Archive for March 22nd, 2010

Monday, March 22nd, 2010 by Carrie Vaughn
Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Choosing to Leave a Publisher

Sasha’s posts about choices from a couple of weeks ago (here and here) really struck a chord with me, because I think she’s exactly right.  We do control more than the story, and we do have choices when it comes to our careers.  This is why it’s important to actually have a plan for your career.  What would you like your career to look like?  Whose career would you like to emulate?  How do you do that?

Our purpose here at the blog is to talk about some of the gritty realities of working as a writer. One of those realities is the ability to say, “No,” and to walk away from a deal.  When the deal benefits someone else instead of you, the writer, you have to be able to walk away.

I’ve been sitting on this news since last July, because I wanted to wait until the situation progressed a little farther and I saw what kind of fallout there was going to be.  This is really the first place I’ve talked about this in any detail.  Okay, here it goes.

I left my publisher.  When it came time to negotiate a new contract for more Kitty novels with Grand Central last summer, we couldn’t come to an agreement that we were all happy with.  When Grand Central said, essentially, “Take it or leave it,” I left.  And it was as horrible as any breakup.  All the metaphors I come up with are failed relationship metaphors:  All those years we spent together, all the good times and feelings, all wasted now, overshadowed by fighting and ill will.  Was it something I did?  Am I in the wrong here?  And the thought, in hindsight, that maybe I should have left a long time ago.

It’s been very strange, because while lots of us have heard of situations where a publisher drops an author, it’s relatively rare for the author of a successful series to walk away from a deal.  Or for a publisher to let that successful series go.  I haven’t had much of a model to go on, or much of anyone to ask for advice.  When I tell this story to hardened pros, the response I’ve been getting is, “What?  Are they crazy?”

The point of contention here wasn’t money — it was the non-competition clause, which we had argued over before.  I have two stand-alone contemporary fantasy novels I wrote when I was waiting to see if the Kitty series would sell, and I’ve been trying to get those out there.  Grand Central rejected them.  I really wanted to sell them elsewhere.  Grand Central really didn’t want me doing anything under my own name but the Kitty novels.  I really wanted to do them under my own name.  So, it was an issue of control.  I wanted to be able to diversify my career, publish other novels, expand my audience, and so forth.  My agent and I offered compromises, which Grand Central did not accept.

Walking away was not the hardest thing I’ve ever done because Grand Central really didn’t give me a choice.  They had one vision for what my career should be, and I had a different vision.  I had to go with my gut on that one.  For them I was just another author, one of many.  But I only have one me — I am my only business.  I have to look out for my own interests, which I felt Grand Central was not doing in this case.  What was hard was leaving my editor, who I really like and who really knows her stuff, and leaving a publisher that did a good job with the books.  But I have more stories to tell.  My name is worth something right now and I have to strike while the iron is hot.

Why did I wait to tell the news instead of spilling it all over the blogosphere while it was happening?  Lots of reasons (besides the fact that I’m pretty private anyway).

1.    Grand Central still had Kitty’s House of Horrors and my true nightmare scenario was that they would somehow delay its release.  Now, this would have benefited no one, least of all Grand Central.  But remember, I was thinking worse case scenarios here.  Happily, that didn’t happen.  The book came out on schedule and hit the NYT list at #16.  And now my contractual obligations are fulfilled and I can move on.

2.    I had to sell the series to a new publisher.  I’m one of those writers who is superstitious about talking up deals before they’re finalized.  I really didn’t want to air any laundry (much less dirty laundry) before I found a new publisher and established a working relationship with a new editor.  Happily, this is now accomplished.  I turned in Kitty #8, Kitty Goes to War, the first novel on the new contract, in November, and it’ll be due out in July.

3.    Emotion.  Emotions ran really high there for a little while.  The worst thing I could have done was blog while I was in that state of confusion, uncertainty, helplessness, bafflement, etc.  Especially before I knew how it was all going to work out.  (This is also why I think blogging about relationships is a bad idea…)

The Kitty series is now with Tor Books.  How do I feel about having a new home?  Well.  Pretty good, actually.  Tor also bought those two stand-alone novels.  When I pitched the series, I included — and Tor accepted — the Kitty short story collection, gathering all the Kitty and related short stories that have appeared in various publications over the years as well as an original novella.  This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years, and something Grand Central wouldn’t do at all. So, I’m hopeful that I’m now with a publisher that is interested in my whole career rather than one specific series and nothing else.

There’s still uncertainty.  Maybe Grand Central was right, and me branching out and publishing non-Kitty books will tank my career (that’s what I kept getting told, anyway).  Another issue:  Grand Central still has the rights to the backlist, books 1 through 7, as long as they keep them in print.  Which should be a no-brainer — it’s minimal effort income at this point.  But who knows.  But whatever happens, at least I’m following the path I think is right rather than knuckling under.