Wednesday, June 11, 2008

eBook and Small Press House Closures: What We Can Learn

Seems we're running out of fingers on which to count this year's eBook publisher closings. Right off the top of my head, I can count Dark Eden Press, Lady Aibell/Chippewa, Aphrodite's Apples, and possibly Silk's Vault - who seems to have committed the egregious act of bugging out in the middle of the night without telling anybody. Believe you me, an online cart shouldn't be down for maintenance for a few days, much less more than a month. I had to go through that hell recently, and it's not fun.

There are other pubs, I understand, that didn't make it off the ground, and still others I'd mention but I can't remember if they shut down in 2007, which gave us a rather full graveyard as well.

Recently, word trickled down about Aphrodite Unlaced (I'd not heard of them before, and actually confused them for Aphrodite's Apples when I read the news) and Tiger Publications closing shop. Now Tiger...I'm not sure if they offered eBook options, but I knew a number of eBook authors with pending Tiger contracts. It's my hope these works do not get tied up in bankruptcy hearings and that the authors will retain their rights soon. Of course, I'm never happy to hear of a small house, e- or otherwise, closing. In order for readers, writers, booksellers and critics to see the legitimacy of this media, we have to prove our longevity, tenacity, and potential for success. In the last two years, eBook houses have closed for a variety of reasons:

  • Failing health of the owner (this was true in at least two cases)
  • Decision by the owner to close, coupled with inability to sell business (I think this happened in one case)
  • Poor management, giving rise to lack of confidence/sales

Sadly, the third one is more prevalent. As with any other business, an eBook publishing venture is doomed to fail if the owner doesn't have the business' best interests at heart. I'm not saying that was the case for every unhappy ending we've seen in the last decade, but when the ugliness between authors and publishers takes to Blogdom the end result can rival any cat fight on Dynasty (Born after 1986? Google it.) I've also heard it said one has to wonder about an eBook house where the owner is also an author, and a good number of releases are by said author/owner.

Sometimes, I have to bite my tongue, because you know what would come next: Hey, aren't you running Phaze?

I am, but I don't own Phaze Books, Mundania Press does. I don't own Mundania Press, either. Other people do. I assumed the role of publisher because the previous publisher left. Had I not taken over, there's a good chance we'd all be talking about Phaze in the past tense as well. I'm not saying this to brag, it's just how I see it.

All those titles I have with Phaze? The majority of them came out or were in the process of coming out before I took over. Some of them are reprints, brought over from publishers that did bug out. When I took over in 2006, I managed two shorts for two Phaze heatsheet lines. I had planned a fourth Dareville novel, a sequel to Taste This for Samhain and a sequel to Love's DoMINion for Liquid Silver. Two years later, I got the first item done. Many plans I had for my writing were set aside, because I had the best interests of Phaze and her authors at heart. Again, not bragging. That's just how it is. Right now, I plan to write Dareville stories exclusively for Phaze and work on getting other works to other places.

So you can see why I am especially upset to read of closures, more so to read of complaints of how a house is allegedly screwing over authors. But then we read about new houses opening, and people roll their eyes, probably thinking, Here we go again. Authors flock to a new house in hopes of expedited releases - because a new house needs product. Do they investigate the house fully first? I should hope so.

Am I saying every new house is doomed to fail? No. It's obviously not the case. I heard Total E-Bound reached its first anniversary, and that many authors are happy with them. That's great. I hope the good vibes continue. Samhain Publishing was new at one point, too, and they've done very well. Of course, of the newer ePubs to rise in the last few years I'll caution to say they had the most experienced people working behind the scenes.

Some might joke that an ePub forms in the wake of a "let's put on show" mentality, and that could be the case for some, but I like to remain an optimist where this media is concerned. Doors close and doors open, but authors...please, before you cross any thresholds check to see if there's a bucket of water teetering on the top ledge.
  • Research the publisher. How long have they been around? What is their mission statement? How do they plan to format, market, and distribute? Who is running the show? How are they qualified to do it?
  • Read the contract. How much will you get? What rights are yours, and what is theirs? Is there any wiggle room for you in case things go south?
  • Look at the Web site. Professional or train wreck?
  • Talk to authors. Are they happy? Are they miserable? Why? Talk to many authors as well. Ten queries will get you eleven responses. Look at every angle before you decide.

As I said, doors open and close in this business. It may look ludicrous to some, considering in the print world you don't see this much turnover. Maybe the Internet magnifies it somewhat. We've lost a few names this year, but more have arrived. Blade Publishing, Shadowfire Press, and Crescent Moon Press are just three names I've heard pop up. I know little about them and therefore cannot endorse them, but I do hope for the future of eBooks that they are all successful.

Did any of this make sense? Bottom line for authors: be patient. Don't feel rushed to have a book published that you'll sign the first thing slipped into your inbox. Would-be publishers: have a plan, know what you're doing, and have a backup in case what you want doesn't happen. Let's show New York we're aren't still in high school.

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