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Author Horror Story #3: The Moving Target

What happens when the pub date keeps shifting?
Feb | 7 | 2024
  Feb | 7 | 2024
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BY Phil Simon
  Phil Simon

Author Horror Story #3: The Moving Target

What happens when the pub date keeps shifting?
Phil Simon
Feb | 7 | 2024

Author Horror Story #3: The Moving Target

TL;DR: What happens when the pub date keeps shifting?
Phil Simon
Feb | 7 | 2024

After a decade-long stint as a technology advisor at a prominent consultancy, Valerie decided to hang her own shingle in 2006. She slowly and steadily built her client base, mailing list, and web presence. Maybe a book could serve as the ultimate professional credential—a business card on steroids. A few of her colleagues had become published authors and seemed to benefit from their new bona fides.

She worked on a proposal, sent it to some publishers, somehow avoided the slush pile, and soon inked a deal with Acme to write her first book in 2010. (The publisher’s name is obviously a pseudonym.)

Valerie wasn’t expecting to break the bank with her advance, but she found Acme’s offer surprisingly small: a non-negotiable $3,000. The book, she reasoned, would open consulting and speaking doors that would dwarf Acme’s paltry advance. She thought about it, talked to a few friends, and decided to sign. It’s not like she had shown a history of moving oodles of books.

She would have to produce the final manuscript by March 1, 2011. Acme dutifully mailed her the first installment one month after signing: a check for 25 percent ($750).

Let the Writing Begin

Valerie started researching her topic. She read guides on effective non-fiction writing and eventually started her first draft. By July 2011, things were progressing nicely. She looked in her inbox and found a message from Alex, her acquisitions editor. He wanted to chat.

On the phone, Alex asked Valerie if she wouldn’t mind pushing back the book’s publication date by six months. He claimed that Acme’s design, editing, and marketing resources were currently working on other titles.

Valerie wanted to be agreeable and said yes. She’d have to finagle some of her existing text and figures, but her book’s core premise should still hold water. Six months wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

Going to the Well Again

Valerie was putting a bow on the manuscript in February 2012 when Alex e-mailed her again. Acme needed yet another extension for similar reasons—this time for a year.

Faced with no other options, she bit the bullet.

She was peeved, but legally, there was nothing she could do. Her contract gave Acme the sole right to determine her book’s pub date, price, cover, and formats. Valerie lacked the time or interest in hiring a lawyer, so she bit the bullet.

Coda: A Happyish Ending

In July 2012, Alex e-mailed Valerie with some more disappointing news: Acme was slashing costs and considering shuttering its business imprint. It would release Valerie from her contract if she agreed to return the $750 and not disparage Acme in the future.

Valerie was apoplectic. By this point, several similar books on her topic had entered the market—one of which stole a good bit of her thunder. “Good riddance,” she thought.

Within a few weeks, Valerie found a hybrid publisher that fast-tracked her book for an early 2013 release. Her book did reasonably well, but to this day, she wonders what would have happened if it had arrived in June 2011, as Acme had promised.

Live and learn.


I’ve changed the names in this story. 

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