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Friday, January 4, 2019

Beginnings and Endings: My Curiosity Quills Story

Four and a half years ago, I signed my first book contract. I was so happy! The first step in the fulfillment of a dream. Validation of my work. Lisa Gus, the head of the company, was flattering about my work and seemed really enthusiastic about the possibilities for it.

The company was Curiosity Quills Press.

I'd done my due diligence with research. Always a good idea to google anyone you're considering working with, and for presses, definitely look at writer protecting information sites like Writer Beware.

I also knew one person (an online writer friend) who had worked with them and he had a good experience. The contract was clear and, based on my limited knowledge at the time, I thought it was fair. So, I wasn't duped or stupid. I did my best to make a good decision.

Things were good for a couple of years. My first book came out timely. The editing was decent. I liked my cover. Sales were steady if not quit-your-job fabulous. Royalties were paid in a timely manner. Communication was prompt and responsive. I received support for marketing with things like graphics creation and special pricing for events.

There was talk of some film rights. I was led to believe an audiobook was in the works.

I saw my second book in the series into print with the same company, wrote a between-the-books novella for a multi-author collection, a side story collection, and then the third novel. All this between 2014 (contract signed) and 2017 (third novel released).

As early as 2016, I started to see signs of trouble. 

Because of delays on the cover art, I had a book launch party for book number 2 at which I had no actual copies of the book to sell. Those same delays kept me from being able to get pre-publication reviews and guest posts on bigger name sites because I couldn't send the information and copies required in time. 

Everyone at CQ was super apologetic, and I rolled with it, taking it as a one-time fluke. 

It wasn't. 

With the release of the second novel, we had agreed to make some changes to the first, correcting some surface errors that weren't found before publication, adding an indication on the cover that it was a book one, now that there clearly was more to the series, and changing the end matter to advertise other books in the series. 

We went through the whole process and I went merrily on my way, assuming they'd done as they said they would. 

They didn't. 

I didn't find out for months because I order my print copies in large quantities, so it was a long time before I ran out of copies of book one and ordered more. I was heartbroken when I opened my new box of books and saw that NONE of the promised changes had been made. 

When I called them on it, the changes were made, but no satisfactory explanation was ever given for why it hadn't happened months earlier, when it was promised and agreed upon. 

After that, I moved more cautiously. 

Communication was slowing. I'd ask questions and wait more than a month for an answer, sometimes having to nudge again to get it. (Earlier all responses had come within a week). 

The editing process for the third book was protracted and difficult, and resulted in copy that didn't satisfy my own standards. I asked for and was granted additional passes by other eyes, which meant more delays. 

When I saw the cover for the third book, I had to send it back and remind them that the character that was portrayed on it was Hispanic, not white, so the skin tone was inappropriate. Seems like my publishers ought to have known that already, and conveyed that information to the artist. CQ had always prided itself on diversity in its catalogue. 

I didn't have a book launch party for the third book at all, worried that I'd have no paper books in
hand again. Turned out to be a legit worry, as the paper copies were delayed, and, when they finally arrived, they looked terrible. The colors were muted and it didn't jump off the shelf at all. Very different than the vibrancy of the digital edition or the previous two books.

It took months and months to get anything better. No offer was made to compensate me for author copies I'd purchased that looked terrible. No, "let us make this good" like I had expected. The explanation I was offered was that it was technical issues related to CMYK printing.

I stayed civil, but I was livid. Why was this my problem? Shouldn't the publisher have communicated that kind of information with the artist and gotten a cover that would print well? The final version was improved, but still doesn't look nearly as vibrant as the first two covers. I did my part. They didn't do theirs.

In the Facebook group for authors and other members of the CQ team, I started to see more and more problems of this sort. People not getting paper copies months and months after their digital release. Covers with errors, including even a misspelled title! Conversations with other CQ writers I knew were full of worry and consternation. 

Communication got slower and slower. By 2018, there was one woman in the office who actually responded when you sent a message. She'd say, "I'll ask Eugene," and then you'd listen to the crickets chirp until you sent another nudge and another and another. Getting any kind of answer to any kind of question was now taking multiple months. 

There was all this vague and confusing talk about a new endeavor called WishKnish that sounded entirely fishy to me. 

2018 was also the first time I didn't get paid when I was expecting to. It was happening to others as well. When I wrote and called them on it, I got paid, but it happened a couple of more times before the year ended. Some folks still haven't been paid for work they've already done and sales that were already made.

I had a bad feeling in the base of my stomach every time I thought about Curiosity Quills by this point. 

Another writer friend who runs in the same circuit of conventions I do and was also published by Curiosity Quills had taken his rights back. Everyone in the business I talked to said that these were some very bad signs and I should do the same to get out while the getting was good. Other writers shared their horror stories about having rights caught in limbo when companies folded. 

I hesitated. Curiosity Quills had given me a break when I had no readership, with my debut novel. I'm a loyal person. I didn't want to jump ship if this was a rough patch and things were going to get better. But I began to talk quietly with other small publishers I'd gotten to know over the last few years. I knew I had at least one publisher who was interested in taking on my work if I left. I held onto that thought as a life raft. 

Things continued to go downhill, not for me personally since I didn't publish anything with them in 2018, but for many others. I stopped writing the series and spent 2018 writing something else entirely. I worried this would hurt the momentum of my sales and my series, but I didn't want to give Curiosity Quills any more of my work until they showed they'd do well by it. 

They didn't show me that. In fact, things looked sketchier and sketchier by the day.

So, in October, I did it. I asked for my rights back. 

I was expecting a struggle over it, which was probably part of why I hesitated all those months. The contract asked for kill fees and I was worried I'd have to get a lawyer involved to show how they had breached the contract already and shouldn't gain from my work. My other job is teaching, which doesn't pay well enough to make legal fees a casual consideration. 

To my great relief, my rights were granted painlessly with pleasant words wishing me well in my publishing journey. To my even greater relief, Falstaff Books signed me right away, and agreed to get my books re-released in early 2019. 

In December, I learned that the company had not paid that nice woman who still responded to messages since October and that she had left the company. I began to feel like I'd jumped ship just in time. (click here for the Writer Beware article). Author after author, including their biggest names and most prolific writers are leaving. I'd be surprised if the company doesn't entirely fold here quite soon. 

The worst part about the ending of this story is what feels like unprofessional and disrespectful behavior of the company towards me and the other writers. They've been ghosting the entire group. They stopped responding to emails, private group messages, DMs, and even public social media callouts.

Failure happens. Companies fold. Endeavors fail. Partnerships end. But there are good ways and bad ways to handle that. Curiosity Quills did not show well in the end. 

I'm so sad that what started as a grand adventure has ended with me feeling like I have an especially lousy ex-boyfriend who didn't have the balls to end it properly and let us both move on. 

I'm so glad I got out when the getting was good. I hope my fellow Literary Marauders all find safe havens for their work, too, as this continues to fall out. 

6 comments:

  1. What a shame! It could have so easily been handled differently. So glad you got out (and it sounds like to a better situation) before it was too late!Thank you for sharing as it is important that we all support each other.

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    1. Thanks, Maureen. I really am fortunate to have had good advise and good support to come out feeling only bruised and not broken.

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  2. That's so sad. I'm glad you got out before they folded.

    I was with a publisher that closed as well, but they were respectful and treated us well until the very end. There's no excuse for treating authors in the manner you experienced.

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    1. There's definitely a right and a wrong way to handle these things.

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  3. Whoa. Thanks for sharing that! I actually know someone who is a team member of theirs. I wonder if she sees these things and what she thinks. Although I really don't want to ask. It's really sad that this is happening. I know a lot of people who have been published by them.

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