The Great Limbo Mystery Question
I published one middle grade novel with a school book fair house. It was eaten this summer by a bigger school book fair house. My second novel had been edited. The art was done. It was going to press. Kaboom. The big guy says they bought the boxes but not the rights to unpublished books. Was my book published? I got an advance. The people that bought it do not exist any more (I don’t think). Shall I try to sell the book to someone else?
— Linda Armstrong
Well Linda it sounds like you have a very frustrating problem. My advice to you is to write a letter. You say they told you they did not purchase the unpublished works so I assume you have spoken to someone there either by phone or mail. In that case write to this person directly, if you haven’t spoken to someone phone and get an editor’s name so it gets addressed to someone directly.
Detail the exact circumstances. They need to know the name of the book, the editor that purchased your second ms, the exact amount of work that had been done and the size of the advance and ask if they completely bought off the old company or if there is someone else left you should be dealing with. Then make them two offers. First tell them you are willing (or maybe interested) in transferring the contract over to their company based on the previously paid advance and the agreed upon royalties (or whatever pay schedule you had). Go on to explain that if they are not interested in purchasing the ms you would like some sort of release from them. You could ask for a letter or, personally, I would send a “contract” of sorts and ask them to sign it if they don’t want it.
You will need:
- the title of the manuscript.
- a statement that the manuscript had been bought by such and such company which is now owned by this and that company.
- a statement that this and that company is not interested in maintaining such and such’s contract.
- a statement that this and that company releases all rights back to yourself (including the work done on it to date) free of charge.
- a statement that you are free to pursue other publishers with the current ms as it stands now.
I think that should cover most of your tail – if they sign it it is legally binding even if it is only a letter. You may want to have a lawyer look it over and ok it before you send it out. Once the letter is out stay on their tail, don’t let them dismiss this – it is your livelihood after all – insist that they see to it as soon as possible so you can move on. I’m sorry I can’t give you an instant answer that will allow you to resell the book immediately but it is better to be safe than sorry in the end. You may also want to send a carbon copy to the illustrator with a note explaining what you are doing and suggesting he/she does likewise with the art so that a) he gets paid (if he hasn’t already) for his work if they keep the contract or b) you can pitch the book with illustrations once it’s released.