The One Where I Get Catfished By a Publisher
If you're like me, you're glued to your TV whenever Catfish is on. It's a show where strangers find love online, but can't seem to get their cyber partners to meet in real life. Enter Nev and Max, who somehow convince the reluctant party to not just meet the person they've been texting with for three years, but to do it on TV. I inevitably find myself yelling at my television set, wondering how anyone could be so stupid, but the thing is, I'm kind of being a hypocrite. Because I was Catfished once too. And not by one person pretending to be someone else for the sake of a relationship, but by a group of people pretending to be another group of people for the sake of "publishing" my book. Let me rewind.
Stupid Thing I Did # 1: Over a year ago, I entered something called Pitmad*, despite not having a completely finished manuscript. I thought hey, it's almost done and honestly I didn't think anyone would actually request it. I was doing it more as an exercise in pitching (don't do this), but I didn't think anything would come of it. I was so wrong. Two agents favorited my tweet (the equivalent of requesting to read more) and I sent my MS along, letting them know that it was not complete. Nothing came of those queries, but then I got another favorite from a little company that I had never heard of I thought hmm, couldn't hurt, and let them know as I'd let the agents know that my manuscript was not complete. "That's fine! Send it along anyway," they said.
Stupid Thing I Did # 2: And I did. I sent my first few chapters to them. And then I let myself get excited. REALLY excited. Because here I was, a stupid and fairly green writer (I have a background in reporting/journalism but that's a whole other ballgame) and there was an "actual publishing company" interested in MY work! How lucky was I right? I couldn't wait to hear back from them, and let myself be consumed with daydreams of being a bestselling author, or being in book stores, of living the dream. And then one day, they called.
Stupid Thing I Did # 3: I was in a meeting all afternoon, and when I went back to my desk there was the email. It almost sang to me from the screen. "Welcome to the family..." it read, inviting, warm and most importantly...a yes. I still had not gone through the horrors of querying, the rejections, the nights filled with ice cream and sad movie binges, but I was nervous as hell about them. My anxiety on turbo-fuck-up-my-life mode, I had worried more about the rejections to come than my actual writing (stupid thing 3.5) . I was scared to the point of second guessing my decision to submit anywhere in the first place, so when I got that yes, I thought I was in the clear. Free from having to experience the soul crushing process that most writers have to go through. Again, how fortunate can one girl get?
Stupid Thing I Did # 4: Instead of making a decision with a level head, I had already mentally accepted their offer. I had the contract looked over by a lawyer friend, and consulted with a few people I trust, but no matter what they said my mind kept telling me "I don't care, I'm gonna say yes, I have a publishing deal!!!!" I reached out to one of the publishing company's authors, someone who had several titles out by them and seemed to be doing well for herself. She told me how wonderful they were, how much she loved working with them, how happy I would be with them. She agreed with my brain, I was going to say yes. The list of stupid things I did continued but here things get a little more complicated. I signed the contract, and began working feverishly on my book. I asked questions and emailed the publishing company owner, their marketing manager and cover designer, excited to have a team of people working with me. At the same time, other authors who had been offered deals approached me, and asked me if I thought they were legit. "They're really small," I admitted, "but seem like they've had success with their sole author and want to branch out."
Before I knew it, the company had signed about ten others (probably more than that) and we were all on our way! (But not to where we thought we were). Plus, there was that one author, the one who had assured us all that they'd been great to her, that she was selling A LOT of books, and that she could not be happier. All evidence on Amazon pointed to this being the truth, she had lots of reviews many of them positive, and seemed to be selling a good amount of books if being on those pesky Amazon best seller lists all the time are any indication. A few weeks passed, then months, I had hardly any communication with them because my book wasn't done so I was focused on working on it. Then I got an email, telling me their distribution had changed. Huh?
So I emailed them. No response. Called, still nothing. Finally after a few emails, they sort of responded by telling me the same thing that was in the first email, their distribution had changed. The thing was, I was starting to do my research, something I SHOULD have done before signing with anyone (but still not before finishing my book, idiot). I knew that the distribution they were switching to would mean I could not be in bookstores. This was the thing that began to really bug me. What was the point? I could distribute myself via Amazon I thought, but still I stayed on because they were going to edit for me, and design my cover and market on my behalf. But then other things started happening. I made a Pubslush Campaign to raise money for my book launch at New York Comic Con and approached the publisher about contributing to this, they declined. They didn't even donate $5, not even a retweet of the campaign link...weird. At this point, I was 100%, truly and assbackwards lying to myself.
My boyfriend who is smarter than me, kept telling me something wasn't right, something seemed off and they should be paying for your book launch not just donating money to it. As it sometimes happens with the hairy truth, it took a long time for me to admit it to myself. But I finally did. I knew that there was something heinous going on, and when a fellow author who had a book released through the publisher already began having problems (like not receiving her shipment of books on time for her book signing) I knew I needed to go. And so I emailed them with a list of concerns, not asking to be let out of my contract, but asking if they could clarify certain things for me (including the distribution question which they still had not addressed).
Part of our contract promised graphics and promotional material ahead of book launch, yet more than one of their authors had reached out to ME to design things for them like bookmarks. I am pretty good at that kind of thing and they had no doubt seen my graphics on Facebook but still, shouldn't the publisher be handling that? They also changed their policy of shipping review copies out prior to the book's release, which I knew would really hurt our chances of getting reviews in before the sale date and went against another point in the contract. Lastly, that warm, welcoming tone from my offer email had jumped out the window and taken a one way plane to the land of Oz. Everything I got from them was short, terse, borderline mean. I expressed all of my concerns professionally and kindly, and their response to me was along the lines of "Since you're so unhappy with our company, we will let you out of your contract."
While I never asked to be let out of my contract, this is what I was hoping for, and that's when I did smart thing number one: I left. I watched as other authors contemplated leaving and then, they all received an email releasing them collectively from their contracts. There were I believe four authors who "got lucky" and they kept on, but the rest were kicked out on their asses, including one person whose book release was coming up in just a few days. We began comparing notes, and the more we found the more horrible it became. It seemed this company was not only just a husband (the cover designer) and wife in their apartment somewhere, but that author? The one who had reassured us that we were making the right choice? We started noticing that her pictures were kind of...mysterious. And so we did some more digging and found out that not only was she not the person in her pictures, she was indeed the owner of the publishing company herself. So while we were trying to find out if we should sign with her company, the owner of said company was reassuring us that yes we were making the right decision, while pretending to be one of her own authors. She admitted as much in a text message to me and it really sucked. I mean, I knew I had made a lot of mistakes in this whole process, I made ALL the mistakes, but being Catfished? I did NOT expect that.
It turned out that other authors under the company were also the publisher, using a pen name to write different genres and the marketing manager was one of her friends. None of this was obvious or told to us upfront, it all came out after we became suspicious which in hindsight, we all should've been from the beginning. Little by little, we began picking up the pieces to our almost careers. Some people self published, some queried, one got a book deal with an actual publisher, but we all learned a big lesson from the ordeal. Just because someone has a website, and a logo, even if they have an author who seems to be doing well, it doesn't mean they're a legitimate company and it especially doesn't mean that you've made it. We also forged a friendship, we all talk to one another almost daily, supporting each other and our projects, and once in a while, remembering what brought us together in the first place. As for me, that book I still hadn't finished is still not done, but not because I gave up on it. In fact, I've been working my tail off on it to make sure it's the best book it could possibly be. Not rushing or trying to meet some imaginary deadline I imposed on myself, I am giving it the work and attention it needs so that when it's done I can get an agent (fingers crossed) and then not a "publisher" but a PUBLISHER (toes crossed).
It seems like every day, there's a new batch of publishing companies being formed and with the facility of eBook and print on demand distribution, "publishing companies" has also become a loose term. Don't be like me, make sure you investigate to the point of being a stalker. After all, your hard work is on the line and it's not worth the thrill of having a publisher, if all they're going to do is something you can do for yourself. All I wanted was to see my book in bookstores, and although that dream kept me from seeing the things that were right in front of me, it's also fueling me to keep going now, and finally in the right direction. *Pitmad is not one of the stupid things I did, in fact Pitmad is awesome. Just be sure you know who you're submitting to :)
Update: I kept working hard on that manuscript, and am now represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary! I also have a book deal with Scholastic for my debut middle grade book! Please pre-order GHOST SQUAD here!!!
If you're thinking of entering #Pitmad or any other online pitching contest, watch my video with advice from authors and agents on how to make the most out of your pitches!