First-Time Author Heartbreak

I’ve just returned from the post office. I’m confused, angry, hurt, and feel used. At the same time, I’m thankful for my friends, colleagues, fans, and everyone else that, you know.. Doesn’t try to screw me over.

Let me start at the beginning of the whole sordid ordeal.

On October 31, just 2 short weeks ago, my husband and I returned from a trip to Chicago. We were still basking in the afterglow of the great time we had, when I checked my email. I always dread sorting through a pile of email when we return from a trip. This time, we had an email that sent my heart soaring.

It was sent by Megan, the book buyer for Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cleveland Ohio. She had come across a postcard for my book – The Spirited Baker and wanted to include it on their cookbook table for the holiday season!

It was a lovely email: I definitely got the warm fuzzies from some of the kind things she had to say: “Our staff spent a good half hour drooling over your website – jalapeno beer baklava, oh my. And let’s not get started on your wedding cakes…You have 24 booksellers now willing to volunteer as taste testers should you ever need them.”, for instance.

She also told me of how there was a full service restaurant and bar in this bookstore (!?!?!!!), and that she was interested in possibly having the restaurant feature a small display for the book, as well as feature some of the recipes on the dessert menu!

I was so excited. SO freaking excited. I can’t even tell you how excited I was.

I emailed a friend of mine that lives in Cleveland, just mentioning that I had come home to an email from a book store in his city. His reply:

“Is it Joseph Beth Bookseller, by any chance? If so, they’re a Big Deal here- big stores, multiple locations, upscale malls. A local success story, able to compete with the Barnes & Nobles and Borders. Congratulations!”

I kinda flipped out at that point. What were the odds? I confirmed this to be the case, and he replied to rave about them some more. I totally felt like I was on the verge of something big.

The emails with Megan went swimmingly. She was super nice, and it sounded like such a great opportunity. She told me of how there were 9 stores, and that she would be happy to endorse my book to the buyers for the other stores in the chain. Her bistro manager had agreed to try a few recipes as specials in the restaurant, she would feature the book as one of our Great Holiday Gifts and on their “Support Independents” table. When she learned that she was my very first retail store account, she pledged to “definitely include that piece of info as part of our marketing campaign”

This was all very much out of the blue, for me. As an independent, self published author, I hadn’t planned for my book to be sold through retail outlets anytime soon. I’d known that bookstores and distributors tended to look down on self-published books. That was a sacrifice that I was more than willing to make, in exchange for me to have full control over my end product. Yes, it would be a riskier, more expensive, and slower-moving venture to start. I knew this. I also knew that once I put out 2-3 books that I was proud of and believed in, the opportunities would be there. I may be Type A, but I can be a patient Type A!

The terms were 30 days, which I reluctantly agreed to. I pay all of the printing/production costs of my books up front, and – this early in the game – I’m not in a position to just eat a loss of inventory/revenue if anything goes south. I was excited, packed their order, and shipped it the same day that Megan confirmed the invoice details. My books shipped on November 1st, and were received on or about November 3rd.

The last thing I heard from Megan before everything hit the fan was “Can’t wait to get the books! I’ll send pictures of the display once it’s up.”

I didn’t hear her the week the books shipped, or even by the middle of the following week. I thought it was a bit weird, assumed that they were just very busy. I excitedly awaited the picture of my very first retail display of The Spirited Baker. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I was *very* excited about the whole thing.

All of my excitement and hope was dashed on the evening of November 11, just 10 days after I shipped the books. I was messing around on Twitter, as usual, when I noticed that Megan had posted a completely unexpected tweet: “PSA: it is tacky to call a bookstore that just announced bankruptcy 3 hrs ago & ask when liquidation sale starts.”

Not quite sure what to make of it, I clicked on her profile to see her earlier tweets. The tweet she posted before it made my blood run cold:

“RT @wkyc: News from wkyc.com: Joseph-Beth files for bankruptcy, closing Legacy Village store http://bit.ly/c9RHAg it’s my store 🙁 “

Yes, Legacy Village was her store.. The store that had just placed an order with me 10 days previous. This had to be a bad joke, right? Am I going to get paid? Will they send my books back? Do I just have to kiss that inventory goodbye, with no hope of payment?

One question stood out more than any other, and it’s the question that still has me livid about the whole thing right now. WHY did they order from me, 10 days before filing bankruptcy? NO business goes from “everything is ok” to filing for bankruptcy in just 10 days. They knew they were my first wholesale order, and they knew I was a small, independent author. How could they DO this?

I was sick over it. As I waited for some sort of answer to my “Uhm.. So what happens now?” type email that I’d sent to Megan, I ranted on Facebook.

Let me just say, I am so touched and honored at the outpouring of support I’ve received on that Facebook thread, and by emails, Twitter DMs and FB messages. From offers to go pick up the books (not a legal option, unfortunately), legal advice, and general support.. To an offer of tracking down some “Predators in Ohio who would be willing to don their wristblades and plasma cannons in an effort to get your books back” (As in the Sci Fi film Predators) and various other offers to kick ass on my behalf.

Thank you SO much everyone! There is nothing that will warm my heart and bring a smile back to my face quicker than the offer of fully costumed violence on my behalf, LOL!

As a result of that thread, one of my friends (who is a Creditor’s Rights Bankruptcy Lawyer) advised me on what I need to do, and what I need to file – and with whom – to try and recover ANYTHING after this fiasco. That’s what I was at the post office for this afternoon – Thank you SO much for this, Maria.

I’m still trying to sort out all of my feelings on this whole issue. I am deeply saddened that a book store – any book store – is closing. Books – reading, literacy, education in general – is such an important thing, it always makes me sad when something like this happens.

While I don’t think that Megan was to blame for my experience (The day after the bankruptcy tweet, she responded to me, mentioning that she had no idea, and was “blindsided” the afternoon of November 10th), I am really pissed off that Joseph Beth Booksellers placed an order – on credit – just 10 days before declaring bankruptcy. Turns out, they owe over 3.5 million dollars to just ONE book distributor. The courts presume a company to be insolvent 45 days before filing.. So WHY was there no freeze on buying? Why drag more authors and publishers down with them? How is this not tantamount to theft / fraud?

I am upset at the idea that my book is currently on display for sale at Joseph Beth, when I’m not guaranteed to receive anything for it. I’m extremely upset at the idea of my book – which has only been out for a couple months now – ending up in a clearance bin. It’s SO early in the life of my book, it’s a big slap in the face to me. I’m just really disgusted at that idea. My husband and I both put so much work into that book. To have it end up in clearance so soon? That’s just not right.

I’m mad that THIS was my first experience selling to a book store. This could have been an utterly magical experience – and it sure sounded like it was going to be, based on Megan’s emails. Instead, I’m left feeling jaded, victimized, and used over the whole issue.

Some day, I’ll be approaching book stores to set up for my series of cookbooks to be carried, on a wholesale account basis. I’m not looking forward to that, to have to put aside gut instinct and experience and agree to terms that I am NOT comfortable with… with THIS as my formative experience.

While I’m grateful for the help that Maria and others have provided for me, I can’t help but feel awful for any other authors and small publishers that are going to end up holding the bag for this. I count myself as SO lucky for the friends I know, and for the help I’ve received. Quite honestly, it would cost more to hire a lawyer to fight this/file everything, than the amount of the invoice was. How many small publishers have to just suck it up and not get anything, due to that exact situation?

How much of that was involved with Joseph-Beth’s decision to continue buying books on credit up till 10 days prior to filing, at the best? Was I perceived to be an easy target, with no options to protect myself?

I’m not fond of the fact that I had to essentially drop everything I was doing and deal with this, if I have ANY hope of recovering any inventory/income. I’m a big fan of the idea “Poor planning on YOUR part does not constitute an emergency on MY part”, but that’s essentially what this is. Because no one involved with the finances bothered to have the buyers chill for a bit – and because the whole bankruptcy process is SO time sensitive – I had to stop, drop, and roll for them. Not cool.

I feel like a kid who woke up on Christmas day just in time to see Scrooge AND the Grinch burn down their tree, and all the presents under it. Probably pee on it all, too. Thanks, Joseph Beth Booksellers.

Whew. It really DOES feel better to get that all out. I needed to get that all off my chest, and I promise to resume fun, entertaining, and/or informative blog posts! When it comes down to it, I know that this is just a minor blip on the screen. The Spirited Baker is a great book, I’m super proud of it, and people will be making the delicious, boozy recipes from it for a long time to come. I just hate getting excited over something, just to have the rug ripped out from under me – especially as unceremoniously as this particular rug-pull ended up!

And, hey.. If you haven’t bought The Spirited Baker yet, here’s the link: http://spiritedbaker.com/TheSpiritedBaker.html 🙂

UPDATE

Hey everyone,

Megan at JBB got a hold of me this morning, so I guess I should make some things more clear. I do NOT think that Megan intentionally misled me, or had ANY idea that the company was going bankrupt. I feel bad for her also, as the poor decisions made by the company – those higher up – have put HER in the ugly position of being a go-between.

Megan has offered to purchase the remaining books with her own money and ship them back to me, in an effort to make things right. I am respectfully turning down the offer – she was blindsided with the loss of her job, also… and really, she has bigger things to worry about than making things right with HER money. I would feel just awful if she did that.

My anger is with the higher ups, who should have alerted their buyers – like Megan – to stop placing orders. She was just doing her job.

PLEASE DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR WRATH ON MEGAN!! I truly appreciate the support, but really – she really was awesome to deal with.

If you would like to show support for me – and all of the others wronged by Joseph Beth MANAGEMENT’s decision to not stop ordering til the last minute, here are some contacts for you:

Joseph Beth Bookseller Corporate headquarters at 513.412.5700.

At that number, the person I spoke to was John Pate, who handles vendor payment. He’s actually the one who made me mad enough to blog this rant. He had not a hint of remorse in his voice, and really sounded sort of smug. Sounding smug and un-remorseful to someone who’s just been screwed by your company? Not great. Anyway, he’s at extension 1136.

I am SO sorry to hear that Megan’s gone through crap as a result of this post, when she’s even more a victim of this than I am! She was really sweet and genuine the whole time I worked with her, and I have NO idea how many other accounts she’s dealing with now. Joseph Beth Booksellers really put her – and the other buyers – in a crappy position, being their front line.

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