Monday, June 11, 2007

The publishing journey of a story

A new book comes out, and after you launch it into the world, you have to then jump on board and keep madly paddling (yes, a bit of a strained metaphor - never mind). Your buying audience can't purchase a book they don't know about!
When I talk about publishing, what people are interested in, I find, are stories about books that sink or swim in interesting ways. I think it illustrates what publishing can be - yes, a business, but often things can happen to your books that you never anticipate.
My picture book, Wednesday Was Even Worse, was a CBC Notable Book, yet 18 months after publication, the small publisher decided to close down. While quite a few of their titles were sold on to a big publisher, Wednesday was not one of them, so it was remaindered. I bought as many copies as I could afford (trust me, you always wish you'd bought more!) and requested my rights back. Later, when I'd sold all my copies, I spoke to the illustrator and she said she'd be happy for me to reprint the book myself. Except somewhere along the line, paperwork had exchanged hands and she doesn't have the right to give me that permission.
Big publisher doesn't want to reprint (who would, five years later?). Stalemate. It seems I finally have to let this book go and either submit text only to new publishers, or just keep my few remaining copies as souvenirs.
A situation I imagine quite a few authors find happens when out-of-print clauses come into operation, but when the text is illustrated, things get complicated. Nevertheless, I was glad to see Simon & Schuster appear to be backing down on (what I call) their infinity clause.
I digress.
The other end of this publishing journey is the story that will not die. Or the story (in this case, a short story) that keeps being reprinted. Quite a few years ago, a small feminist crime publisher was producing anthologies of short crime fiction. I had published two stories with her, and she asked for a story for the next collection that had "lots of dialogue please - I have too many exposition-heavy stories". I wrote a story called Fresh Bait and, to date, as well as the original anthology, it's been published four times elsewhere and a young film-maker has written a script from it and is planning to make the short film this year.
You just never know what is going to happen to a particular story or poem or novel. And that's why you have to get expert help with your contracts! It's not the everyday nuts and bolts of the publishing industry you're guarding against, it's the weird and wonderful that might happen in the future.

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