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When Your Publishing Relationship Sours

What do you do when your relationship with a publisher sours?
At ALLi’s Watchdog Desk, we frequently hear from authors whose publishers aren’t living up to expectations. While substandard vanity presses like Author Solutions and Austin Macauley are the most common source of this author discontent, complaints about independent publishers are plentiful.

Some of these publishers are unqualified. Some are understaffed and overwhelmed with the extensive work that publishing entails. And some are excellent, reputable publishers who have fallen out of sync with the author for one reason or another.

If you’re in an unsatisfactory relationship with a publisher, what can you do?

1. Assess your relationship with the publisher.

Have your dealings with the publisher been problematic from Day One, or has trouble developed recently?

The context of your relationship is important. If the publisher’s performance has been awful from the start — missed deadlines, poor attention to detail, late royalty statements or sloppy accounting, etc. — then it’s likely time to sever that relationship. A history of trouble may indicate incompetence on the part of the publisher, or an ongoing problem that the publisher is unprepared or unwilling to correct.

But a one-off problem or a recent decline in the company’s otherwise excellent performance may indicate a short-term issue that can be corrected by talking it through with the owner.

2. Voice your complaint privately.

Even good publishers may develop problems from time to time, such as an employee who isn’t fulfilling their duties, or a problem with an automated system that they’re unaware of.

A significant percentage of the disputes which ALLi mediates stem from poor communication. Give the publisher a chance to rectify these problems and show their good intent before you declare war. They may not even know there’s a problem, or that you’re dissatisfied.

3. Explain how the publisher can make amends.

Telling the publisher why you’re unhappy is a start to negotiating a solution, but you’ll also need to let them know how they can set things right. You may simply want the publisher to fix the problem and prevent it from recurring. Or you may want an adjustment to the terms of your contract. You may even want to terminate your contract outright.

Having a clear idea of what you expect to gain is essential to any negotiation. It’s a starting point for a compromise that will benefit both sides.

4. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

A reputable publisher wants happy authors under their roof, not hostages, and so they will come to the table to seek a mutually agreeable solution.

But some publishers may be hostile, defensive, or unwilling to negotiate. You’ll want to be prepared for that possibility by knowing your rights, the details of your contract, and under what conditions it can be terminated. Review your contract carefully to determine where your publisher may be in breach. Depending on the contract, a breach may have automatically terminated your relationship with the publisher, and you may already be free to walk away with the rights to your book.

Even if you’re not looking to terminate the agreement, knowing the contractual obligations for your publisher and yourself may prove helpful in reaching a solution.

5. Seek outside help.

If you reach an impasse with your publisher, it may be time to seek outside help. ALLi’s Watchdog Desk offers members assistance with dispute resolutions, and that mediation may be able to defuse a tense situation. You may also wish to consult an attorney who can look over your contract, advise you of additional rights under the law, or draft a formal notice to the publisher.

Be assertive but fair, be persistent, and always, always be polite no matter how tense the situation. Whether your relationship with the publisher is friendly, hostile, or somewhere in-between, there’s always hope for a positive outcome.

OVER TO YOU

Have you been in a dispute with a publisher? Were you able to resolve it, or were you forced to wait out the contract? Let us know in the comments below!

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One Response to When Your Publishing Relationship Sours

  1. Jeanne July 12, 2018 at 4:29 pm #

    Not me personally, but I know of several authors all being held captive by the same small publisher who won’t contact them, and isn’t fulfilling their contracts. Several books haven’t even been published. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that the contracts have any “outs” for non-fulfillment of the publisher. Since these are all first novels, the authors don’t have the means to hire an attorney.

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