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29 December 2013

It often isn’t their fault, but small presses come and go. Sometimes they last for many years, other times they vanish before they actually publish anything. Best example of that is one to which I contributed a short story for their first anthology many years ago. In September I received the acceptance – in October the story rights were returned because their funding had fallen through and they were disbanding without ever having actually produced anything or even considered all of the submissions received. Then there was the small press to which I sold a story for an anthology. They produced the initial edition, those books intended to be sent out as author copies. I didn’t get mine and the publisher vanished off the radar. I enlisted help, the editor contacted me, but all she could do was apologize. Apparently matters between her and the other editor had imploded, the author copies intended for those of us who lived overseas had never been sent and she didn’t know where they were. Nor would further copies be printed for sale. So I was left with a short story that I wasn’t certain could be described as ‘published and now available for reprint,’ or ‘unpublished.’

And then there are books sold to small presses, sometimes they appear, sometimes they don’t. It helps to have a quit-clause. As in “If this work has not been published within x period, all rights revert to the author on request.” But then if you like the editor, if you think the problem may be only a temporary setback, do you activate the clause or wait? I’ve waited. There’s also the ‘not living up to a minor section of the contract’ SP, and for that you should ask them to do so in polite but firm tones. And  there can also be the ‘bitten off more than they can chew” SP. Sadly one of those reared their head for a friend and me in 2013. We’d carefully selected the particular press since the book we were offering was set in that country and might therefore be expected to sell better there. The editor did a good editing job, but after that everything fell flat. (It was also distressing that when we did a deeper check, while the site didn’t actually lie, it had concealed information that had we known it, would have tended to act as a warning about signing with them) No financial information was forthcoming as per contract, a number of other contract clauses were unfullfilled, and finally despite numerous emails, we had no further contact with the SP. So we sent a registered letter asking for what was owed – both in information and cash. (Make darn sure that you have a physical address.) It was received without response. So – sadly and reluctantly – we sent notice of contract termination. We’d liked the editor, but there is a limit. We’ve now severed all ties and have all of the rights to the book back with us again, and (more happily) we may have a nibble on republication. More on that if/when… But this is part of being a writer, most of us write ‘on spec,’ and sometimes the speculation falls over. Che sera sera.

(as an addendum, the latest SP event has been the return of a sold story since the Small Press publishing the anthology in which it was meant to appear are locked in mortal combat with their printer. It seems that this conflict may go unresolved – and in consequence the anthology will go unpublished. Just another day in the life of a writer. And the only thing that surprises me about any of the above, is how many of us continue to write regardless.)

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