Getting published isn’t everything: a cautionary tale


A few days ago, my friend Ejen Chuang sent me some direct messages on Twitter, leading with “Your book has been repackaged as a UK magazine-format book.”

He sent me some snaps of a book/magazine hybrid that doesn’t look familiar to me at all, except for the fact that it uses photos of cosplayers I selected. Oh, and there’s my name listed as the author of it. All published by a publisher, Imagine, I’ve never heard of/worked with.

I’ve known about The New Cosplay Book since May, but this is my first time seeing it in the wild. And I’m not exactly proud of it being out there, because it’s such a glaring indication of my biggest mistake as an author.


Back in 2014, I was so starry-eyed with the possibility of writing a Real Book, I probably would have paid for the opportunity. I signed the publishing contract without really looking at it. I proceeded to write the manuscript in seven weeks as ordered, documenting it on the blog. I ignored the warning signs through readers’ innocuous questions like, “What is it like working with an editor in traditional publishing?” (I didn’t) that proved this was not a traditional book deal. I was just excited to see my published work in bookstores around the world.

And that happened. You can now pick up a copy of Cosplay: The Fantasy World of Role Play at any Barnes & Noble in the US, and some places in the UK, too. But I knew I was replaceable. I didn’t attend a single one of the book signings I was invited to, since the publisher told me I would be expected to pay my own way to get to the locations (London, Toronto).

Still, I was thrilled when my typically uncommunicative contact at the publishing house reached out in January to let me know the book had done well enough to garner a second printing! She asked if I had any changes to make to the original manuscript before that, and I excitedly outlined a strategy for getting all the previously unidentified cosplayers in the book credited. (Since I was under a time constraint, I simply credited photographers when neither I or the photographer could remember a cosplayer’s name.) I never heard back.

Then in May, one of the photographers I’d worked with told me she’d become aware of a second cosplay book using her photos, and was reasonably upset she hadn’t been paid. When we used her photos for Cosplay, it was presumed to be a “one time use” license. The link she sent me to Imagine’s website was how I got notified that there was a new book with my name on it.

I was shocked. I hadn’t heard a word from my publisher since January. At first I was angry. But flipping through my contract again, I realized that I had no right to know about what they did with my work after I handed it over in November 2014. Even if they sold it. Back then, I sold my rights entirely for about $3,000. (And since then I haven’t made a cent, since royalties aren’t included. I don’t get paid when the book gets bought.) They don’t owe me a response at all.

I wrote to my original publisher on the photographer’s behalf, but never heard back. What made this an especially awful mistake was that I unwittingly roped eight fantastic cosplay photographers into working for free. I used my reputation as the Otaku Journalist to convince them to work with me, if we weren’t friends already (“Look at my blog to see how seriously I take fandom,” I told them). But ultimately they were working for the publisher, not for me.

If I could do it all over again, I’d model it after what Ejen did. That’s what I wrote in my Forbes article, I Wrote A Book About Cosplay, But This Guy Wrote A Better One. “I’m grateful to the publisher for giving me that opportunity, but I hardly consider that book as my own work,” I wrote. “If I had the chance to do it again, I’d want to tell a story about [cosplay’s] people.”

I’m no longer proud of what I did with Cosplay—writing an impersonal 101 and hardly protecting the photographers that worked with me just so I could see my name in bookstores. I’m much happier with my self-published books, for which I chose the topic and content myself, for which I paid my artists and editors on my own terms, for which I still control the rights.

Last November, I wrote about how writing a book didn’t change my life. It didn’t make me wealthier or better known or better established as an author. But now I realize it did change my life in one key way—it made me wiser. I won’t be signing a contract like that again.

Top photo by me, other photos by Ejen.