Adventures in Publishing: The Small Press Edition

Written by A Guest Author

by: Samantha Bryant

I didn’t think it would get as bad as it did. In fact, at the outset, I imagined myself the heroine of a fairy tale, the newly crowned princess–or, rather, published author. But fairy tales are seldom as simple as they seem, and “happily ever after” is sometimes quite short lived.

When I signed with Curiosity Quills, in 2014, they were a small press with a decent reputation. I had become frustrated with the glacial process to a non-specific “no” from agents and larger publishing houses, so I was seeking a small press home for my work. Having worked with small presses for short story publication in anthologies, I liked the responsiveness and the personal touch.

Before I submitted my work to Curiosity Quills, I did my research. Writer Beware didn’t have anything to say then (but they sure do now!). A trusted author friend spoke highly of his experience with them, giving me a personal recommendation. The terms of contract compared favorably with what I’d gleaned of other small publishing companies’ offerings. Several of their titles were performing well on Amazon and the covers looked professional.

That first year went well. Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel came out on time, as promised.  My editing and cover negotiation experience had gone smoothly. The book sold well for a debut by an unknown author. Royalties were regularly paid.

My book release party at Flyleaf Books, a local independent bookstore, was a rousing success where all the books the store had ordered sold and I had to give them more out of my personal stash on commission. I was on my way to making a career of my writing. The marketing team was responsive and helped arrange events, interviews, swag, graphics, and other tools to promote my book. They even obtained a BookBub deal for my book baby.

There were warning signs by the second year, but I didn’t yet see them as such. This was, after all, my first rodeo, and I wanted to think the best of the company that had given me my first big break. But production was slow on the second book, with long gaps in communication. I didn’t have ARCs in time to use them to build buzz before release and then–horror of horrors–they failed to produce the paperback copies in time for my book release party!

So, I stood in front of a crowd of friends and well-wishers at an event that had been months in the planning, with no books to sell them. I was crushed.

Things went downhill quickly after that. Editing for the third book was incompetent, which slowed my release date. More cover troubles meant no paper copies on release day–this time I had not planned a release event. I’d learned not to trust release date promises. Royalties stopped being paid regularly and email responses were slower and slower and slower.

I still like to think that Curiosity Quills had good intentions. They grew too far too fast and took on more titles than they could support, but the team really believed they could pull out of this tailspin and get back on track again. But, by 2018, it was clear they wouldn’t, whether they wanted to admit it or not.

Other authors reported the same problems and worse–no paperbacks at all, a year after the promised release; misspelled words on the cover; promised edits that were not applied. The products became shoddier and staff began to jump ship at alarming speed. The owners seemed to be ghosting the authors–simply failing to respond to inquiries and disappearing from social media.

I held on a good, long while. Stubbornly hopeful I suppose. My writing suffered. I flailed around on several projects, completing nothing, when I’d been producing a novel a year for the past three years. I couldn’t work on my Menopausal Superheroes series anymore; I couldn’t trust the publisher to do well by the work. My morale was low and my stress high. My dreams crumbled before my eyes.

Then, another writer friend (thank goodness for the honesty of writer friends!) told me their tale of woe, about another company that folded leaving the rights to their work still in limbo some ten years later. They might never get to finish writing the beloved series that had started their career. What a heartbreaking consideration!

I expected a fight–in fact, worry about facing that fight was the main reason I waited so long to look for my escape from my contract. But, when the moment arrived, there was no battle. My rights were returned without argument. The email exchange remained polite and professional and I received documentation that the rights were mine again within a few days.

The relief left me trembling. The panic set in next. Now what?

While I was making this decision, I talked to everyone in my writing circles, and after three years of attending conventions and book fairs and literary events, I knew quite a few people, including some publishers. One of these publishers pulled me aside at a convention and said that, if I were to get my rights back, that he would be happy to publish the books.

That offer was my life raft.

Those three years of networking and promotion had taught me a lot about successful indie publishing–including that it’s beyond my reach, at least at this stage of life. I teach full time and write part time while raising two kids and a rescue dog. Time is my biggest obstacle. I dreaded the prospect of handling my own editing, cover art negotiation, layout, and distribution. Even if I found the money to hire the work I couldn’t do myself, how would I find time to write?

So, I took a chance and signed on with Falstaff Books.

They’ve had my series for a year now. There are new covers that are more representative of the content of the books. Sales have been stronger than ever before and five new releases in the series are scheduled over the next three years. The contract is clear about what happens to my rights should the company fold.

Most importantly, my mojo is back. I’m writing fluidly again, remembering that I love this work.

Bouncing back for me was about finding a way to move forward, to keep the small foothold I had gained in establishing a lifelong writing career and build on it.

Some friends think I’m crazy to trust my work to another small publisher after my first one failed me so badly, but this is the best path for me. I need the support and validation provided by a publisher, and Falstaff Books gives every indication of continued good partnership.

Besides, one publisher isn’t responsible for what another one does. My optimism is tempered, not squashed. I believe in brushing myself off, getting up, and trying again when I get knocked down.

Like Red Riding Hood after her run-in with the wolf in Into the Woods, the fairy tale musical by Stephen Sondheim, I’ve learned some caution from my experience. I’m less trusting, but know that I still have to take chances in order to grow. As Red says, “Isn’t it nice to know a lot?…and a little bit, not.”


Bio: Samantha Bryant teaches Spanish to middle schoolers. Clearly, she’s tougher than she looks. She writes The Menopausal Superhero series of novels, and other feminist leaning speculative fiction. When she’s not writing or teaching, Samantha enjoys family time, old movies, baking, gaming, and walking in the woods with her rescue dog. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @samanthabwriter or at: http://samanthabryant.com

 

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