Not only that, but 2016 seemed to have it out for everybody. In the last couple of months seven of my friend's lost parents. Numerous arists and celebrities passed away this past year, from David Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, to the beloved Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher herself, who died of a cardiac arrest in the last week of December. Her mother, Hollywood golden age starlet Debbie Reynolds passed away the very next day due to a stroke, which doctors suspect might be related to the stress of her daughter's passing. And on the very last day of the year, the actor William Christopher, known for his role as Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H died (my grandfather's personal favorite television show when he was alive).
And, if loosing a mass amount of artistic talent wasn't bad enough, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America. I personally never though I'd see such an empathy deficient, hot-headed, unread, uncultured, misogynistic xenophobe with white supremicist and communist ties take office during my lifetime. He makes George W. Bush look like the Prodigal Son by comparison. I guess it just goes to show that Murphy's Law was in full effect this past year.
But now it's finally here. Now it's 2017. And if you're reading this, count yourself among the lucky ones. You made it!
Amid all these distractions, I had a rocky start to the year--literally. April 15th, 2016, in Kumamoto, Japan, where I live, my town was hit with a level 7.4 magnitude earthquake (registering level 7.0) which toppled buildings, destroyed bridges and roads, burst water pipes, and shifted the Earth's mantle nearly 6 feet diagonally, leaving massive fissures in the earth's crust that split open farm land and cut through Mashiki and the area of town me and my family live. This came a day after a massive 6.5 level earthquake struck us. From April to May we lived out of the family car--minus any running water. Once our house was inspected by city contractors, three and a half weeks later, we were given the okay to re-enter the premise. But damage was extensive.
We accrued over $20,000 in damages to our home. Our roof, windows, walls were all damaged and we lost all of our china, glasswear, lamps, vases, and to make matters worse our water heater biffed it too; leaving us without hot water for nearly two whole months. Luckily we had well water, so we heated pots and pans and made do. It was like roughing it in the wilderness, except we were inside our battered home. Although the kids enjoyed camping in the car for a few weeks, as a parent I couldn't stop worrying about their safety and whether or not we'd be uprooted from our home. My adrenaline didn't die down for nearly fourteen days, and when it did I crashed hard. So did my wife.
The city declared a state of emergency and all business and commerce was suspended until the city's infrastructure could be repaired. But someone like me, a teacher, who depends on my monthly paycheck, things looked grim. Luckily, my wife's relatives came through for us and personally drove 3 hours from their homes up in Fukuoka, on rural roads (due to the highway bridges being out--or completely gone for that matter) to bring us food, water, and emergency supplies.
Our solar panels, which we put on the year prior, luckily survived but needed to be removed in order to repair the roof, but only the solar panel people could remove them without voiding the warranty, and they were swamped doing the same for over 2,000 other homes. So it took till mid August before our roof was even repaired. During that time I ran a Go-Fund-Me, and thankfully we made back 10K thanks to the generous donations of friend, family, and charitable strangers who helped me and my family in our time of need.
In fact, the tremors still haven't abated entirely, as a level 1 quake on the first of the New Year reminded us, and Kumamoto has recored over 4,000 temblors since April of last year.
But we survived. And I count myself lucky. My family is safe. We still have a roof over our heads. And I managed to find a new teaching job at the last minute. That said, it took 6 months for things to get back to normal and we are all still a bit rattled from this year, to say the least.
That was just the beginning, however.
About the same times as the quakes ended, my former publisher (Winlock Press) relinquished the rights to my books. Apparently, the parent company, Permuted Press, wasn't happy with the sales of two of my books, while one was selling steadily. Although they contracted me for five books in the series, they put a hold on publishing any further books in the series until the first books made back their money. Which was fine, since it stipulated in the contract that they had the right to do so.
However, I watched the sales closely, and when the books in question finally did make their money back, I reminded my publisher that they had agreed to continue publishing the series. To which they said they did not recall saying anything of the sort, even though I kept the emails to prove it, and even though the contract had no oversight on continuing a series once shelved. So, I chocked it up to making a rookie mistake. But when I went back and re-read the contract, I discovered something interesting. Winlock, and Permuted, had written into the contract a by-line stating they would publish BOTH paperback and digital versions of the books. When I asked why none of my books had been made into print copies yet, while all the other authors with Winlock at the time had, they replied with a vauge and nebulous statement mentioning some e-book first only clause in the contract.
Apparently, after the first ten authors signed with Winlock, they revised the wording of the contract so as not to have to lose money on publishing books that didn't meet their sales requisites--nevermind the illogic of selling two different mediums which appeal to entirely different markets and gauging one medium's response by the wrong market. I knew something was up, since I was one of the original 10 to sign and my contract did not have that e-book first stipulation. It had a promise to print.
Combing over the legal language, I asked my friend (who is a lawyer) whether or not the publisher had a right NOT to publish the book. He pointed out that they, as the publisher, agreed to publish paperbacks and promote them to the best of their ability--as that was what the contract stipulated, as written. He also pointed out a clause which said that upon the publisher to fail to agree to publish works aquired by the author, that the rights would revert back to the author.
When I pointed this out to the powers that be, I was told to talk to the editor about it. I wrote my editor, and they told me to talk to Permuted's president. I was told to go back to the editor and not bother the top brass, and not to talk over anyone's head, but I knew I was just getting the run-arround.
Representing myself as my own agent, I had the legal right to talk to the legal department of Permuted, as stipulated in the contract. When I CC'd an email to everyone involved, without even asking for the rights back to *all of my titles, I recieved a cryptic email response stating that relations between publisher and author had soured and that the rights to all my titles would be returned to me ASAP. And they were.
I'll say this much, I learned a lot by making a lot of rookie mistakes. The biggest lesson I learned was this: never sign a contract with a trad publisher, under any circumstances, without having an agent and preferably a lawyer to review the contract. I won't be making that mistake anytime again soon.
That said, I think Permuted Press and Winlock Press were more than fair. They could have thrown their entire legal team at me and made me jump through many more hoops, but knowing I already had a lawyer on hand, they decided I wasn't worth the trouble, and the financial drain. And although they didn't have to give back the rights to all my titles, since I was only asking for the rights to BITTEN back, since that's the title that makes money, I think I came out ahead on the deal. Hey, it's their loss.
Please, don't get me wrong. I'm not bitter. I got the rights back, and they were more than fair, given what I've heard other publishers try and get away with. I just consider it all one big learning experience and will be more careful in the future.
This year I plan on publishing a few bonafide hits. A fellow author friend of mine invited me to the online Facebook group 20Books to 50K. It's a massive group of spec-fic people who not only succeed at indy publishing, but they support one another and share how to make a living self-publishing. I'm really excited to be a part of this group and since my next few titles are all fantasy or science fiction books, I feel like I'm in good company.
Also, I'm going to continue self-publishing for the foreseeable future, since I already write at the professional level, have all my books professionally edited and designed, and--ultimately--can make more self-publishing than going through a trad publisher. I also maintrain complete creative control, and for someone like me that likes to write complete series instead of one off novels, that's a big deal. Also, after having gone the trad publishing route already, and learning some of the insider tricks of how it's done, I think I can do a better job promoting my own work. At least for the time being.
Well, that's the update. My new years resolution is simply to write more, publish more, and network more. After three years of doing the lone wolf thing, I think it's time to join the pack and maybe do something more than just chase my tail.
So, what's your new years resolution?