Turning Literary Lemons into Lemonade
Some children dream of becoming an astronaut, a world-famous singer, or perhaps a ninja/doctor (that last one was my son). My dream to become a prolific author began when I was 12 years old. I can remember boldly declaring that to the world feeling as if the clouds would part and something epic would happen. It didn’t, so I spent the next 30 years making various attempts at publishing a collection of my poetry. I finally accomplished that via self-publishing on Amazon in 2014.
Before this new publishing avenue, I was under the impression that the only way to get my work into the world was through subsidized publishing, where the author pays for part of the marketing/publishing costs. I had never heard the term vanity publishing nor was I aware of the predatory practices of the companies that offered it.
In 2011, I took a poem I wrote for my two nieces about a colorful cat that loved adventure and wrote a short story featuring her. I self-published this on Amazon without pictures and was quickly told the story begged for images. I found an illustrator and worked with them paying by the page but ended up unhappy with the outcome. While they drew the lushest and most beautiful backgrounds, I was told that I had minimal input into my character’s appearance. Instead of a candy-colored calico, I had a tie-dyed cat.
After hearing about my story, a family member told me about the family owned, Christian publisher that she worked with for her book. I was excited to submit my work for their consideration. Their website stated that they only select 1% of the items presented, so I was beyond delighted when they chose to publish mine!
From the beginning, I was romanced. The intake representative complimented my writing and set up monthly payments to pay for marketing costs. Every so often I would receive an email from her that the board of directors felt led to bless me by matching whatever amount I could pay that day. While this sounds like a blessing, we almost lost our house paying for my marketing contract.
Red flags began to appear when I’d finished paying, and it was time for the illustration process to start. I had a couple of experienced writer friends that tried to help me see the reality of the situation, but I was blinded by the desire to hold a book in my hand with my name on the cover.
I was assigned a liaison who would communicate with the illustrator but was never provided with their name. In fact, my book was published with only my title on the cover with no credit for the artist. During the illustration process, I shared my vision of how I wanted the cover to look and was again told I would have minimal input because they had experience that I did not. I very much pushed back against this and ended up with a cover and illustrations I could be proud of.
However, once the book came out in 2016, I felt abandoned. Sure there was the thrill of receiving a box of books with my name on the cover, but emails and voicemails were left unreturned. My family and friends purchased books directly from the publisher but never received them. The only thing the publisher did for me was schedule book signings, but those became fewer and eventually stopped. There were several promises in my contract that were never fulfilled, like an audio version of my book that was to be free with the purchase of the paperback.
I began to see frightening reviews about the publisher online. It seems they were always there, but I started to research and question after no one would get back with me. I doubled my efforts when I received a royalty’s statement but no check. When I did talk to someone, it was the proverbial promise of the check being in the mail.
I then discovered a blog post that talked about the state department stepping in and shutting down my publisher’s operations. Many comments on that post questioned how people would ever be so gullible as to allow themselves to get taken advantage of by the publisher. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut by an unseen force. I dug deeper and found that the founder and CEO son had been arrested for extortion, embezzlement, and racketeering. I was devastated. Not only had I never received a royalty check, but I found that there were 700 others like me.
I was left questioning my writing and if it was even worth publishing. Was the whole thing a sham and I was an author imposter? Did they only publish my story because I paid them to? I felt like the victim of a cruel prank. I’d had positive feedback from my growing reader audience but was it lip service and my writing was actually worthless? It was a dark moment, and I felt devastated.
I have since come to the realization that two opposing things can be equally valid. I can be a good writer, and they can be a lousy publishing company. I took the time to research about predatory publishing practices and vowed never to pay someone to publish my work only to end up a naïve lamb led to slaughter.
Within a week or so of my writerly world imploding, an amazing thing occurred. I was contacted on Twitter messenger by a publisher that said my work appeared to match their ethos and though they were closed to new submissions, invited me to send in some of my work. I was delighted to find a big, bold statement on their website that their authors would never be asked to pay anything. I also noticed that the company has a big heart for giving back and published anthologies to raise money for various charities, chosen to match the theme of each book.
After I realized that this was a publishing company I would love being associated with, I submitted three of my books in a series for consideration. Their reply knocked me a bit off my feet. While they liked my character, they wanted more to the first story and gave a lot of feedback that was difficult to swallow at first. However, I took some time before responding and realized they were right.
They gave me a month to revise, and I took almost that long to accomplish it. The second edition of my first book is now three times as long as the first. I thought about the superhero backstory movies and decided to write more about my main character’s childhood. My wonderful husband helped me brainstorm, and I looked at subsequent stories I‘d written with this character to source ideas. They also had me make small changes to the second book and have been wonderful to work with. I have since signed a total of seven books with them and have several more in progress.
It took the publisher and me about a year to find an illustrator that could commit. However, when the publisher connected me with Sanghamitra Dasgupta, she finished illustrating my book in 60 days! She has since stated that she wants to illustrate all of my books and I am so excited to continue working with this talented illustrator! At first, because of my previous experience, I was hesitant to ask for changes to illustrations. Sanghamitra is an absolute professional and takes my requests and updates the pictures quickly! What a difference!
The second edition of The Adventures of Princess Jellibean was released in November 2018 and is something I am thrilled with. Sanghamitra has begun illustrating my next book, which should be published in the spring.
Though I have been through a lot to see my dream become a reality, I am undeterred. There were a lot of moments where I was on the verge of giving up. I am so thankful to my close group of supporters that knew what this meant to me and thus encouraged me to keep going. I think it is essential to live in the present moment and be thankful for every good thing. I am so grateful for my journey and for all the wonderful authors I have met through this process. I have learned so much and definitely plan to continue to grow as an author, taking advantage of every opportunity to sharpen my skills and deepen my knowledge about all things in the writerly universe.
About the author:
Cindi Goodeaux lives in Florida with her husband and muse. She is a proud Saint Leo University mom, graphic designer wannabe, and sometime poet. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and has dreamed of becoming a published author since the age of twelve. For more, visit: https://ch.goodeaux.com/