Important, lengthy preface to an already long post: I have no hard feelings at all towards Jason, who’s dealt with this whole thing very graciously. I wish only the very best for Polis and its authors, which include a good few friends of mine, and hope it’s a huge success. I’m also well aware that my experience isn’t representative; authors like Bryon and Zach Klein are glowing in their praise for Jason as a publisher, Dave snapped up the chance of a second deal with Polis last year, and with a suitable book in hand I’d work with Polis again in future. I just have shit-all luck when it comes to publishing.
Really, I have shit-all luck when it comes to publishing.
Almost a year ago to the day, I signed with Polis Books to publish five books previously either self-published or reworked from old published versions, or both, after Jason contacted me out of the blue with the offer to take them. This morning, I sent him an email asking him to terminate the contract.
Originally, the plan was to have them all out by the start of October last year. Polis was digital-only, the books were finished, and turnaround is obviously much faster under that paradigm. Months went past. The company signed a major print distribution deal (a deal which means right now friends of mine are getting/are about to get their hands on first-run copies of books), and continued to add a string of very talented writers to the list.
I’d heard nothing about the books since sending the last of them in back in April, and with the deadline gone I asked (very chirpily and politely, because I’m not a jerk) what the plan was. I knew things were busy; I’ve worked in/with small organizations before and understand the pressures. I also know publishing, and how production deadlines can slide for all sorts of reasons. He apologized for not getting in touch sooner, said my guesses were right - juggling the list, and now working in two different formats, was tough - and said he’d get back to me in a few days. That didn’t happen, so knowing Thanksgiving, his wedding, and then the great Christmas shutdown were looming, I tried again in early November, and heard nothing at all. I gave it a good while for things to settle after the holidays, and tried again a couple of weeks ago, with the same results. (Don’t forget that preface here; he’s since apologized for letting those emails slide, and I’m well aware how easily it happens when work’s piled up. I live in perpetual dread of forgetting to reply to editing clients for the same reason.)
At the same time, Bryon and Dave and Dusty and a slew of other authors had books rolling out, others, including a couple who’d signed after me, were dated, and cover-designed or into galleys. And when you read another author eulogizing over the publishing experience or tweets about how well things are going while you’re several days into waiting for a simple reply that won’t come, you have to face up to the fact that your goddamn luck stinks and while everyone else is doing dandy, this probably isn’t going to work out for you.
Hence today’s “Dear John”. I’ve been through similar times with Penguin after my editor emigrated while TDI was still locked in its 15-month wait for a jacket design. I’ve had it during an agency changeover years ago, and again when my last agent quit publishing without telling me. You feel like you’ve slipped through the cracks through no real fault of your own, and that rather sucks. I would, under the circumstances, rather walk away than risk seeing something punted half-assed out the door like Penguin did with TDI. Thankfully, Polis’s contracts are not artefacts from the Dark Ages of Publishing, and I wasn’t left with the choice between “suck it up” and “flail helplessly on social media”. I just said I wanted to go our separate ways, no hard feelings. Chalk it up to experience.
Jason has been very gracious and honest about it, and I’m very grateful for that. I have the rights back straight away, and he’s apologized unreservedly for the previous lack of communication. The jump to hardcopy distribution as well as digital - which is a very good thing for Polis’ authors on the whole - and the competing demands on scheduling and planning releases suddenly meant a five-book multigenre reissue mass by someone with little US track record was going to need a much longer run-up, and possibly the services of a voodoo priest or a cabal of cross-dimensional sorcerors to pull off properly. One book, one genre, new material, it would have been a different story. Two, three months earlier, even, maybe so again.
Which, y’know, blows. My luck, as I said, is awful when it comes to publishing.
Still, there we go. Life sucks, wear a hat, etc.. It’s a shame Bryon, Dave and I won’t all be under one publishing roof, but since that may presage the End Times, perhaps that’s a good thing. Cue David Coverdale or David Banner or a trotting German Shepherd and walk into the sunset.
(More sensibly, I should probably decide what to do with the things now they’re back with me. I suspect - though I’m not 100% on this just yet - I’ll set them all free. Set up a tip jar, leave it at that. Move on. Aside from anything else, I’ve got other work to be doing. One complete book sloooooowly making its way through agent submissions because I’ve been too busy to do it faster, one short one written for Aidan in need of typing up and editing, and one ongoing Proper Serious Novel.)