Monday, March 18, 2013

What to do in Case the Company that Published Your Book Goes out of Business

Sometime between October and December 19th of last year, one of the oldest Vanity Press publishing companies closed their doors. Just exactly when this happened is a very well-kept secret; all that is known is that the owner’s lawyers sent out a letter on December 19, 2012 to the “General, Unsecured Creditors of….”  The letter continued, expressing the company’s deepest regrets that its inventory was “in the hands of third-party distributors” and would not be enough to pay “creditor claims”. The letter concluded with: “We have been asked by management to express its sincere regret for the losses that creditors will sustain as a result of the failure of the business.”

This cold letter was received by the hundreds, if not thousands, of authors left in the lurch in the days immediately preceding Christmas. In fact, I, as well as several others, received mine on Christmas Eve.

I admit that my first reaction was of immediate horror. I had spent a lot of money to have my book published and it had recently been selling very well. To hear that I would NOT be receiving any royalties (which I had been counting on) and that I probably would not even get my books back, was quite an unpleasant thought, indeed; I screamed and threw the letter as far away from myself as possible (not very far, since I had neither scrumpled it up into a ball, nor had I made a paper airplane).

My housemate came quickly into the kitchen to find the source of the earthquake that had also broken his eardrums. I broke into angry, heartbroken sobs as I poured out the story of what was contained in the letter. The news left him as angry as I was, perhaps more so (if possible), but fortunately his reaction was to try and calm me down. This was, of course, a complete surprise. I had even written and published a rather whimsical short story based on not having received my royalties yet, two days after that the letter was sent. Little did I know that it would be somewhat prophetic.

The First Steps to Take

My first reaction is probably natural, and is exactly what the lawyers were going for. After I calmed down, however, I started thinking about how to go about regaining my books and publishing rights, as well as any royalties that might come my way. Of course, I already owned the copyright so that was no problem. So, I got in touch with a lawyer’s office, who directed me to a lawyer who dealt with authors’ rights. He told me that I should join an author’s guild. There are a number of guilds that offer support; which guild you choose will obviously depend on your needs and how much you are willing to spend for annual dues, but most do offer free legal assistance in addition to other perks. Be careful when searching, because not all offer the same services.

Often, authors in the same boat will unite in a private group on Facebook. If you hear of such a group, it’s a good idea to join it, but be sure to pay attention to those who join the group for reasons other than support; it may happen that some who are not actually part of the authors will join the group to further his/her own interests. Our group has grown daily, but no two of us have the same claims, which makes it difficult for us to get together in a class action suit, although the idea has been considered and several class action lawyers have been consulted.

The company’s lawyers have since sent out two more letters, one of which I have received; this letter invited us to request our publishing rights, but we had to agree to forego obtaining anything else, including books that had been paid for or royalties. Most of the authors, under legal advice, did not return the signed agreement. I haven’t received the other letter, although several others have said that it is a letter offering the books at a price of $0.50 handling fees + shipping fees for each book. Legal advice is also advisable here, especially if the number of books remaining is considerable.

Take a close look at your contract/ agreement. Then look again. It will give you a lot of information that you probably have forgotten. For instance, I had forgotten that the terms of the contract expired after two years, and that any time after that either party could terminate the agreement. I had also, unfortunately, forgotten that I could sue for breach of contract at any time if the company neglected to fulfill any part of the agreement, which they did in abundance.

In the end, I sent a termination letter – keeping in mind the terms of the agreement/ contract – and requested that all rights, royalties and books be returned to me within thirty days after receiving my letter. I sent it by first class certified mail with receipt; the date is drawing very near, and as there has of yet been no word, it is almost time to re-contact my lawyer.

Hopefully, everything can be settled outside of court; I will write about further steps as I meet up with them.