Unexpected Turn in the Journey to Publication

Many of you have walked with me lo, these many years, ever since the Marcher Lord Select Contest of 2009, when Alara’s Call (then known by a much lamer title that shall not be spoken here) was voted off the island in the first round. You may remember when I announced that OakTara had given me a four-book contract for The Prophet’s Chronicle series.

That was over two years ago.

Two years of friends with whom I had celebrated my contract asking “when does your book come out?” and me saying “I don’t know.”

Last year I had a glimmer of hope when I was sent a proof of the cover. I was asked not to post it online (and I still won’t) because the photo still had the stock photo service watermark on it.

Then nothing again.

My contract contained a simple clause I expected never to invoke. It says OakTara will offer the work for sale “within 24 months of the manuscript-in dates as noted…If OakTara fails to make the work available for sale within this timeframe, all rights hereunder shall revert to you within 30 days of your written notification.”

My manuscript-in date for Alara’s Call was April 19, 2013. That means that the aforementioned rights have reverted to me.

I’d rather have a book.

I have yet to receive acknowledgement of my written notification, which I sent not only by e-mail but also by post to both of OakTara’s offices—one in Illinois, and the other in Virginia. My Virginia letter came back Thursday with a big yellow Return to Sender sticker on it.

OakTara doesn’t seem to have shut down completely. Its website is still running, and an e-mail newsletter sent in February mentioned a new imprint, Eleutheria, which was to have specialized in dystopian, sci-fi, and fantasy. But apart from some Facebook posts, the company’s staff has been silent. Because of the lack of communication and the fact that they don’t seem to have published a book since last fall, I’m pulling OakTara from our list of publishers.

This is a huge setback, but I’m not entirely at square one. I pitched my book to Eddie Jones of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas—more about them next week—and he asked for my proposal, even after my giving full disclosure about the contract situation with OakTara. So there’s that.

Silver lining: having let the manuscript lay fallow for a couple of years while I worked on the sequels, I’ve now been revising it again, smoothing out the text and even shaving a few more words out. I’ve learned a lot as a writer and editor in two years. Kessie Carroll will appreciate that I took out the stew and replaced it with cold ham and carrots.

Better still: I can finally share the map. Mary Elizabeth Hall drew this for me almost two years ago, right after I got the contract, but I was asked to keep it under wraps. No more. I still hope it will wind up in a book.


Alara's Call map

Map by Mary Elizabeth Hall: mapsforbooks.com


Update: I did receive acknowledgement of my written notification from OakTara in September 2015.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

24 comments on “Unexpected Turn in the Journey to Publication

  1. Oaktara did that to you?? But they looked so reputable! My goodness! At this point you ought to just indie-pub and move on. Or run it through Kindle Scout.

    And hooray for the removal of stew! 🙂

  2. What an awesome map!

    If Lighthouse Publishing doesn’t come through for you, Kristen, then I agree with Kessie: self-pub and move on! You’re missing a fantastic opportunity this month–are you a member of the Christian Indie Authors Network (CIAN) group on Facebook? We’re putting together a flash drive promotion with free stories that they’re going to hand out to the crowds of folks at the conference venue that will be in town for several other events.

  3. Sorry to hear about the disappointment, but it probably is all for the best!!! 🙂 Not only the old cliche “All things work together for good..” thing, but I’ve heard that Oaktara wasn’t that great to work with on the other side of Publish, either. Some people regretted going with them, and wished they had the ms back so they could self pub. The cost of Author Copies just about bankrupted the authors, so they were cut off from much hand selling, and the house itself didn’t sell much for them.
    So, keep it in mind!!!

    And like you said, time is always a good thing to have under your belt when working with a series! Lots of tweaks can really make a big difference!!! 😉

    Keep us informed with how it turns out for you!!! 🙂

  4. Beautiful map! Selfishly, I personally hope you choose to self-publish at some point so we can all read your wonderful book! I’m so anxious to. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  5. Bummer! I hope a door opens for you soon!

  6. So sorry it didn’t work out but very glad you now have the freedom to explore other options.

    I remember Alara’s Call from the Marcher Lord Select Contest. I had one in the contest, too, (also voted out in round 1). What most folks don’t realize about the contest is that it was primarily invitational, manuscripts under serious consideration with MLP but vying for an extremely limited number of publication slots. Contesting manuscripts had already undergone preliminary scrutiny in regular submission to MLP, so being invited into the contest was no small feat.

    There’ve been ups & downs on my book’s road to publication, including brief publication by a place that closed down, which tossed the reprint monkey wrench into the challenge! Re-release with a different indie publisher is slated for later this year, and I’ve been very satisfied with the work they do.

    I came to the same silver-lining realization as I work through requested revisions. Enough time has passed that I’m seeing the earlier manuscript version wasn’t quite as publication ready as I thought back then. Or maybe I’ve just learned more and matured more as a writer. But the advice about letting a manuscript rest for a while (even a long while!) and not hurrying publication has proved sound indeed.

    Alara’s Call will find its publication venue. It was good book during the contest, and I have no doubt you’ve made it even better in the time that’s passed.

    Cheering you on, Kristen!

  7. […] I pitched him at Florida Christian Writers Conference and, despite my full disclosure of my contract entanglement at OakTara, he requested the proposal. Eddie is very approachable, so I recommend you pitch him or Rowena if […]

  8. […] had hoped that our new member, Gretchen E K Engel, would fill my shoes when I graduated, but since that’s not happening yet, I’m glad to bring her aboard […]

  9. Hang in there, Kristen. I’m an OakTara published author. Ramona has had a very rough 2015 with her parents illness and father’s death. Nothing has been published as far as I know this year; however, the company is still solvent as I’ve heard recently from the other co-founder, Jeff Nesbit. Please keep her and OakTara in prayer. All things do work together for good…PTL.

  10. […] thought I had arrived. I had the four-book contract—the over-the-top big hairy audacious dream. Having that fall through rattled my nerves. Now I’m back to the same old doubts and […]

  11. I’m going through the exact same thing with OakTara. I signed a contract with them in May of 2014 and didn’t hear anything until January of 2015. Since then I haven’t heard from them, even after I’ve sent multiple e-mails and a formal letter.

    I understand that life happens and tragedies occur, but don’t you think that it is common courtesy to simply send out a quick email to clients with contracts informing them of the situation? I feel it’s very unprofessional and quite rude.

    • Kelsey, I agree. Being a businessperson myself, I know that if I were unable to attend to my business, I would appoint someone to at least answer e-mails! The lack of communication exacerbates the problem.

  12. […] I’m glad I didn’t wait. I’m glad I’ve come as far as I have, though the journey has been far longer than I ever anticipated. There were days when all I could do was take a single step. There were times I felt as if I had made huge leaps, and times I had terrible setbacks. […]

  13. […] also had some setbacks, as Will Ramirez and I discovered how fickle the publishing business can be when our publisher stopped … y’know … […]

  14. Have you heard any additional information about OakTara? I have had a similar experience and have just been waiting.

    • I have not heard from them since I got my rights back. My understanding is that while their backlist is still available, they are not publishing anything new. Many OakTara authors have gotten their rights back and either re-published their books themselves or found other publishers. Best of luck to you!

  15. Hey there,

    So sorry to hear about how frustrated you all are. Very understandable.

    I worked as a cover designer for OakTara, and although you aren’t able to take your cover design with you as you adventure on into self publishing or other publishing avenues, I would be happy to talk to any of you about creating a new cover and interior typesetting.

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