Sunday, August 17, 2014

Lizzie's Story: Reverting Rights - Guest Post by R.M. Clark

In August of 2011, I signed a contract to have my middle grade book, Dizzy Miss Lizzie, published by a small press called Stanley Publishing of El Paso, Texas. It was not an easy decision to make. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the worst decision I had ever made as an author, one that would haunt me for years.

Two years earlier this book landed me an agent and he tried for many months to find a home for it with the major publishers. When it became painfully clear that he (and the major pubs) had lost interest in Lizzie, I let him go and set out on my own. Like a good author, I wrote to several small press editors and followed their guidelines to the hilt. Some wanted to see more, others passed. When the smoke cleared, I had received four offers to publish Lizzie. In a way, that acceptance represented a “neeener, neener” to the agent and all the bigger presses who passed. Lizzie was a popular girl, after all.

I knew a little something about all four presses, but the real test came when I received the contracts. I had all four of them on my desktop and I vetted them carefully. One press was a “pay to publish” outfit (there was no indication of this on their website). Goodbye! One had a terrible royalty rate and, as it turned out, many unhappy authors. Adios! The third had real potential until I read in the contract that Lizzie would only be available as an e-book until a certain number of e-copies sold (100, I believe). This was a deal-breaker for me, since I felt middle grade books needed to be in hardcopy form right away to reach the widest audience. Plus, the royalty rate was dreadful. Hit the road!

And then there was one. Stanley Publishing. The contract was superior to all the others. It had a really good royalty rate. My book would have a print run as opposed to print-on-demand. The books were returnable, so bookstores could order them. The company had been around a few years and the authors I contacted were happy with them and were enjoying better-than-average sales. They even had a distribution plan in place and a new website. I signed the contract. Lizzie would be released in the spring of 2012.

Much joy!

We went through typical publishing steps over the next few months: a few rounds of edits, a wonderful cover and some early reviews. The book launch in March was a success as a local bookstore handled the sales. Most of the reviews were strong and sales numbers looked good. A few months later, I got my first royalty check. Dizzy Miss Lizzie was the best-selling book on the publisher’s site!

The Beginning of the End

Okay, cue the sound of a train coming off the tracks. Something — to this day I honestly don’t know what it was — happened to the publisher. By the fall of 2012, the publisher stopped replying to all emails and phone calls. We received no royalties for Q2 or Q3, yet the books were clearly selling. I called, I wrote, I emailed, I even had my (new) agent contact the publisher. Nothing.

This was bad. Very bad.

I contacted the El Paso chapter of the Better Business Bureau, but they could take no action since our relationship was not business to consumer (just business to business).

Amazon and B&N continued to sell my book. I could see the rankings fluctuate with every sale. I figured all I had to do was write these places and they would stop selling Lizzie. I emailed the legal department of both companies and gave them the details about the publisher but they couldn't stop selling it based on an author email. I contacted a Texas lawyer and asked if he could help and he said he could make it all go away. Then he showed me the estimated cost. It was quite a bit and at the time didn’t seem worth it.

Need for Control of Author Brand

Slowly, some good things began to happen in my writing life. My new adult mystery, Center Point, was accepted by a small press, Writers Amuse Me Publishing and published in late 2013. My agented book, then called Good Golly Miss Molly (now The Secret at Haney Field), was picked up by a wonderful small press, MB Publishing, and is due for publication next month. It was about this time that I realized I had an author brand I needed to protect. I needed to fight back. I needed Lizzie.

My wife and I decided to pay the retainer and get the El Paso lawyer involved. I sent him my Stanley contract as well as all pertinent online information about where to purchase Lizzie downloads. It was fairly simple to get my rights back since the publisher never responded to any of the legal notices the lawyer sent to her. I won by default. After that it was a matter of getting Amazon and B&N and Google Books to cease and desist. The lawyer sent them what is rightly called the “mean, scary letter” with the law firm’s letterhead in bold. It worked and the download capability was removed from all three sites. Lizzie was now mine, free and clear. The cost was more than I could ever make from royalties, but that’s not the point. I needed control and I got it.

Beginning of the Beginning

This story would not be complete without the requisite happy ending. In the spring of 2014, I gave Writers Amuse Me Publishing the opportunity to re-publish Dizzy Miss Lizzie and a chance to publish the two sequels, Running On Empty and Cat Scratch Fever. They agreed to a three-book deal with Lizzie to be published in November and the others in 2015. Many thanks to the fine folks at WAMM for the second chance.

This author fought back. I fought for my author reputation. I fought for all the other authors out there who have been hurt by a publisher. I fought for Lizzie.

And I won!

About RM Clark:
Robert (R. M.) Clark spent nineteen years as a baseball coach—from T-ball to American Legion and most levels in between. It was from his typical place in the third-base coach's box that he imagined a baseball mystery told from the viewpoint of a bat girl, which developed into his middle-grade novel, The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery.

After graduating from the University of Idaho with a Computer Science degree, Robert moved from the Gem State to northeastern Alberta to Southern California before settling into a cozy town in Southeastern Massachusetts, where he lives today with his wife and two sons. Read more about his novels at


Angelica R. Jackson said...

Good for you for sticking to your guns, Robert! So glad it ultimately had a happy ending for you and Lizzie.

Kimber Leigh said...

What a great story! I'm so glad you ultimately got your happy ending. Kudos for not backing down!

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

Thank you for sharing this story, Robert! So happy to read about such a great ending! Yet another example of how we should NOT give up! :)