This discussion popped up on AbsoluteWrite the other day. When you watch writer after writer fall into the same traps due to their own ignorance (and their ignorance that they’re ignorant) sometimes you just want to shake people until the silly falls out of them. But that’s assault, and also not how brains work. Instead, I thought I’d share my ‘choosing a publisher checklist’.
How did you hear of this publisher? Have you bought books from them before? Do you recognise any of their authors? If your only point of contact is a google search for “publishers” you’re probably on the wrong track.
Do they want your money? You can almost certainly do better. Yog’s law: money flows towards the writer. Do they claim it’s normal to pay to be published these days? You can definitely do better. You don’t want to be in a business relationship with someone who flat out lies to you from the get go.
Do they accept your genre/pairing/kink? If they don’t, you’re probably in the wrong place. Yes, I know your book is special and wonderful and you really want to work with them despite the fact they’re a romance publisher and you’ve written horror, but even if they did accept it (and be very wary of a publisher that launches itself out of its niche like that!) all of their promotion, connections, branding and their readers will be irrelevant to you.
Do they accept all genres/pairings/kinks? If they’re not a huge, (inter)nationally renowned publisher you can find in every section of your local brick and mortar bookshop, this is probably a bad thing. Small publishers do better when they focus their efforts on niches.
Is the website aimed at readers or writers? Readers good, writers bad.
How easy is it to buy a book?
Is the book you bought any good? Is it interesting, with a compelling plot and engaging characters? Is it formatted correctly? Is the grammar and spelling correct? Is the cover visually appealing?
If no to any of the above, why are you still looking at this publisher?
If yes to all of the above, buy another book. Repeat.
If still yes, congratulations, you have a new source of good books to read! Get distracted from your manuscript, spend next three weeks reading through your new haul.
Remember publisher. Go back to website. Try and ignore those tempting ‘buy’ links.
What does their ‘About Us’ tell you? Do the staff have relevant experience in publishing? This does not include ‘writing’. Especially if they’re all published by their own publisher. Google the staff – LinkedIn is especially useful for determining if a publisher is run by one person under ten names or ten people.
What are their contract terms?Are the contract terms available on the site? A copy of the contract may not be forthcoming, but most submission FAQs answer the obvious questions. If there is nothing, email and ask. If they refuse to release contract details to anyone other than contracted authors, wonder what they’re hiding.
Red flags include:
– life of copyright contract without solid reversion rights (with epublishing and POD, out of print is basically meaningless)
– a grab for rights they don’t appear to be able to take advantage of, e.g. translation rights, audio rights (unless audio versions are available, obviously!), film rights etc
– royalties based on net, without a strong definition of net (preferably limited to retailers cuts)
– right of first refusal to future works without well-defined circumstances in which you can turn them down (e.g. if you get a better offer, or limited to direct sequels)
– detailed demands relating to your role in marketing your books
– use of the phrase “Your book will be available TO stores” as opposed to “Your book will be available IN stores”, and similar weasel wording. A good contract should not be vague.
– misuse of legal terms
– a contract that appears to have been used by another publisher first. Copyright infringement is bad!
Are their current authors happy with them? Try googling the name of the publisher plus words like “scam”, “problem”, “complaints”, or “non-payment”. Check sites like AbsoluteWrite, Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware and genre-specific watchdogs such as EroticRomancePublishers. Email several of their authors to get a wider picture of their satisfaction.
Are they currently accepting submissions?
If you can answer all of the above confidently and without niggling doubts (now is a really, really bad time to start lying to yourself) submit your manuscript. Buy some more books to keep yourself busy while waiting for a reply. If it’s an acceptance, and you get a contract, ask someone with experience in publishing contracts (not housing contracts, not employment contracts, not insurance contracts…) to go over with with you. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t rush yourself.
Always remember: being badly published is worse than not being published at all.