It is four weeks since my last posting. I have been adrift in the ethers, learning first-hand how deeply this digital revolution affects our lives, right down to our DNA depths. As an author struggling to survive in these recessionary times, I made a decision eight months ago. I joined the legions of writers who are now electronically self-publishing backlogs of their writing. I did this in innocence and exuberance, and a need for income. And yes, I did it out of ignorance, never dreaming that the reverberations of that decision would cost me my credibility in whatever is left of the world of print publishing.
In January, 2010, I signed a contract with one of the Big 6 publishers in New York for my next novel. I understood then that I, like every writer in the business, was being coerced into giving up more than 75% of the profits from electronic sales of that novel, for the life of the novel. But I was debt-ridden and needed upfront money that an advance would provide. The book was scheduled for hardback publication in August, 2012, and paperback publication a year later. Recently that publisher discovered I had self-published two of my story collections as electronic books. To coin the Fanboys, they went ballistic. The editor shouted at me repeatedly on the phone. I was accused of breaching my contract (which I did not) but worse, of 'blatantly betraying them with Amazon,' their biggest and most intimidating competitor. I was not trustworthy. I was sleeping with the enemy.
My lawyer quickly pointed out that the first collection, HOUSE OF SKIN, PRIZE-WINNING STORIES, had been e-published in December, before I signed the contract with the publisher, so they immediately targetted the second collection, CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II, published recently in July.
Most of the stories in both collections had each been published several times before, first in Story Magazine, then again in The O'HENRY AWARDS PRIZE STORIES anthologies, the PUSHCART PRIZE stories anthologies, and THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES, 2000, anthology. And, over several years both collections had been submitted to each of the Big 6 publishers in NY. I still have their rejection letters, including one from the house I was now under contract with. So you might say these stories were, in a sense, recycled, sitting in my files rejected. Yet, as published collections, this Big 6 publisher suddenly found them threatening.
So, here is what the publisher demanded. That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that's about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback. In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer, in a state of acquiescence and, consequently, utter self-loathing.
The vice president and publisher of that house called my agent, offering extra little sweetmeats if I would just capitulate and 'adopt the right spirit going forward.' This somewhat sinister and semi-benevolent attempt at mind-control fascinated me. It became crystal-clear to me that the issue wasn't a supposed 'breach of contract,' on my part, but the publisher's fear and loathing of the profoundly threatening Goliath, Amazon. Since CANNIBAL NIGHTS in no way 'resembles' or would 'injure' sales of the book I had sold them (an entirely different subject matter) I was not in breach of my contract. I stood firm, and refused to capitulate.
Last week, I received from their lawyers an official letter terminating my contract with them, "...for permitting Amazon to publish CANNIBAL NIGHTS, etc...." and demanding back the $20,000 they had paid me as part of their advance. Until then, this publishing giant is holding my novel as hostage, a work that took me five years to write. My agent assures me I am now an 'anathema' to them.
I sit back and view this fiasco in two ways. CANNIBAL NIGHTS is my best, best writing. Perhaps it's worth $20,000 to finally have it published and presented to the world. For that, I thank Amazon. Or, perhaps it's worth $20,000 for a writer to discover who she's really in bed with. Sleeping with the enemy? Perhaps. But now I know who the enemy is.
This is not a tale of woe. Its a cautionary tale, a warning to other writers. I welcome your comments.