What happens if my publisher goes under? It's more common than you think. In the traditional market, authors are bound to experience this, at least once in their career.
This can happen for any number of reasons, but it doesn't make it easier to go through.
So let's explore why this happens and some action steps to take when it does.
Why Do Publishers Go Under?
We can point to any number of reasons for why a publisher will close its doors. Think about publishers as a business, and businesses can shut down due to a variety of causes.
The Pandemic or Global Crises: I can't list the number of houses that had to say goodbye because of this.
The Founder Needing to Retire or Rest: Publishing takes a lot out of you. Maybe they want to focus more on their writing projects, experienced a health crisis, or are needing to enter maternity leave. Life happens, and publishers don't stick around forever, unless they can change founders.
Disagreements Happen between the Staff: I've seen any number of issues arise amongst founders and staff of publishing houses. Maybe a managing editor was too micromanaging and the staff didn't take it well. Maybe the staff didn't receive fair compensation, and so they quit. Or maybe someone disagreed over the vision of someone else. Maybe something unethical took place. The reasons abound.
The Sales Don't Justify Keeping the Doors Open: Publishers have to invest in each manuscript. If they don't recuperate costs, they can't sustain that business model.
As stated above, we could go on. A publisher will usually be somewhat transparent about why they need to shut down. So what happens when you receive that dreaded email?
What Do I Do When My Publisher Closes Their Doors?
First Step: Don't Panic. Don't Despair
Seems like counterintuitive advice. Especially if your book hasn't released with them yet. Maybe now you're imagining all the effort you went through to finally get that contract—only for it to fall through. Know that publishing operates in a very small biosphere. And that you have options.
Second Step: Contact Your Agent (if you have one)
If you don't have one, skip to the next step.
If you do have one, ask them what your options are. Maybe in the querying process, a publisher really loved the book but didn't have a chance to offer a deal. They probably have a shortlist of some contacts they can reach out to.
Third Step: If the Agent Doesn't Work Out (or if you don't have one) Review Your Querying Past
Most people tend to query agents and publishers at the same time. Maybe you'd reached out to a smaller house in the past, who showed interest, but didn't follow through with a contract.
Or maybe you have your own connections to a publisher, via a pitch party, conference, or other happenstance meeting. Let them know about the situation. Most publishers—knowing that they don't have to pay for the cover or edits to republish your book—will likely at least consider taking a look to see if they can accommodate you.
Fourth Step: Ask Your Published Writer Friends
When you get a contract at one house, odds are you connect with those in the same genre who write for other houses. Perhaps you've collaborated with them in giveaways or other promo events (good reasons for why we should build that network as much as we can).
Ask them if they can ping their publisher and give them a good word about you.
Fifth Step: Re-Enter the Querying Trenches
*Groans* Oh trust me, I know. I would hate to send anyone to this place. But if you let the publishers know that you had received a contract for this book, and that you already have the edits and cover finished, they may expedite you in the reply process.
Sixth Step: If All Else Fails, Self-Publish
People make self-publishing sound like a walk in a park. Nothing could be further from the truth. It involves a lot of work. But you do always have this option. Your book can see the light of day once more.
No matter which step you take, know that the Writing Community has your back. We understand the pains of having a publisher go under, and will help you in any way possible to get back on your feet.