There are many reasons to have an agent in your corner, but the dreaded book cancellation–or having the plug pulled on your series–is a big one. Your agent will be your shoulder to cry on and help you with next steps.
Unfortunately, it happens and it’s not fun for anyone. This is not legal advice, but some experiences that you might have heard about.
Here are a few scenarios:
1. Your book gets cancelled before you sign your contract. This is heartbreaking, especially for debut authors. You’re so thrilled to have a book deal. Your agent negotiated the terms and accepted the offer. Next is the contract. However, sometimes things happen in this stage that stop it in its tracks (the publisher gets bought, the editors leaves, the publisher shutters an imprint, you can’t agree on terms etc). This is why agents usually like to wait until publishing contracts are signed to announce deals: to prevent this heartbreak from being too public in case we need to shop it again. But yes, we can shop it around again. Until the contract is signed, it’s nearly impossible to keep anyone accountable without suing them and even then you might not win if you don’t have a paper trail. So instead of taking legal action we dust ourselves off and continue to seek out a new home. You want a book deal because a publisher is crazy about your book (and will promote it with excitement), not because they have to.
2. Your book gets cancelled after you sign your contract. This can be a breach of contract if done without reason, but also could be that someone didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Did you deliver late? If so, you’re the one holding things up, but because publishing is an art not a science editors are usually okay with this sort of thing (for a few weeks, not a few years!). Being honest is always the best policy. Did you deliver really, really late? Then publishers are less forgiving. If you deliver a year late and it’s not quite the book the publisher hoped it would be (more the case with non fiction) then the project can be cancelled. (I won’t get into the scenario if someone cancels a book without reason. That’s another publishing law issue. Follow Susan Spann on Twitter for more copyright law.)
3. Your series stops after a few books and you hadn’t wrapped it up yet. This scenario is hard to attribute to anything other than low sales or a publisher closing its doors. One is somewhat in your control and the other isn’t at all. Publishers will offer a multi-book deal for a series, but that could be 2 books or 10 books and they’re only required to publish those under contract. If your books didn’t find their audience it’s hard for a publisher to continue to invest in your storyline. It’s purely a business decision and not personal. They signed it up originally because they loved it. If so, you can shop around the rest of your series (which can be hard because the new publisher can’t cross promote easily and it’s hard to find a new audience for something they can’t rebrand) or self publish it.
Publishing is time-intensive endeavour and careers are long. The best thing to do is get sad and get mad (to your agent only) and then learn from the experience and start on your next project. Everyone is trying to make the best business decisions they can–even if they’re not the ones you want to hear.
Feel free to share experiences or concerns in the comments below.
Click here for more on US copyright law. And remember each country has their own rules.