Orphans & Other Realities

By Judy Penz Sheluk
There’s a word that authors use to describe themselves if their publishing contract has been terminated: orphaned. The technical term is “reversion of rights,” which means the publishing rights granted under the terms of the publishing contract are reversed and returned to the author. Once a reversion of rights is complete, the author is free to grant those rights to another publisher.

How do authors become orphaned, and can it happen to anyone, even if they are a bestselling author with an ironclad contract? The answer is “a lot of reasons,” and “yes.”

I’ve personally been orphaned twice, and very nearly twice more. The first publisher, who was Mystery Writer of America approved, shuttered its doors in the summer of 2018. The second publisher and I parted ways in 2017, a year after signing. I would be the first of many, until all that remained after 14 years in business were her own titles. I was lucky, got my full rights back from both, and was paid any royalties owing in full. That’s not always the case.

I mentioned that I’d very nearly been orphaned twice more, once with a publisher I’d coveted for years and another who offered representation within a few days after I’d already signed with another. The first publisher suspended operations a couple of years ago. The other remains in business but dropped its mystery line. Both left many orphans in their wake.

I mentioned earlier that once a reversion of rights is complete the author is free to grant those rights to another publisher. That’s all well and good, but it can be an uphill climb to find a new publisher for an orphaned work unless the author’s won awards and landed on some coveted bestseller lists. Even then, there are no guarantees, and for a mid-series book that’s been written but not yet published, finding a new home for it, and the rest of the series, can be almost impossible.

The good news is there are always other options. For me, the best option was to start my own publishing imprint, Superior Shores Press, and I’ve never regretted the decision. That said, the one thing I’ve learned from chatting with hundreds of authors during my five years on the Crime Writers of Canada Board of Directors is that one path doesn’t fit all.

When I started writing my latest book, Finding Your Path to Publication, the initial concept was with write aspiring, unpublished, authors in mind. But as it progressed, I realized it could be just as beneficial to orphaned authors or published authors at any stage of their career considering a change. Perhaps you’ve tried the self-publishing route and decided it’s not for you. Or maybe you’ve been writing on Wattpad and gained a following. Can you parlay that into agent or traditional publisher interest? Maybe you’re not quite ready to go full-on indie and want to try assisted publishing. How can you tell the difference between a vanity press and a legit hybrid publisher? What about serialized publishing like Inkitt or Kindle Vella?

Understanding your publishing options is the first step. Paving Your Path to Publication can help you take it.

About Finding Your Path to Publication: The road to publishing is paved with good intentions…and horror stories of authors who had to learn the hard way.

For the emerging author, the publishing world can be overwhelming. You’ve written the book, and you’re ready to share it with the world, but don’t know where to start. Traditional, independent press, hybrid, self-publishing, and online social platforms—all are valid publishing paths. The question is, which one is right for you?

Finding Your Path to Publication is an introduction to an industry that remains a mystery to those on the outside. Learn how each publishing option works, what to expect from the process start to finish, how to identify red flags, and avoid common pitfalls. With statistics, examples, and helpful resources compiled by an industry insider who’s been down a few of these paths, this is your roadmap to decide which path you’d like to explore, and where to begin your author journey.

Available in trade paperback, large print, hardcover, and e-book. Universal buy link: https://books2read.com/FindingYourPathtoPublication

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A former journalist and magazine editor, Judy Penz Sheluk is the bestselling author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries and Marketville Mysteries, both of which have been published in multiple languages. Her short crime fiction appears in several collections, including the Superior Shores Anthologies, which she also edited. Judy is a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Sisters in Crime, International Thriller Writers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she served on the Board of Directors for five years, the final two as Chair. She lives in Northern Ontario. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com.

14 thoughts on “Orphans & Other Realities”

  1. Grace Topping

    Your book is fabulous, Judy. Thank you for sharing the wealth of your experience and knowledge. In my case, I was orphaned by my publisher, but that didn’t result in my rights being returned to me. The publisher stopped publishing but refused to return any rights to their authors. So we are all in limbo.

    1. I have heard stories like these and it is just so very unfair. This is why it’s so important to understand the exit clause in your contract, but of course we are often so happy to get a contract we don’t question a thing. I hope this book helps others.

    1. kathleen,
      I agree with you. I was very lucky the first time I was orphaned as they opted to give back rights and were generous with the files as it was their choice to go out of business. The second time was delayed because the company had let the line go, but still supported the books that were selling, which this was. Both times, I also had to wait for mass market rights to expire to a point that I could get everything back. Now have them, and am pleased to say Maze in Blue has been available in trade paperback and e-book for several years; Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players mystery was just released in trade paperback and e-book. Thanks for stopping by today.

  2. Oh my, Debrah, it never ceases to amaze me how much I don’t know yet as an ALMOST (I hope) published author. This was an intriguing and, ultimately, inspiring post. Thank you.

    1. Judy Penz Sheluk

      Thanks Pamela. If you are “almost” published, the book has lots of good tips and info. Good luck on your author journey.

  3. Judy,
    I’ve had bad experiences like that five times—when publishing houses went out of business just as a book of mine was about to come ou, and once when a publisher stopped paying me royalties owed to me. It’s sad what we writers have to go through. But there are always other publishers and, as you’ve discovered, the possibility to self-publish and be successful.

    1. Judy Penz Sheluk

      Marilyn, I am so sorry to hear that you went through that five times but I glad you persevered and kept on writing.

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