I would earn a far larger proportion of each sale and be able to buy my books for events at a far greater discount. I could set the price to a more competitive rate. I could buy advertising, knowing that I am the one who will profit from it instead of an indifferent publisher. I would have a much better handle on how many of my books are sold, rather than waiting years between royalty statements and trying to reconcile what my spreadsheet and their statement claim. It would be a leap of faith and decidedly more work. However, at present, I am doing almost all the work and reaping few rewards.

No matter the path I take, I cannot see one that would keep me with my current publisher, if they even exist as a publisher by the time I am ready to take this leap.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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