When Your Press Goes Belly Up

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page. 

Her new m/m erotic medical thriller Roughing It is out! This book is a sexy cross between The X Files, The Andromeda Strain, and Outbreak. Read her short erotic story Babes in Begging For It, published by Cleis Press. You will also find her new novel No Restraint at Amazon. Enjoy a good, sexy read today.


Yet another publisher suddenly announced it’s going under. DarkFuse, a horror imprint, sent a generic form letter to everyone who either had outstanding submissions or contracts with them. DarkFuse always struck me as being a market to get into, but from what I’m hearing from those affected by the Chapter 7 filing, DF isn’t handling the whole mess in a professional manner. I had submitted a short story to DF and I did not hear anything until SEVEN MONTHS LATER when DF announced it was in hiatus. Suffice to say I was pissed. Granted, I knew DF could take up to 8 months to respond to submissions, but to finally get word and to know the press didn’t even open my file left me quite miffed. I could have sent the story out to other markets during that long period of time and may even have found a home for it. Now I have to start the entire process all over again – seven months late.

Remember when Samhain closed? Samhain was best known for publishing romances but it had delved into horror. This one was another market to aim for, and even it wasn’t immune to the changing publishing landscape. Everyone knows of the disaster that was Ellora’s Cave. EC did not do right by its authors. There are signs that a pub is going under. Here are a few:

  1. Does not respond to emails in a timely fashion or at all.
  2. Sudden non-communication.
  3. Publisher email bouncing or phone calls not going through.
  4. Dragging out the publication date for weeks or months on end.
  5. Press threatens writers who protest poor treatment.
  6. Royalties not being paid on time or at all.
  7. Web site is not updated.

If you run into any of these issues, beware. The pub may be in trouble. I don’t know what to do if you request your rights back when you get wind the pub is actually closing and it refuses to release them or you hear crickets. Some writers have hired lawyers to fix the problem but most writers I know do not have money coming out of their ears. After all, they are writers. Most don’t earn a living wage. Eventually the rights have reverted back but it may take awhile.

Here are some tips I’ve learned from watching one small press after another close:

*Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Submit to several publishers so you have works in more than one. This is to protect yourself. You don’t want to see all your works dissolve once your only publisher goes belly up.

*Have as many as a dozen short stories out there in circulation as submissions to numerous publishers.

I was told this trick from a writer who has had many short stories published. Submit to as many markets as you can. Look up Duotrope, Ralan’s, and of course the ERWA submissions page for submission calls. Go to your favorite publishers and see if there are any themed or non-themed anthologies calls. If you like the theme, write something and submit it. Don’t write one or two stories and hope for the best. Submit as many as a dozen stories. You’ll hear back more often and you may see more acceptances. The more irons you have in the fire, the more likely you are to see some good results.

*Think of yourself as blessed if your book was under consideration by a publisher yet it wasn’t published before the press closed.

My first indie press closed before it published my book. Twilight Fantasies was one of several publishers that closed one right after the other in 2007. At first I was angry that the press had been stringing me along insisting my book was coming out in a month or two and then later not responding to my emails at all. When the pub folded, I was told it was a good thing my book was never published because if it had been, to resell it would have been quite difficult since it would have been considered a reprint even if it had been available for purchase for only a month or two. Or less. Once the pub closed my rights reverted back to me and I sent the book off to Dark Eden Press only to see that press fold. I then send it to a third press whose name I can’t recall anymore – and it (you guess it) promptly folded. Talk about a string of rotten luck! So I was able to show my rights had reverted back to me via an email TF sent me and finally Fanny Press later published the book. That book is my paranormal erotic romance An Unexpected Guest and you may buy it at Amazon. This was my first novel and the experience gave me a sour taste in my mouth that I never really recovered from.

*Get your rights back and send the work out again. Find it a new home.

Don’t be dismayed that your book isn’t going to see the light of day with a publisher that went belly-up. That doesn’t mean no one else will want it. Research other viable markets and resubmit. If you wish to do some further editing by all means do so but get that book back out there as quickly as possible lest you lose your nerve. I research several markets and I send my works to each one in order until one accepts my work. You can’t give up or get depressed about it. If you do, you’ll never see your books published.

The best bet when dealing with questionable publisher is to be wary and be informed. Research Ellora’s Cave, Twilight Fantasies, Dark Eden Press, Samhain and DarkFuse to see what all the closings had in common and what writers did to protect themselves. That way, you hopefully won’t be caught up in disaster should one of your pubs deep six itself.

Writing this Novel part VII

By Kathleen Bradean

I’ve been in the tiny universe of
erotica long enough that I understand the niches publishers inhabit, but you
might not. Perhaps you wrote your story with a publisher in mind. If you
didn’t, you’re going to have to do some research. Go to the publisher’s website
and check out their newest offerings. Read their submission guidelines. If
possible, read a couple of their books. Don’t waste their time and don’t waste yours
sending the wrong book to the wrong publisher.

Just as you wouldn’t submit a book
on puppy training to a publisher of cookbooks, you shouldn’t submit your erotic
romance novel to a publisher of (literary) erotica. If you don’t know the
difference between erotic romance and literary erotica, don’t feel bad. It’s
not a simple distinction and the line between the two is blurry at best. As a
generalization, erotic romance is written in the genre style of romance. It absolutely
requires a happy-ever-after or happily-for-now ending, and focuses on the relationship
between two (sometimes three) people. So yes, there’s graphic sex but it’s
about bonding the characters emotionally. 

Literary erotica is written in the
genre style of literary fiction, but it can have a happily-ever-after ending
and it may focus on a relationship. Rather than emotional bonding though, sex
scenes are (normally) used to define or change a character. 

Still don’t know
where your book falls in the spectrum? Erotic romance sells better than
literary erotica, so if you have a novel that dances on the foggy boundary (with requisite
happy ending), and sales matter to you, you might want to call it erotic romance and seek out those publishers.


Before you sign with any publisher,
send emails to several writers with books at that publisher. Ask them if their
publishing experience was good. Ask them if they get paid royalties regularly
and on time. Find someone who used to publish through them who doesn’t anymore
and ask why. Check Predators and Editors. If you’ve hung around writer’s lists
long enough, you’ve seen the horror stories of unpaid royalties, rights being
tied up in court, unprofessional and unscrupulous business practices, and a
host of other problems. Experienced writers place their books with several
different publishers to mitigate exposure to their publisher’s business
problems, but even a good shop can go to hell overnight, especially if it’s
small press and the owner is essentially the entire company. All it takes is a
car accident or sudden illness. I’m not saying be paranoid, but be aware of who
you’re entering into a contract with. It’s called due diligence. Do your
homework. Protect yourself.

Also check the terms of the
contract thoroughly and know what each paragraph means. There are websites that
will warn you about bad contract terms. Things I’ve turned down contracts for:
a clause that said I could never speak ill of the publisher or its employees.
First look rights (this sounds good but it isn’t for YOU). A contract that
meant they had my rights forever. A contract that demanded I prove my gender. Lousy
ebook royalties.  The right to use 100%
of my story for “advertising” with no additional compensation in any
publication or website the conglomerate owned. 
And yes, I tried to negotiate those terms because everyone says you can
negotiate. “Everyone” is either a writer with a lot of pull or a liar because for
the most part you’ll be told to sign it or go away. Only you can decide what’s
right for you and how desperate you are to be published.

Five or six years
ago, a large erotic romance e-publisher bought a novel from me. (Yes, I wrote a book that could pass as erotic romance. It happens.)  Three months after the contract was signed,
they sent an email that they tried to back date telling me that my novel was
rejected. Yeah, you can type a date from months ago in the body of an email,
but the time stamp of when it was received is all that counts, people. For some
reason telling me they changed their mind was out of the question, and so was
being polite or apologetic about it. I still have that SIGNED contract in my
files. Did I try to enforce it? No. I didn’t see the point. I didn’t want to do
business with a company that proved they had no morals. So just be aware that
even a signed contract means nothing unless you have
the means and desire to fight it in court if it is breached.


I had a publisher in mind when I
wrote Night Creatures (still playing with the title, I may make it Night
.)  so I didn’t have to research
them. I did, however, have to ask what they like to see in a submission and how
they wanted it formatted, because part of being a professional writer is taking
the business side seriously. If your writing doesn’t make your story stand out,
don’t for a second believe that comic sans font will. Giving the publisher what
they want, in the format they want it, and only what they want tells the
publisher that you’re a reasonable person who won’t give them trouble over
stupid things. (So if your manuscript is accepted, prove it by not being an ass
over stupid things. Seriously, writer folk, don’t be THAT writer.)  

After I knew what the publisher
wanted, I put together my submission package, which in this case was an email.
They didn’t ask for a synopsis (joy, rapture! I loathe writing a synopsis) so I
sent a simple cover letter (body of the email), formatted like a business email
(my full contact info, date, etc.), with all the usual cover letter info: title
of the work, genre, word count (complete) in the first paragraph. A brief
synopsis of the story (second paragraph). Wind up: thank you for your
consideration… in the third paragraph, and a signature block. The full
manuscript was an attachment.

Sent it off and waited. And waited…
After a couple months I sent a polite inquiry about where I was in the
submission process. Polite. Don’t even type with an attitude. It’s a discreet
cough, not a temper tantrum. And I got a very nice reply back that basically
said “We need a few more weeks.” Not a problem, so I waited.

And here’s where you may expect
that I say “And it’s coming out in October!” Well, no. The publisher wants me
to rewrite the first two chapters and resubmit. Did I collapse onto my fainting
couch? Did I send it off to a different publisher? No. Rejection isn’t
personal. It’s an opportunity to learn something. 

Being honest with
myself, I know that the first two chapters were the weakest part of my novel.
So I’m working on those chapters. I told the publisher that I would resubmit it
when I fixed my work, and I will. Now, if it’s turned down after that, I could
turn to another publisher, but because I understand the niche markets
publishers inhabit, I already know that there are few who would touch this edgy
piece. It’s dark and it’s bloody. I could self-publish. I think about those
options but it’s far too early in the process to give up on this publisher just

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