On December 7th (no symbolism there) of 2011, Marshall Cavenidsh Children's Books announced that they had been sold to Amazon. This announcement would have meant nothing to me, except that on March of that year, I sold a young-adult short-story collection to them. Extremities: Stories of Death, Murder, and Revenge is a book I had been trying to sell, in various forms, for at least ten years. (Along the way, it sat for two years with an editor who'd promised to publish it, and then broken his word.) The great irony is that, when I sold it to Cavendish, I was weighing a second offer. Had I accepted that one, the book would be on the shelves now. But that's a side issue. The crucial thing is that, on December 7th, anyone who had a book with Marshall Cavendish became a pawn in a larger game with several powerful players and far too many victims. I've been following the game closely, since I'm on the board. (Though I'm not a king's pawn.)
Soon after the news hit, I decided I needed to buy back my contract. (One of my hobbies is performing grand and meaningless gestures.) I didn't like the idea that my book wouldn't be available in stores. (I know that Barnes and Noble recently decided to stock those books that had been published or contracted by Marshall Cavendish before the announcment. But I suspect there are many independent stores that won't do this.) Book stores are crucial for both readers and writers. I love watching young readers browsing the shelves. That's a magic I hope we never lose. It's a thrill seeing their excitement as they spy a favorite author's name on a spine, or grab a book whose title intrigues them. I didn't want to lose my browsers. And, really, I didn't want to be part of this game. I'm happy to have my books on Amazon. I want my books available in all formats and for sale at all venues. But when I sold the book to Marshall Cavendish, they were a traditional publisher, well loved by both the chains and the indies. (And by their authors.) That's the deal I signed up for, and that's the deal I wanted for this book.
Last month, I sent a check to Amazon to repay the part of the advance I'd received. I've waited eagerly for news that the check was deposited. It finally happened. The book is mine. A weight has been lifted from my spirit. Tor/Starscape agreed to publish the book next year. I'm excited about the collection. The stories are dark and horrifying. There will be illustrations, which I suspect will also be dark and horrifying. I know I'll be missing out on the powerful promotion Amazon could put behind the book, and I admit the decision was not based on career considerations, but I had to follow my heart. The book is right where it belongs.
I feel badly for the writers who have all their books with Marhsall Cavendish Children's Books. They weren't given a choice. Some of them have been unable to get their books delivered for signings at conferences or school visits. But I don't think of Marshall Cavendish Children's Books or Amazon as villains in this. The only real villain is the parent company, Marshall Cavendish Corporation. They didn't care whether they were escorting writers onto a cruise ship or tossing them under a bus. This is disgraceful behavior for a publishing company. I now understand why, when I was introduced to the president of the company (or the CEO, or some high-up mucky-muck wearing lifeless eyes and a gray suit) last year at the Public Library Association conference, he seemed disinterested in meeting me. He already knew I'd been sold. Dear sir -- you suck. Some day, I hope you learn that books are not commodities and that authors are not expendable.
As I said, I am a very small player in all of this. And a YA short-story collection is hardly the sort of book that will earn as much as one of my novels (though it's really a sweet little volume). But, ultimately, I wanted a voice in the fate of my book. After ten years of trying to get it on the shelves, that's not a lot to ask. I might turn out to be a fool or a genius, but I won't be a pawn. And, when the book gets releases, I'm planning to throw one heck of a party. I suspect it won't be hard to find a willing book store to host it.