When your publisher looks for charity — it’s time to bail out!

Some four years ago (January 2010) I posted this very short piece about Vermont-based independent publisher, Norilana Books. I pointed out that using a publicly assessable blog wasn’t the most professional way for a publisher to inform authors that royalty payments would be late. A close reading of the linked blog post and sentiment expressed by Vera Nazarian, owner and publisher at Norilana Books, sadly did prove to be a timely portent of what was to come.

But, please understand that I am going to resolve this somehow, even if I have to sell everything I own.
In many ways, this is hell for ME even more than it is for you.
This isn’t exactly what you want to hear from a publisher when your royalties are late. And worse, a publisher doesn’t help its cause by claiming that the author being out of pocket is not nearly as much ‘hell’ as it is for the publisher!
A thread on Absolute Write has been chronicling Norilana Books over the past couple of years and it details a series mishaps, late royalties, financial problems, personal health issues for the publisher, and business foreclosure.
While I have great sympathy for any person running a small business (publisher or not), there comes a point when its time to step back and realise that it isn’t working and do something else for a living. I suspect that time passed long ago for Norilana Books, and while I don’t doubt the efforts and intentions of Vera Nazarian (clearly she still has loyal authors, who are also friends), continuing is only punishing authors. I should stress that Nazarian has given its authors the option of a rights reversion, but there is still a point reached when the publisher must take ultimate responsibility.
A publisher that needs to run a Kickstarter initiative for the owner’s book does not bode well for its authors. Indeed, the publisher is once again running a crowdsource project on IndieGoGo.
From that project:
Things were going well the first few years, and I was promptly and happily paying royalties to all my wonderful authors, and releasing handsome paper print editions of their works in hardcover and trade paperback. And then the economy crashed, while at the same time, a series of personal misfortunes struck.

Within a very short period of time I was faced all at once with the cancer of my mother, death of my father, the loss of my home to foreclosure, bankruptcy, a cross-country move from California to Vermont, and having to start my life over on a severely reduced income, after having to undergo major life-saving surgery myself.

At the same time, the publishing industry started to change rapidly, with the advent of ebooks and ereaders, and paper print sales dropped considerably, so that my already inadequate income was reduced to about one third of what it had been.

It’s about the wonderful Norilana Books authors who need to be paid their long overdue royalties. As months went by and I was struggling just to survive, I was no longer able to pay my authors the royalties owed them.

There is a subtext here and I think it is worth highlighting. It is the contractual obligation of the publisher to pay royalties to authors from the sales of books—not a privilege for authors to receive payments!
What needs to be asked and answered here is where have monies accrued from book sales gone? And more pertinently, why the publisher allowed business finances to mix with personal finances, no matter what the personal duress and circumstances were?
Norilana Books might be better at this stage presenting the documented answers to those questions to all its authors before asking for donations/funding. The real irony here is that any crowdfunding project is still likely to garner money from sympathetic authors already owed royalties, and loyal Norilana readers.
Norilana Books began life publishing classic out-of-copyright books. I guess it was easier when there were no living authors to pay royalties to.

Mick Rooney – Publishing Consultant

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