In my book Spiritual Writing: From Inspiration to Publication, I discuss the need for discernment, especially in a world where people prey on those with a trusting nature and a sense of mission. We often write about the things we need to learn, and I must have really needed to learn this lesson.
Aside from being an author and a former literary agent, I created a micropublishing indie hybrid publishing company to help authors with niche audiences or who may lack the platform to appeal to the conglomerates. I love being an indie alternative, especially for entrepreneurial authors, but after over 25 years in the publishing industry, I know too well the need for a platform and a marketing plan. I achieved three certifications from the Rutgers Mini-MBA program in digital marketing strategy, social media, and entrepreneurship, which gave me just enough knowledge to be dangerous.
My understanding of the opportunities of the digital world made it seem logical to co-venture with an outside website developer who would help me provide value for my authors. We met over Skype and got along great. He was charismatic and seemed very knowledgeable. He was entrepreneurial and gave me great ideas for expanding my author branding business. I would work on the editorial and gather all the content. We would choose the right look for the website together; he would customize it, and then we would place the content together.
But like Lucy and Ethel in the famous “I Love Lucy” episode where they are working at a chocolate factory, everything was great until the clients’ needs exceeded our ability to meet those needs. I felt like I was stuffing chocolate in my hat, unable to keep up.
Here is where things got sticky. My partner was happy and nice while I was bringing in the business. He got paid ahead of time for the work (a mistake on my part) and geared up with new hires to do his part. But he couldn’t do my part, and I wanted to have quality control for my clients. I should have seen this coming. He wanted volume, and when the dollars slowed, his happy attitude changed.
There was another problem to consider. I was being led into a business that I really didn’t want. I saw author branding as a corollary service I could offer my authors, and my partner saw it as a cash cow. My authors were fine with the delay in the website completion if the work was high quality; my partner saw it as a delay in him paying his team. He wanted to do 20 websites each month, and that didn’t align with my goals, so I didn’t keep up. And it wasn’t just that we fell behind in our schedule; my partner claimed he knew how to do e-commerce, but I quickly realized he was not an expert.
This is what put us over the edge. He started to get angry when I asked him to fix things, and things eventually got bad enough that I decided it was time for me to move on. This is when I realized one of my biggest mistakes. I had purchased a hosting service for the websites, but my partner was the only one with the login information. You should always have your own login information. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of someone else. He had the keys to the kingdom and was not going to share them without a price. I asked him to help migrate the sites to a new hosting server, and he kept promising to make it easy for me. I had found a new development company that I trusted, but he would not give them the access they needed to move the websites.
When I spoke to my former partner, he kept insisting the people at the new company were just stupid and I was not technical so couldn’t understand. Then he would ask me to pay for something else that was not relevant. I felt like I was escaping a bad marriage, and had to find a way to get my assets released.
Finally, even though I was supposedly “not technical,” I went into the back end of the website and figured out how to get my files and data that he was holding hostage. All of my websites have been safely moved, and I have even learned how to build them myself.
Holding on to the keys to your own kingdom—in my case, the login information to the website—is a huge lesson learned, but even above that, I learned how important it is to approach partnerships more carefully. Just because someone seems nice doesn’t mean your business goals will always align.
Deborah Herman is a bestselling author specializing in true crime memoir and has worked on all sides of the publishing world as a writer, editor, literary agent, indie publisher, and author branding specialist. Subscribe to her blog at micropublishingmedia.com.