I first heard of Kiana Davenport on March 25, 2011. I can be specific because that was the day Joe Konrath published an email she had sent him. She wrote:
My last three novels were pretty good sellers. Scribners, Ballantine, you know the drill. A few years ago, sales dropped drastically, no more royalties, the recession hit and I started living on my meager savings. Other than that all I own are 3 acres of land here, which in this market no one wants to buy. I don't even own a house.Somewhere around this time she heard of Joe Konrath and his blog, The Newbie's Guide to Publishing, and she made the decision to self-publish. Joe helped her out with some publicity and her book, House of Skin made it into the top 300 on Amazon.com.
I studied Creative Writing at university, but for years I was a fashion model in NYC, lived it up and never saved a dime. Then I went back to writing, prepared to scale down and live modestly. But as you know, things got even worse with the economy. It took me four years to write the most recent novel for which a NY publisher offered me less than HALF my previous advance. A depressing figure, to be paid out in fourths through 2013! By then I could be dead, and it won't even pay my bills. I was so desperate I accepted. Now I have to wait another year for the book to be published.
Agents and editors were admitting we're in a 'dying industry.' With dwindling publishers, rock-bottom advances, I didn't see any reason to write anymore, which is what I LIVE for.
From what I can tell, House of Skin was published before Kiana signed her contract with her publisher. After she signed the contract she published another book, also a collection of short stories, Cannibal Nights. Kiana's publisher didn't like this. She writes:
So, here is what the publisher demanded. That I immediately and totally delete CANNIBAL NIGHTS from Amazon, iNook, iPad, and all other e-platforms. Plus, that I delete all Google hits mentioning me and CANNIBAL NIGHTS. Currently, that's about 600,000 hits. (How does one even do that?) Plus that I guarantee in writing I would not self-publish another ebook of any of my backlog of works until my novel with them was published in hardback and paperback. In other words they were demanding that I agree to be muzzled for the next two years, to sit silent and impotent as a writer, in a state of acquiescence and, consequently, utter self-loathing.
Last week, I received from their lawyers an official letter terminating my contract with them, "...for permitting Amazon to publish CANNIBAL NIGHTS, etc...." and demanding back the $20,000 they had paid me as part of their advance. Until then, this publishing giant is holding my novel as hostage, a work that took me five years to write. My agent assures me I am now an 'anathema' to them.
You can read Kiana's entire blog post here: SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY: A CAUTIONARY TALE
Here is what Passive Guy, a lawyer who specializes in contract law, has to say about Kiana's dilemma:
If you had any doubts about any of Kris Rusch’s descriptions of publisher misbehavior in the post that appeared about an hour ago, Kiana’s story should lay those to rest.You can read the rest of PG's blog post here: Indie Author Goes Traditional -- A Cautionary Tale
Many agents will tell authors they don’t need an attorney. Passive Guy was very pleased to see Kiana has one advising her about her contract. From Kiana’s description, it doesn’t look like her agent would do her much good.
Since Passive Guy does not have all or even most of the information about this matter and hasn’t examined Kiana’s contract, he will not try to do a long-distance analysis in detail.
Speaking generally, as publishers view this sort of thing, it does appear somebody from the publisher really screwed up. Kiana is careful not to mention her publisher’s name, but a little internet research reveals that it was Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin.
As PG has discussed, it has become common for publishers to truss authors like a turkey with contract provisions that prevent the author from writing anything — sometimes until the book is published and sometimes forever — without the consent of the publisher.
It seems clear somebody at Kiana’s publisher forgot about inserting that clause or it would have been the first thing Kiana heard about.
One of the recurring themes of traditional publishers, the agents who live in their ecosystem and authors who have a deep emotional investment in the way things have always been done is that by signing with a big publisher, an author is assured that his/her book will be handled by experienced professionals who will guarantee a quality product.
What is professional about an editor repeatedly shouting at an author over the phone?
What is professional about a paranoid rant accusing an author of “betraying them to Amazon”?
What is professional about screwing up a contract, then trying to make the author pay for the screw-up?
What is professional about hauling out the lawyers to intimidate an author?