Should I stay or should I go?

How to decide whether to break a book contract

Years ago, when my husband and I were house hunting in Arizona, a realtor gave us some advice: Don’t ever threaten to walk away from a contract unless you are prepared to follow through.

The detail are long and boring, but her words saved us from a big mistake.

They saved me again almost 20 years later when I parted ways with my first publisher, a company with which I had a three-book contract. The decision brought me back to square one. I had to start all over to find homes for my books, just like we did with that house hunt when the offer on the place we thought was perfect fell through.

I did not know then that I would sign a contract with Level Best Books just a few weeks later. I did not know that the new book deal would confirm for me what a terrible mess I had been in. I did not know anything at all except that the decision to break my contract, as frightening as it was, made me oddly happy.

It thrilled me despite the unknown consequences because that realtor’s words forced me to ask myself why I was staying in a bad situation, what was keeping me from breaking that contract. They helped me explore and confront my lack of confidence and my fear of failure. I had stayed because I worried that I would never get another chance.

That was a terrible reason.

If I didn’t have confidence in my writing, who would?

The act of breaking the contract was an act of faith in myself.

Since then, I have received several emails from authors who read my blog post about leaving my publisher and have found themselves in similar situations. They have asked for advice, wanting to know how I made my decision and why.

So it here it goes. This is my advice to those who are questioning their contracts and trying to make that big decision: Should I leave? (Disclaimer time: I am not lawyer. I am not an expert. This is simply advice from someone who has been there.)

The first step is to review your contract, point-by-point. Has your publisher actually violated the legal obligations of the contract? If not, it might be harder to succeed in getting released, but it is not impossible. Some publishers are willing to let an unhappy author go simply because it’s best for everyone. If you can afford it, hire a lawyer to review the contract for you and make the argument for your release.

Second, develop a list of reasons to stay and reasons to part ways. Put everything on it, not just the business factors. Write down the emotional factors as well. When you are done, circle the emotional factors and decide whether they should remain on the list. If those emotional factors are not going to change, then they should stay on the list. But you might find, like I did, that you are the problem, that your emotions are holding you back, and that when you delete those factors, the choice is obvious.

Third, comes the series factor. I was fortunate that this did not come into play for me. I had not yet released any books through my first publisher. Some of the authors who contacted me already had two or three books of a series with their current publishers. They knew chances were slim any other publisher would pick up the books mid-series.

What do you in this position?

You have four choices:

  • You can query other publishers in hopes that yours will be the series that beats the odds and becomes the exception. Maybe another publisher will pick it up. You never know. If you plan to follow this route, you must be absolutely certain that your publisher does not have rights to future books involving those same characters and/or settings. This is critical. Failure to explore this could lead to a legal mess.
  • You can self-publish the remainder of the series as long as doing so does not violate the terms of your contract cancellation. The same legal concerns apply as stated above. You must also be careful about cover art. You might be violating copyrights if you use cover art that pulls concepts from your already-published books.
  • You can ditch the series and start anew with a new publisher. That can be a difficult choice. You have a huge investment in these characters and in their future exploits, but you might also find that creating and exploring new characters and motivations invigorates you.
  • You can stay with the current publisher for that particular series and either hire a lawyer to demand your contract terms be met or be your own advocate, pushing your books through on schedule and with the appropriate distribution.
  • Regardless of your decision, review all contracts and make sure the rights to your books revert to you immediately should the publisher go under. Let’s be real. You would probably not be considering parting ways with your publisher if thought your publisher was going to thrive. So this should be high on the list.

Breaking a publishing contract is a huge decision and not one that should be taken lightly. This is why our former realtor’s advice so important. If you have not done the hard work–if you haven’t thoroughly explored your reasons, the options and the consequences–you might find yourself drowning in a pool of regret and self-doubt. That negativity might get in the way of success. Be strong, be confident, be sure. Don’t walk away unless you are prepared to follow through.

Happiness is a book contract

I have waited a long time to say this, and here it goes:

I have signed a contract with a publisher, a three-book contract with Black Opal Books.

I am beyond thrilled.

I am beyond giddy.

I am sore from jumping up and down, but I still hop whenever I think about it

I have no release dates yet. The editing process takes a while — anywhere from six to eighteen months — but my thriller, No Stranger Here, and the first two books of my mystery/suspense series, Dead Man’s Eyes and Never Broken, will finally make their ways into readers’ hands.

I have Pennwriters to thank.

I first heard about Black Opal Books in May during a Pennwriters conference, where I met a couple of authors who had signed with the Oregon-based company. It is important to be cautious with small publishers. I’ve heard stories about contracts and rights lost when small publishers folded, but Black Opal Books has been around for a while. They are also approved by Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers, two high-profile groups that advocate for crime writers.

Even more important though was that the authors I met were happy. Black Opal Books was founded by people in the publishing industry who wanted to do more for authors. They wanted to publish high-quality, well-edited works while offering a percentage of royalties that surpasses the big publishing houses.

I looked into submitting when I returned, but the publisher was closed to submissions until June.

The summer got busy with a family reunion and the high school graduation of our oldest. In the midst of it all, I forgot about submitting to Black Opal Books, focusing instead on writing a new novel. Then I got an email from Pennwriters. I had won first and second places in the organization’s 2017 Novel Beginnings Contest. Pennwriters wanted updates from past contest winners for its newsletter. I remember my conversations about Black Opal Books.

This was in November. Black Opal Books was open for submissions until Dec. 31.

So I did it, and I am glad that I did.

I will post more about the release dates when I know more.

And now, if see me hopping, you’ll know why.

New agent, new energy

I was excited last year when I dropped the kids off for the first day of school.
I had recently terminated my contract with my agent and couldn’t wait to find out what the future would hold. It was a scary thing — going agent-free after two years, especially since my former agent is such a good guy — but I knew instantly I’d made the right decision.
We were not a good match.
Sometimes, that happens.
I was careful when I started firing off queries to new agents.
I didn’t want to go through that again.
Some rejected me instantly.
Others asked for full manuscripts and have yet to respond.
Others read partials or fulls and decided against representation, or were interested in only one of my two completed novels. The latter were the agents I chose not to pursue. I want an agent who will stick with me throughout my career, regardless of what genre I write. I’d hate to shelve a novel simply because it’s not a particular agent’s “thing.”
Then came the response from Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli of JET Literary.
She’d found flaws in my mystery/suspense novel that no other reader had, and offered to reconsider after revisions. She opened my eyes to those logical errors and immediately inspired confidence. In her emails and on the phone, she struck me as sharp, honest, and experienced.
But it was that confidence that impressed me most.
She knew what both novels needed and she knew how to express that.
She had plans.
She offered strategies, visions and direction.
She knows the industry and knows it well.
She is the kind of agent who can sell my novels and steer my career in the right direction.
I like her but, more important, I trust her.
So here we go.
It’s that time of the year again.
All four kids will be in school full-time for the first time ever.
I will have time to write and, as much as I will miss them, I am excited.
But this is a fresh kind of excitement.
This year, I get to write — just write — without worrying about the business side of things. 
I feel focused.
I feel encouraged.
I feel, once again, like I made a wise decision.
Two more days and I’m off.

The Rejection Generator Project: if only I had known

I remember too well the sting of those first rejection letters.
I thought I was prepared.
Fellow writers had told me I’d be swimming in them before I got my first contract offer from an agent.
So I cleared a wall for their display, a means of confronting rejection head-on and with pride.
Still, it hurt.
But it hurt only the first few times.
After a while, I became numb to automatic rejections and I learned the value of the personal notes, which sometimes came with feedback. I even came to miss them when I finally signed with an agent nearly three years ago, eagerly searching my inbox for strays.
I have since parted ways with my agent and returned to the hunt.
I knew I would have to endure those early stings again, so I steeled myself and fired away the first few query letters. I waited weeks, sometimes months, never knowing when I would open my inbox and read those words that pierced my heart and soul.
Too late, I learned it didn’t have to be that way.
I could have been rejected on my own terms with the negativity self-inflicted, expected, hard-hitting from the start. I could have beaten myself up five times in one day and gotten the whole thing over with, numbed myself immediately instead of waiting, waiting and waiting..
I could have — no, I should have — used The Rejection Generator Project.  
I will tell you no more.
Check it out.
Spare yourself.
Be warned though, it can be addicting even for those who already have agents or publishers.