When a publisher goes out of business it’s more than a mere business decision. Publishers have authors, editors, book designers and marketing teams relying on them. Everyone up and down the book production food chain is affected.
When Booktrope announced on April 29 that it was going out of business effective May 31, it left more than 100 authors in the lurch. It dumped editors, book designers and marketing teams in limbo. And it left readers in that same limbo beginning June 1.
Here’s what happens. When a publisher leaves the business, it should return all rights to the author, who is then free to seek a new publisher or an agent to help place books. She can do it herself as well. Because the publisher owns a funny little number known as the ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, any books in the catalog can no longer be purchased by retailers, wholesalers or readers like you and me until the author has a new publisher. Not too many writers are capable of picking up the bits and pieces of their books and republishing themselves. And if there is a gap between the date the publisher closes its doors and the date a new publisher picks up the book, reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble get wiped. For authors with hundreds of reviews, that’s devastating. For authors just published and with only a few reviews, it’s devastating.
Booktrope launched about five years ago with great fanfare. It professed a new model in publishing, which was going to revolutionize how writers and publishers worked together. Neither a traditional nor a vanity press, Booktrope sought to set the standards for hybrid publishing.
On the surface, it was a pretty cool model. Authors would write their novels as usual. When Booktrope acquired the publishing rights, it promised a professional team of editors, book designers, cover designers and marketeers. Probably more than I know about, because I chose to go with a different publisher. (Full disclosure: I have several friends going through the five stages of grief right now.) None of the Booktrope staff would receive any salary or fees for piecework. Instead, all on an author’s book team would receive some percentage of the royalties when the book sold. Again, on the surface, this was a cool model. With everyone sharing in the spoils, it behooved the team to acquire the best manuscripts, polish the heck out of them and promote them like crazy.
That must not have worked, because many of the so-called staff, who worked on spec, mind you, received little composition.
And here’s where it gets curious. Who owns the cover design? The author? The designer, who was apparently contracted by Booktrope? Who owns the layout? Similar questions. Who owns the marketing plan?
You get the idea. Many more questions pop up when you realize your book is hanging out in never-never land. Forget those books which were supposed to launch in the next month. That ain’t going to happen. Forget the cool bundling options set to be released shortly. Not going to happen. Forget happy authors sitting in their garrets slaving away on the next manuscript under contract with a book publisher that no longer exists.
I hope my buds over there 1) get all of their rights back with no strings attached, 2) find another publisher immediately, or 3) decide to go it alone and self-publish. Until they decide what to do, the five stages of grief can be paralyzing.
Here’s to all of the Booktrope authors. I raise a glass to each of you. And if you wonder why I might be drunk, do the friggin’ math. 100 authors, 100 drinks.
How would you manage such a blow to your career?