My Experience with Corruption & Cruelty from the Publishing Industry
I have now written a total of seven books and guides. Eight if you count my first starting solids guide which became a book. I have also completed a Doctoral thesis that took me four years during which I gave birth to both my sons. I am now 33 weeks pregnant with our third baby having gone through two miscarriages over this time as well.
I am an author. It is my dream and enables me to fulfill on my lifelong mission.
With a background in the cut-throat world of academia I had no illusion that being an author would be an easy path…. but I did not expect the level of corruption and the cruelty I have received. I am still working through the impact of how I have been treated especially over the last year.
As I mentioned in my preview post, I have kept waiting for the ‘right’ time to share this. I have wondered if I even want to share this.
Will it just bring everything up?
Will it come across like I am just complaining?
That it was really my fault?
Should I just be grateful because not many get to work with a publisher?
Classic shame and isolation which is the currency that bullies trade in. But I have two sons and now another child on the way. My truth is also their truth. They witnessed what happened, the impact and the struggle for me to keep doing what I do – which to give it some context – is to use the knowledge and skills I worked hard for to put an end to lifestyle disease.
One of my hardest challenges as a mother is to guide my children to know right from wrong. Hiding my truth will not teach them this. I also know that I do have this powerful platform and that when I speak and write I am also doing so for those that do not have such a voice.
So here it is.
A Publishing Deal
When I finished my PhD, I spent six months knocking on publishers doors determined to find someone who would publish my book. Breaking into the industry is not for the faint-hearted. As a first-time author there is no book advance. You are full time dedicating yourself to something that ultimately may not come to fruition, let alone pay bills.
To undertake this with a very young family is taking a leap of faith, knowing you have a greater chance of failure than you do of success. Let us leave the “what is failure; what is success argument”, as when you have $500 plus in childcare bills alone a week and no family support, failure is rather palpable.
I thought the hardest part would be to find a publisher prepared to publish my work. In my case this turned out to be the easy part. I was unprepared for the corruption within the industry. Many books are written by paid ghost writers. Many books are simply paid for. I was told by numerous publishing companies that if I paid $60k plus my book would get published no problem. Many books get published and either the author or their family will simply buy the first publishing run so the author gets a ‘best seller’ sticker slapped on or they will continue to get a publishing deal. Many authors are skinned alive in the royalties alone being paid less than 10% of total sales.
This is just the tip of the iceberg by the way. Do not get me started on the politics in the world of mainstream media which, until the rise of social media, was the only real weapon in marketing and selling a book. A “nobody like me” according to a particular comment from someone at Nielsen Books, really should not exist in this industry.
Six months is not a long time trying to get a publishing deal. I had already written a thesis and self-published two ebooks at this stage so had an idea of what was involved and had some numbers to lend weight to my case. I could also write. I did not realise that was more of a rarity in the publishing industry than the norm. In other words, the publishing company would not have to invest extra money into getting the book written and finished.
When I got the deal, I was so happy and excited. Sure, I was nervous of what would be involved but ultimately, I could not believe someone believed in my dream – in me. I had a tight deadline of four months to turn the book around. I finished The Nourished Baby manuscript with only a weeks’ extension. The first sign that something was going sideways was when the publishers asked if they could push my release date back a month. This was about four weeks out from when it was going to be released. I did not understand – I had done everything they required. I had also organised a massive tour (20 cities in 10 weeks) to promote the book (not funded a cent by them) and there was no way I could push the date back. Turns out they asked to make room in their publishing schedule for another author who was six months behind in their deadline. I had strict rules on my pre-sales because we needed to “look after the book stores”. Book stores, especially large chains have their own level of corruption. One conversation with Joan of Joan’s Picks from Whitcoulls will tell you that.
I sold out of our first run of 3000 books in less than a year. This alone made my publishers over a ¼ of a million dollars. Yes, we struggled to make our monthly book payments. Royalties do not get paid for at least six months after a book is released so that means working on a book and promoting it without seeing a single dollar for 18 months or more. You buy the books off the publisher. So, is that a surprise? To our publishers it was. Yet another concerning sign. They were not willing to deduct my royalties. This made no logical sense as these do not get paid out for six months. We had to battle them every step of the way for a workable solution.
I was writing The Nourished Toddler at the same time. Another leap of faith having not seen $1 from the first book but TIME is the most valuable asset to an author….well I think it is anyway because you cannot make up time. I had to FIGHT to get this published. Largely helped by the presales I had done. I had ignored the ‘rules’ because I previously outsold bookstores 8 books to 1 and thus I could not understand why they were so important to look after. I wanted to look after those that truly support me (that is you by the way!).
I officially got my contract for The Nourished Toddler the day I handed in my manuscript for the book. I believe the publishers thought I would fail at handing in the manuscript on their ridiculously tight deadline and just go away. They reserve the first right to refuse subsequent book contracts and need to justify this to the board, so this was an easy way to get rid of a ‘difficult’ but selling author. Difficult because I don’t come from family wealth and difficult because I have an idea on how to market books (they do not use social media or influencers – yes really). Difficult because this is not a tiny part of my income, it is my entire income and I have a family to feed. Again, I repeat I wrote this book not only without an advance, without seeing $1, without seeing royalties yet BUT ALSO WITHOUT A CONTRACT.
When this book went off to print, we started the negotiations for my next book - my cookbook contract. If you think I did not question whether what I had to go through was worth it - of course I did. But see I work with real people. People who just like me, maybe in a different way, struggle. Struggle with motherhood, struggle to juggle all the balls, struggle to keep doing what they love while also trying to be the best mother they can, struggle to break the glass ceiling, struggle to pay for their mortgage and daycare or just make ends meet. Struggle with miscarriage, infertility, infidelity and the myriad of other things families have to cope with and hold together against. I feel like my small part in helping to guide children to eat better and improve overall wellbeing and maybe get a healthy home-cooked meal on the table is like a drop in the ocean of these struggles but if it is something that I can help one other family with, then of course it is worth it. The day we stop caring about other people is the day humanity is truly lost.
It was also clear people (beautiful, amazing people) liked what I wrote and created. I am an author that SELLS. If it is not obvious by now, I do not write books to make millions. But for a publishing company it would be a different story if this was not the case as they would then lose money. The publishing company had an entire storage unit dedicated to books that had not sold. This time they were offering an advance (OMG!). It was small but still meant for the first time I would get paid a little bit for writing a book before 18 months out.
But…and this is a big BUT….they were only willing to contribute $1000 towards photos. This is all they contributed to the other books but a cookbook is different – you need photographs and a lot of them. Food photographs at that which come with a higher price tag. We had already paid more than that in the cover photo and internal photos alone. A camera today costs more than $1000. The cheapest quote we found for photographs in the cookbook was around $20,000. This was without a food stylist or props, or the ingredients.
Yes, you read that right a minimum of $20,000 to photograph around 80-90 recipes. I am not saying a photographer’s work is not worth that but now you understand the insane privilege of those who are in a position to create a cookbook. $1000 is kind of a joke right? At no point did I expect the publishers to pay the full amount, understanding this was a two-way relationship. I did want to come to some middle ground. Otherwise we would be literally paying for the book to get published. So, we spent time trying to negotiate this. Months. Working on the book without a fully signed contract again….. Yes I approached other publishers to weigh up options and surprisingly none wanted to even meet with me. Or their ‘gate-keepers’ where unwilling to pass my proposal on. Again it did not seem to make sense given the clear fact I make the publishers money…..other than they wanted to keep me out. An author who can write and sell with very little spent on marketing and PR is a threat to those who cannot.
22nd November, 2018 at around 3.30
I got an email from our publishers. I need to emphasis this was AN EMAIL. Not a phone call. Not a request for an in-person meeting. An email. This email stated that they would be withdrawing the contract for the cookbook. There was no reason why. There was no negotiation offered. I had actively worked on this book for 5 months intensively (from May) under good faith that we would still be publishing the book one way or another.
The worst part…..it was not the cookbook I was really worried about. I knew that I could still publish the book and that while it would be harder at first it was probably a blessing in disguise. BUT I was worried about MY OTHER BOOKS. The books that legally the publishers OWNED. If they were not going to publish my next book…..what would they do to those books? They could hold the manuscripts to those books and no longer publish them. They could do the unimaginable to the current stock of books they had. If they were cruel enough. Which they were. I KNEW in that single moment what was ahead of me. I KNEW what they would try to do to me. It was clear that as they did not have the balls to talk to me in person about the ending of this contract that they were going to try and crush everything I had ever worked for. Without rhyme or reason. Simply because they could and were in a position of power to do so. It was not about money – I have made them literally hundreds of thousands over the previous couple of years. While we scrapped and fought and battled household bills. We did not owe them any money either on the books – we had been paying for our books IN ADVANCE before selling them. They were going to take away EVERYTHING I had worked for just because they could. They were going to take away my livelihood.
While I sat there on the floor almost paralysed with anxiety, grief, shock and fear my eldest son came up to me. He sat on the floor and looked at me with his big brown eyes and said what’s wrong mama? At the age of six I had been writing his entire young life and he had seen many years of hatred and bullying directed at me and understood enough.
So, I told him.
He asked me what was I going to do? Sometimes in business, or in life, you do not get weeks or days to decide a course of action. Sometimes you do not even get hours. You get faced with circumstances and in mere seconds you need to decide. And here was where the publishers made a fatal mistake. They came between a mother and her children. Not just my children but also the children of the world. Having my eldest son right there, looking up to me, I knew that despite how I was feeling at that moment, what I said and did right then would shape our path ahead and be something we would come back to for many years to come when I was trying to guide him with his own decisions….especially when things come left of field.
With my heart in my throat I said to him “I will fight. I am going to fight them with everything that I have.” I also said to him that “we might fail, but I will do everything I can to ensure we don’t because this not ok. This is not how you treat others.”
I would like to say the fight was not as bad as I thought but it was. It was in fact the very worst case scenario I had predicted. They gave us one month to come up with an unobtainable monetary figure in which to buy the manuscripts off them and the current stock of books or they would