Occasionally, a publisher gets into a bit of trouble, and trouble is brewing at City Owl Press (COP). Today, I want to address the lessons authors can learn from this situation.
According to their website:
“City Owl Press is a cutting edge indie publishing company, bringing the world of romance and speculative fiction to discerning readers. Co-founded by award-winning authors, Yelena Casale and Tina Moss, the City Owl Press team brings together more than a decade of business, writing, editing, design, marketing, advertising, and publishing experience.”
Recently, their authors have been asking pointed questions.
Blocked on Socials
According to LinkedIn, the COO of City Owl Press is Tina Moss.
Lisa Edmonds, one of the affected authors, wrote this on Threads:
“This is wild…the COO of my publishing company, with whom I’ve published 9 highly successful books since 2017, blocked me on all the socials. I haven’t said anything public about my situation at all…but she blocked me.—Lisa Edmonds
“Is there trouble at City Owl Press? Draw your own conclusions.”
Edmonds went on to allege that City Owl Press blocked at least one of their published authors from all the publisher’s social media and Facebook accounts after the author questioned their public posts. (Not nice.)
Imagine being blocked from your publisher’s Instagram account so that you are unable to see what they say about your books or if they promote your books. Also, getting kicked out of Facebook groups run by your publisher would raise suspicions, wouldn’t it?
Erin Fulmer disclosed that her rights to her series were reverted, unsolicited, back to her after she asked to view financial records. She had a right to do this, but it upset the apple cart.
Fulmer concluded in the end that: “In the end, I did get to review those records, or some of them, at least. The information included made it undeniably clear that reversion was the best possible outcome for me and my books.”
Unexpected Rights Reversions
Other City Owl Press authors unexpectedly received their rights back too, according to Fulmer. She named eight others in a Threads post and on her website: Author News: The Cambion Series Will Return in 2024! – Erin Fulmer Writes SFF.
Getting dumped by your publisher means starting over. Fulmer talks about needing to format her manuscripts, choose categories and keywords, and purchase new covers. As you might imagine, that can be a direct hit to the old pocketbook. But she considers herself to be one of the lucky ones who received her rights back.
Beware of a Publisher that Charges Authors Money
One sentence in Fulmer’s post caught my attention: “The covers cost me less than my former publisher wanted to charge me for the old art.”
If your publisher expects you to pay for stuff like editing or book covers, that’s a big red flag. Be cautious. Either you have found a vanity press or you have found what I will call an author co-op.
Since the founders of City Owl Press are authors, I will go with the latter conclusion and call it an author co-op, and I will just say: I think there’s an inherent conflict of interest. You must be able to trust the outfit that publishes your work, so ask questions. Lots of questions.
Questions that come to mind are:
- How are marketing resources divided between the authors who are in the co-op? This creates a potential source of conflict between the authors and between the authors and publisher.
- How transparent are the financial records to the authors? (This question should apply to every publisher.)
- Is there a possibility that your work will get dumped back in your lap, as seems to have happened at City Owl Press? So disappointing.
- Is there a clear line of communication that is always open with the owners?
- Can you expect quality social media output from the publisher? Are they always working for your benefit?
Are you better off with a publisher like City Owl Press?
Um, I don’t see the advantages, but I am a bit of a control freak. Also, I’m not a legal expert, and this is not legal advice.
As an indie author, you are the boss.
If you pay your publisher for services, who is the boss? Answer: The one who holds the rights. How do you know your books are getting fair treatment among all the other titles from your publisher? How do you know you will receive good service?
If a traditional publisher offers you a contract, you expect the publisher to do its part—editing, formatting, book cover design, marketing—at no charge. Traditional publishing works because the publisher brings expertise to the table, but you should still expect to work hard to market your book.
If you go with a smaller publisher that routinely passes on expenses to the authors, make sure all of the financial arrangements are clearly delineated and you have a competent lawyer at your elbow before you sign the contract. (A lawyer sounds like a good idea for any kind of publisher.)
Question: What are your criteria for choosing a publisher, or why do you publish your work yourself? Share your experiences or thoughts in the comments to help other authors avoid making publishing mistakes.
Update to this post:
On January 7, 2024, City Owl Press (a registered Absolute Write member) issued the following invitation to the writer community about their business: “Welcoming additional questions.” In the past, City Owl Press has been quick to answer questions on Absolute Write.
The next day, Absolute Write Super Member, writera, provided a compilation of sixteen concerns raised by City Owl Press authors. Today, it has been twenty days with no response to this post:
My purpose in publishing this blog post for my readers is to push authors, especially new authors, to ask uncomfortable questions and get legal counsel before they sign a publishing contract with ANY publisher. As with every publisher, big or small, it is safe to say: “Your experience may vary.”