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How To Deal With An Unresponsive Publishing Or Self-Publishing Company

How to Deal with an Unresponsive Publishing or Self-Publishing Company

Most publishers — even the bad ones — will at least respond to client requests and complaints. But what happens when that company simply ignores you? Below are some tips on how to deal with an unresponsive publishing or self-publishing company

The silent treatment from unresponsive publishing or self-publishing company?

That’s the situation that authors with Dog Ear Publishing recently found themselves in. After months without statements or royalties, authors sent increasingly worried inquiries. These were met with vague excuses at first, and eventually no response at all.

This can be a nightmare scenario for any author.

When the publishing service does not respond to correspondence, the author’s book may be held hostage. Retailers often won’t take the book down without a statement of reversion of rights from the publisher. And retailers will not put themselves in the middle of a legal dispute between the publisher and the client, so a court order may be the only way to compel the publisher to remove the book from sale and allow the author to republish.

Legal action can be prohibitively expensive, time-consuming, and difficult if the company is headquartered overseas. But if you find yourself in this situation, there are steps you can take without resorting to the courts.

Document everything

As soon as you realize that a company has defaulted on their obligations, document your interactions with them, from the initial proposal up through your most recent communication. Document the date, who you spoke with, and what the result was.

Having a well-organized timeline is a tremendous help, especially if the company later disputes your version of events.

When you communicate, do it in writing or email. Unless recorded, spoken conversations are impossible to prove, and the company’s representative may later forget, lie about, or distort what was said.

For critical communications like legal demands, send the message via email (for speed) and via post by certified mail with return receipt. Email is easily deleted and ignored, but a certified letter shows that you’re serious. It gives you legal proof of receipt of your demands. And it’s a clear signal that you are documenting the process, possibly for a lawsuit.

Review your rights

Carefully read through your contract or agreement with the publisher. You’ll want to take note of four things: the company’s obligations to you, the consequences for failing to meet those obligations, the terms under which the contract can be terminated, and the process for notifying the company.

You will need to carefully obey the deadlines and processes outlined in the contract. For example, the contract may state that the company must be notified in writing by mail, and that they have 30 days to remedy any breach. You can reference these clauses in your demand letters so the recipient knows that (a) you are aware of your rights, and (b) the clock is ticking.

While this legal document has little effect outside of a court of law, it can be powerful leverage if you do reestablish communication with the company. Nobody wants to deal with a lawsuit, especially when they’re on the wrong side of a suit for breach of contract.

Be firm, but be polite

This is a stressful time, and that’s exactly why you need to take special care to remain civil. Hostile language won’t lead to a resolution, and if the dispute does go to court or arbitration, it can undermine your case. For example, the delinquent publisher can claim that they stopped communicating because the author was abusive and harassing.

Always keep your cool. No email needs to be sent immediately, so wait a few hours (or even days, if necessary) until you’ve regained the necessary calm to compose a firm, but polite demand.

Be persistent

When a company ignores correspondence, it’s because the principals are hoping the problem — in this case, you! — will go away. Make it clear by your actions that you will not give up.

Contact the company via email, phone, post, and even by direct messaging on social media. When you do reach a person, insist on a solid deadline: “When will Mr. Smith call me back? Can I expect to hear from him by Monday? By Tuesday? If I haven’t heard from him by then, I’ll be in contact again.” Hold them to that deadline and follow through.

If normal channels of communication continue to prove ineffective, it’s time to make some noise. Reach out to every contact within the company you can find and explain that you’re not receiving a response from your appointed representative. These complaints will cause discomfort for the responsible party: subordinates will forward the message up the chain of command, and supervisors may instruct them to fix the problem immediately. Either way, it may kickstart a more earnest discussion from agents who have not shown an interest in resolving the problem.

Let them know you’re serious

Consider hiring an attorney to draft and send a letter on your behalf. Attorney services of this sort can be purchased at a realtively low cost.

Legal letterhead has a way of making negligent companies sit up and take notice, particularly when combined with a clear understanding of your contract and a carefully documented timeline of how the company has failed to meet its obligations.

As a last resort, go public

When all other attempts have failed and the company has shown no intent to respond, it’s time to bring out the heavy artillery. Remembering the “be polite” mantra, post a negative review or complaint on the Better Business Bureau website, on review sites like Yelp, and on the company’s social media pages. Clearly outline the different ways you’ve tried to resolve the complaint, and the lack of response.

Monitor your posts for a response by the host, the company, or other authors who have had similar experiences.

If the company has a social media manager, they may ask you to message them with your email address or to contact the company’s customer service channels. Do so, but don’t allow this to derail your complaint. If you don’t get a satisfactory reply within a few days, follow up again on that page with an updated complaint. And you may wish to point out that it’s embarrassing to have to make these posts publicly, but if the company would simply respond to your communications, the matter could be quickly resolved in private.

Be aware that this is a power play that could potentially alienate the employees you’ve been working with. It should only be used to provoke a response from an unresponsive company. If the company has been dealing with you in good faith, give them ample time to make good on their promises before you air that dirty laundry in front of the neighbors.

If you have been the victim of fraud, report it

If you believe the company’s failure qualifies as a crime, file a formal report with the appropriate government agencies. If enough of these reports are received, or the crime is serious enough, consumer protection agencies may initiate action against the company.

Some situations can’t be resolved outside of the courtroom

There is a difference between a company that is reluctant or unable to communicate (e.g., because they are in the middle of declaring bankruptcy), one that fails to communicate due to negligence or incompetence (e.g., because the owner is overwhelmed and the company understaffed), and one that is actively attempting to evade their legal responsibility (e.g., a phony company that’s committing deliberate fraud). The first two can almost always be persuaded to cooperate in time, but a company that is intentionally engaging in criminal activity may be a lost cause.

In these cases, there may be no other recourse but to file suit or abandon the case. However, exhaust every possible means of communication at your disposal before you throw in the towel. Y

If you follow these tips on how to deal with an unresponsive publishing or self-publishing company, you may be surprised and find the company suddenly agrees to negotiate.

Over to you

Have you had to deal with an unresponsive company? Were you able to resolve it? Let us know how in the comments below.

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John Doppler

From the sunny California beaches where he washed ashore in 2008, John Doppler scrawls tales of science fiction, urban fantasy, and horror -- and investigates self-publishing services as the Alliance of Independent Authors's Watchdog. John relishes helping authors turn new opportunities into their bread and butter and offers terrific resources for indie authors at Words on Words. He shares his lifelong passion for all things weird and wonderful on The John Doppler Effect.

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. In late 2017, Infinity Publishing “merged” with FastPencil for “a better” publishing enterprise. Since then Infinity authors have not received any, or a small amount, of royalties.
    I brought the Pennsylvania Attorney General into the story in early 2018. I was deferred to an Assistant who I have shared the whole story with in a series of emails – since then until now. I have explicitly requested a full investigation of Infinity complete with Grand Jury subpoenas. They are still “working on it.” They won’t communicate and discuss with me what they are doing.
    Then, last month, I find out that FastPencil has “become” Opyrus Publishing and Opyrus gives their address as the Infinity Publishing address in West Conshohocken in Pennsylvania. Can you say “mystery.”
    Infinity has stopped communicating with me. I don’t know what the PA AG office is doing.
    The whole story (except the recent FastPencil/ Infinity/ Opyrus merger)is here: http://metzlerstuff.com/LookingintoInfinity.html
    I do not, at this time, want to break my contract with Infinity and republish elsewhere, because I am convinced that Infinity (or Opyrus) will continue selling my book and never paying royalties.
    What is your advice regarding my going forward? Who can you put me in contact with who can assist?
    Thanks
    Bo Metzler

  2. I am a rookie in the business of writing a book and also how to have it published. I did not think traditional publishers would be interested in my book, so the only option I could see was to self-publish. Upon a recommendation I entrusted my manuscript to a publication company to help me bring my story to the publication stage. No contract was offered for the work and the only signed contract was a Distribution Agreement. The company offered expertise in the following skills: manuscript review; copy edit for Draft 3; assistance in photo selection; Custom cover design (which wasn’t needed). They also offered book design; production preparation; proofing; indexing; one unbound proof copy. They also offered a price for 500 copies of the book. Distribution was by third party (Ingram Lightning) for a fee, but assume no responsibilities. Production of finished book was verbally given for 4 months. I accepted the quoted proposal without being offered a written contract. The only written agreement was for Distribution as shown above. I accepted this proposal and paid the 1/3 deposit. Eventually production was delayed 9 months; very poor copy editing and proofreading which required extensive work by author; photo captioning by author. Also, without any notice price quoted for entire project increased by nearly 20% after first batch of books were printed.

    I believed that I was the self-publisher, and the Copyright page of the book indicated that I am the publisher, and the publication company was providing assistance and digital printing. About 8 months later I discovered that the publication company had registered themselves as the publisher of my book in the ISBN, which surprised me. I requested that this error be rectified, but to date nothing has been done, and they refuse to respond to all my communications by email or voicemail.

    My question is what are my rights in this scenario? All investments in developing my book and its publication was paid by me, with no investments from the assisting publication company. Furthermore, compensation from Ingram Lightning goes straight to the registered publisher (the publication company in this case), who controls the payment to the author.

    How can I resolve this situation which is fully controlled by the publication company? Do I need to re-publish my book and then get my own ISBN? What do I do? Please, any helpful suggestions will be more than welcome.

  3. Your advice to examine the contract is a good one and can prove worthy. I has this problem with my small indie publisher. No response to my emails or phone calls for weeks, then months. I contacted some of the other authors listed with the publisher and discovered the owner had passed away. No one was handling the business. In fact, the publishing house closed immediately, paid no royalties, answered no calls or emails, and stopped reprinting books. Several of the authors were in the same boat as me, so we banded together and sent certified letters reclaiming our copyright due to the company’s violation of contract. When all else fails, contact other authors; there is strength in numbers.

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