Saturday, August 31, 2013

Publishing Nightmares: A Brief History of TOONS Pt 3

My comedy series TOONS has a particularly complicated past, so I thought you might like to hear its journey. I'll be discussing how I came up with it, the path of writing, the problems I faced trying to get it published through traditional publishing, and how it ended up self-published. Part one was about how I came up with the idea. Part two, the struggle for publication and complications from Roger Rabbit. Part three, the closest I ever got to selling the book to a traditional publisher.

In the nineties, I continued to submit TOONS to publishers. I literally lost count of how many people rejected it. All the while, I took courses at ASU. Then one of my teachers told the class he’d just been published by a small publisher. When I told him about my novel TOONS, he recommended I submit my book to his publisher. I sent in my query, and the publisher requested the full manuscript. I think it was my teacher’s recommendation that got them to take it.

Well, a few months later, I got a call one night. It was the publisher. They wanted to publish my novel. The editor actually said one of her readers called TOONS a “modern masterpiece.” Naturally, I was excited – literally dancing while I talked on the phone. She would be in touch with the contract when she was ready to buy it.

So I waited. And waited. And waited. I waited a month. Then six months. While waiting, I continued to write and submit other manuscripts to other publishers, while holding onto TOONS. Needless to say, I got frustrated, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. During that time, I was in correspondence with an agent who said he would represent me with TOONS if I sold it (more complicated than that, but I won't go into it).

Over a year after talking to the publisher, I got another call. The editor said she was ready to buy the novel. (Looking back, since it was such a small publisher, I think it took her that long to earn the money for the advance first.) I told her I’d like to run the contract by the agent. She said (and I quote), “If you get an agent, the deal’s off.” I was taken aback, but just said okay. A few weeks later, I received a contract in the mail for TOONS. I ripped into it and began looking it over.

I’m not a lawyer, but I had some books on contracts that I used to evaluate the contract. It didn’t take long to realize it was bad. Really bad. Not only were the advance and percentages way below the industry standards, but it had clauses that were just disastrous. It snapped up all the rights you can imagine, and required me to submit all future manuscripts to this publisher. I didn't want that, because I wasn't happy with them so far and I had another publisher looking at Couch Potato. The clause that stuck out the most with me was one requiring that I would pay for any illustrations the publisher wanted to use. I didn't want illustrations in TOONS, and I didn't see why I should have to pay for illustrations I didn't want.

But, I thought, this is what negotiations are for. I wrote out a three-page letter explaining the problems I had with the contract and sent it out.

A couple weeks later, I received a package from the publisher. It was my original manuscript, along with a short letter from the editor saying that her contract was one she’d used many times, and she wasn’t about to change it for me.

And that was it.

I stopped submitting TOONS to publishers after that. I felt disgusted by the whole experience. I gave up, put TOONS in the drawer, and decided that TOONS would never see the light of day.

And then the self-publishing revolution rose up on the Internet. More on that in part four.

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