I've been with a small press for three books now, with my fourth supposed to be published last month. They have always been really responsive, but recently my emails have not been answered, my release date has come and gone without my book showing up on any vendor sites and I didn't receive any royalty statements for the last quarter.
I've heard about other small presses going under, and these seem like alarm bells to me.What is your advice?
You're right to feel nervous. Those things set the alarm bells off in my head too. It upsets me when I hear stories like this. My first publisher closed its doors a few years back, but it was very civilized and within a couple of days of the announcement, I had a letter stating my rights had reverted and all final royalties were paid within a month or two.
Are you in touch with any other authors who are with this press? If so, I suggest you contact them and ask if they are getting the same treatment. One missed royalty statement could be a mistake, or it could have disappeared into your spam and been deleted by accident. If lots of authors are missing statements it points to there being a problem. Especially when added to the missed release day. Although there could be a good reason for this too.
If other authors are unhappy and frustrated too, and no one is receiving replies to communication, I would suggest all is not well with your publisher.
You should also read over your contract. There should be a clause in there about what happens if the company becomes insolvent. There should also be a clause regarding termination and how to go about it if you decide you wish to cancel your contracts with this publisher and get the rights to your work back.
Unfortunately, your publisher needs to respond for you to be able to exercise this.
It may be that this is just a bump in the road. Some small presses work with a skeleton team behind the scenes and it only takes one person to be out with the flu for a couple of weeks to throw everything off kilter for a while. But if the pattern continues and new books aren't releasing on time or at all, emails continue to be ignored and royalties are not being reported or paid, you may need to get legal advice.
Even if you never manage to recover the missing royalties, you will want to get the rights to your work back so you can find new homes for your books.
I have my fingers crossed that this works out for you. Do let us know...