Friday, February 27, 2015

Musa Publishing closing

Shortly after Musa Publishing opened its doors in mid-2011, I thought of submitting a manuscript to them.

Normally, that would never have occurred to me. On the Absolute Write forums, I’ve seen dozens of small presses come out with a fanfare and sink into oblivion before a year. I always wait until the press or agent is well established, but with Musa I considered giving it a try.

Musa was created from the remains of Aspen Mountain, another small press. Since the editors and support staff of Aspen Mountain had worked to keep the business going and to treat authors fairly even when the owner of the press couldn’t be relied on, it was likely that they could go even further on their own. They would have learned what not do do by working with Aspen Mountain. Most of all, they had earned the support and trust of authors, many of whom rescued their books from Aspen Mountain to be published by Musa.

That was the first indication of a problem.

At the start of 2012, Celina Summers (former head editor at Aspen Mountain Press, editorial director at Musa) said they had over four hundred books contracted. A few people expressed concerns, because even though many of those books were survivors of Aspen Mountain, meaning they were already edited, they still needed to be marketed.

Still, on the whole Musa appeared to be in good standing. Those of its staff who posted on the Absolute Write forums to discuss the press were always professional, and writers who had signed up were strong supporters. In fact, their enthusiasm was one of the things which made me seriously consider submitting a fantasy novel, so I looked up the guidelines for Musa’s Urania imprint.

The imprints were actually what made me pause. I could never shake the feeling that, when setting up Musa, someone had decided that because there were nine Muses, there could be nine imprints too, publishing everything from horror to literary fiction to erotica to young adult. In fact, in the end there were over a dozen imprints, adding Musa Classics (divided into Gold and Silver), plus an e-magazine called Penumbra.

The sheer number of imprints could be confusing as well, since on Musa’s homepage there was a link to the Eros imprint for Erotic/Erotica Romance but also a separate link for Erotic Romance. “Musa might be the only publisher in existence to have more imprints than editors,” I said to another writer.

A small press is much more likely to succeed by focusing on one or two genres, and establishing itself before making plans for expansion.

So I hesitated, then decided to hold off on sending a manuscript to Musa for a while. If I was wrong, they’d still be around in the future.

By the start of 2013, cracks were starting to appear. A few writers mentioned a high turnover rate for editors at Musa, as well as errors in galleys—which didn’t leave much time for corrections to be made. Later that year, Ann Leckie wrote about a problem with the e-zine Penumbra and, which I found more disturbing, a hostile reaction from Penumbra’s editor to her bringing this up.

This wasn’t the only mention of abusive emails from Musa.

Finally, there were the matter of the sales. When authors started discussing this on Absolute Write, many reported sales figures in the double digits. One reason for this was probably the sheer number of books released by Musa. There wasn’t a chance for the press to market all these adequately, and yet Musa refused to close to submissions, even temporarily. In fact, plans were being made for a further two e-zines, to which some authors were asked to contribute free stories.

By late 2014, authors were requesting their rights back, and it was only a matter of time. Musa Publishing will officially close at the end of this month. To their credit, they’ve been direct with the authors about this and are reverting rights to books.

It’s always a disappointment when a publisher with so much potential is forced to close its doors. Musa started out with the best of intentions, always paid royalties on time and could have gone far—if they hadn’t been trying to go everywhere. It would have taken superhuman effort and operating funds to run all those imprints, market all those books and publish one or more reputable e-zines.

The staff and the authors worked extremely hard, and I hope the future brings them better news. For myself, I was reminded once more how important it is to be cautious in this game, especially once the honeymoon phase of a new press wears off. And to always be aware of warning signs.

Also recommended reading : Musa Publishing : A Case Study.


Maria Zannini said...

I prefer to keep a wait and see attitude too. Even the best intentions can end in failure. My first commitment is to myself and my work.

Crane Hana said...

This was heartbreaking to watch, Marian.

Musa had so much potential, but it needed to developed more carefully.

Instead, onlookers saw Musa attempting too much too soon: throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck, building projects without adequate foundations and capital, and (at least in public) an almost delusional inability to see problems.

Thanks for the analysis. I hope it helps other writers avoid similar presses.

Marian Perera said...

Maria - Exactly. If the press is a good one, it'll still be going strong in a couple of years.

I know some writers have short pieces that they don't mind sending to riskier markets, but I just can't afford to lose novellas or novels.

Filigree - The refusal to acknowledge problems was the final straw for me. From what I heard, Musa's Yahoo group became something of an echo chamber.

Thanks for giving me the idea to do this writeup!