You, rejecting publishers? Say what? You would think it’s always been the other way around. Yet maybe you don’t realize that you do have that option and can enforce it any time you like. I’m not talking about random dismissals or motives sparked by revenge or anger. I’m referring to instances where the publisher seems, not only not right for you, but something else is amiss. Something’s not kosher and you can’t quite put your finger on it. Although you’re desirous of seeing your book in digital form or print, and nothing would boost your ego more or delight your family members than having that happen, you’d better slam on the brakes and start thinking with your gray matter instead of listening to your heart.
A BOOK THAT IS BADLY PUBLISHED IS WORSE THAN ONE NOT PUBLISHED AT ALL.
Remember that. Because if you don’t heed that warning you’re likely to end up with a very bard publishing decision that could hamper or even ruin your writing career. I’ve been through this more than once, so allow me to throw you a life preserver if you feel lost, alone and confused in a potentially hazardous environment. There are also subtle warning signs as well as the obvious ones, and I’d like to point out some these traps and snares that could land you a very bad contract offered to a very good book.
The Obvious–do some research. Visit sites like Predators and Editors, AbsoluteWrite (writing group) and Piers Anthony’s e-book publishing forum. Type the name of the publisher into the search bar and bring up the dirt, if there is any. You’ll find comments or articles from past authors or site managers who’ve accumulated reports and testimonials about the publisher. Look for “not recommended” declarations, poor performance, late or no royalty payments, low royalty percentages on “net”, non-communication or response, unimpressive back-list numbers, lack of distribution to even the online retailers, back-end fees, irregular publishing schedules, requests for family and friends email links, any charge upfront contingent upon editing, the printing process or distribution and anything else that might immediately warn you off.
What if everything looks good, even great on the surface and you find no negative reports? These are the ones that can slip by you, suck you in and sink you. You’ll find these red flags in the contract, but before you even get that far, read their website from stem to stern–open up every link and peruse all of their files. The mission statement is where you’ll start, followed by the submission guidelines, then the “About Us” page. After 30 years I’ve seen it all. In just the past 15 years I’ve (or my agent) rejected 28 publishers, putting only two of them in the dugout. My most recent offer came from a press that offered contracts on six of my remaining books–books that are repped by my agent. I’m currently investigating this publisher up one side and down the other. This offer came out of the blue, and I won’t bore you with the details right now.
Here are some not so obvious and obvious warning signs that you’re headed for trouble:
When the publisher asks you for an itemized email list of your associates, group members, family relatives and friends, co-workers or any other contact source. This will be for a mass, spam e-mailing campaign, targeting potential customers. Nothing could irk your friends and associates more than this unexpected spam slam.
When a publisher mentions or stipulates that an author’s duty is to self-promote and market the book, including examples on on how to do so–sell at conventions or street corners, solicit major radio, newspaper and television media, hold bookstore signing events where you purchase bulk copies of your books without the financial aid/assistance of the publisher, recommendations to purchase banner or page ads, entering fee-charging contests, and so on, you’re headed for trouble. This type of information/participation doesn’t have to be mentioned–it’s already implied–most writers dig in and promote anyway, but if it’s heavily emphasized, especially more than once on the website or contract, you know this publishers is going to do little or nothing to get your name and your book out there. If you fall for this one, congratulations. You’ve just hired yourself on as an unpaid sales and publicity person.
Don’t buy a minimum number of your own books as a stipulation from the publisher. This is “vanity mill” territory. The reader is not supporting the publishers in this instance, you are.
When the publisher states that you must reach a certain e-book sales threshold before you are allowed to go to print? This one is becoming more prevalent, but it also indicates a lack of financial solvency. They don’t have the basic start-up print funds. Avoid.
When you find in the contract that the publisher will not provide any free author copies? Look for this one. This one’s very subtle and it might not mean much to you. But take heed; it means the publisher is a shoe-stringer and the only alternative you have is to purchase your own books for posterity and/or for giveaways or reviews. This is mirroring a vanity operation with the mirror being held very far a way.
When the royalty amount is based on net. Net can mean postage, editing, cover art, retail discounts, returns and just about anything connected with the book’s production and distribution. You’ll need it spelled out in the contract in regard to what constitutes their interpretation of net royalty. Fight for gross. It’s simpler and easy for you and your records.
When the publisher sells exclusively on their website, with maybe one other retail source? Here’s a list of a few retailers where you’d like to see your book available for sale. Not necessarily all of them:
Amazon Create Space
Barnes & Noble Nook
Overdrive Content Reserve (distributes to libraries and various retailers)
Lightning Source (an Ingram Company) is another good exposure resource.
When a publisher will not provide even a token advance? They have NO financial backing, regardless of their excuse that their high royalty rates more than make up for it. The entire sales of the book and risk is on you. Not them. They have no incentive to make their money back, only the production costs, and that’s likely after YOU have sold a sufficient number of copies to recoup the expense. And they can recoup very quickly.
When a publisher has an extravagant termination clause–$500 plus, ranging into the thousands. Strike it. They have no right to lock you in.
When a publisher who does POD and e-book charges you a set-up fee for a print addition. Again, this means their pockets are empty.
When a publisher refers you to an in-house or associate editing service before the contract is signed? Chances are it’s their own service or an affiliate. Does conflict of interest ring a bell?
When a publisher keeps delaying or pushing your print schedule ahead. This is more often a sign that they are experiencing some type of difficulty, probably financial, dealing with the set-up and print fee. This is after all the work (cover art and editing) has been completed. Make them furnish the copyright–they can buy these and bulk and should have them. It is a courtesy extended to the author. It’s the norm, really.
When a publisher places very high prices on their e-book or print books. Either their overhead is unnaturally high or they’ve got Mr. Greed whispering in their ear. If they are vanity, they are counting on you to purchase your own books at that higher cost. Find that clause in the contract and modify to your benefit.
Wen a publisher has a very small back-list or none at all. This shows they’re new to the game, perhaps too new to have established an adequate reader fan base. Two years (bare minimum) in the business is enough time to determine if they’re in this for the long haul and have a decent roster of authors and books. However, longevity doesn’t mean they can’t suddenly tank and take a stable of authors down with them.
When a publisher does not send out ARCs (author’s review copies) or galleys to the major or even minor media review sources., OR EVEN TO YOU. Reason–high cost of books and postage for print editions. For e-books? Plain laziness.
When a publisher switches editors (or several) on you midstream? Something’s up. Like a disgruntled commission-paid employee has jumped ship, the editor is sick (multiple times), or some other snafu is interrupting the process. Generally, one or two-person publishing operations are very limited in what they can do so when an emergency arises it has them scrambling for back-up help that they never had to begin with.
When a publisher suffers not, agents. Any publisher who refuses to deal with agents is one you don’t want. Something is amiss with their business practices and they don’t wish to reveal, haggle over it or amend their contract. They will force a boilerplate contract on you whether you like it not.
Listen and feel for your Spidy sense, people. If something seems off, investigate it more thoroughly. Don’t settle. You don’t have to. Contact their authors on the side and ask for an honest lowdown on their performance.
Thanks for reading. I’ll red-shift outta here–Christy, who is Chris H. Stevenson