Back in October of 2014, when I felt MSTZ was at a point where it was sellable, I wrote and revised a query letter, crafted a synopsis I was happy with, and started shopping the manuscript around to publishers. I received a couple of offers on it pretty quickly, which was admittedly awesome. I signed a contract with Damnation Books, with an anticipated publication date of “late 2015.”
As “late 2015” approached with little activity from the publisher, I emailed them to find out what the heck was going on. No response. Then I found out on Facebook (which, FYI to everyone, is a HORRIBLE WAY TO BREAK IMPORTANT NEWS) that Damnation had been sold.
The new owner was full of apologies and promises. The backlog of unpublished manuscripts would be out “by July 31, 2016, at the latest.” He set up an author Yahoo group (antiquated, sure, but quaint) to keep everyone updated on the state of the company. Then, these sorts of messages started slowly popping up in the author group:
- Authors complaining about not receiving royalties. (“We’re working on sorting out the previous owner’s records,” the new guy said.)
- Authors asking why they couldn’t buy copies of their own books through the publisher. (“Just buy them off Amazon, send me your receipt, and I’ll send you a partial reimbursement,” the new guy said, assuming that nobody could do math and figure out he’d make a larger royalty on the Amazon sale than the author would get reimbursed.)
- The new guy apologizing, because title releases would be delayed, due to his account at IngramSpark being frozen. (I have a friend who was also under contract with the same publisher, and we emailed each other as this horror show unfolded. “Do you think that means he hasn’t paid his bills?” my friend asked. “Yes. Yes, I do,” I messaged back.)
- The new guy explaining why he was being taken to court for nonpayment of royalties. (It wasn’t his fault, of course.)
- Authors complaining because their books had been taken down from Amazon. (“That was a mistake!” the new guy said with a laugh. “We’re working on getting them back up!”)
- A notification that anyone who was promised that their book would be out “by July 31” would have to now wait up to two years, because most of his staff had up and quit.
- The new guy reporting that the publisher’s Kindle account was now frozen. You know, the largest e-book distributor in the world. (“Kindle mistakenly believes I published material I didn’t have the copyright to,” the new guy said. It was hard to see him amid all the red flags, but I’m pretty sure he was sweating.)
I was alarmed. More than alarmed. In no way, shape, or form did I want this new publisher putting out my book.
My friend—you remember him, the one who was also with the same publisher?—emailed me early one Tuesday morning. “Did you see this message?” He sent the link.
Thankfully, the new publisher had a temper tantrum because so many authors were asking when their books were coming out, or why their books weren’t on Amazon anymore, or where their royalty payments were. “If you want your rights back to your book, email me, and I’ll let you buy them back!” he whined.
My author friend and I jumped at the chance. Although buying your rights back from a shady publisher is just about the crappiest situation an author can be in, I wanted to run—not walk—away from this press. I paid the fee. I got my rights back. And I ran.
And now . . . back to square one. I looked over my old query letter and polished it up, reviewed my synopsis (thank God I’d saved both), and started researching the open markets again, to see who out there in the publishing world was looking for young adult horror mysteries.
So where is My Sister the Zombie? In the inboxes of a whole bunch of agents and publishers, looking for a new home. It’s frustrating, sure. But I still think I dodged a bullet. And we all know, unless it's a head shot, bullets aren't going to take a zombie down. So stay tuned!