Let me take a brief moment to introduce myself. I’m Emily Mah Tippetts, a science fiction (as Emily Mah) and romance (as E.M. Tippetts) author who used to practice law. I’ve done a lot of legal work for writers and seen a lot of contracts, and have also spent many, many years on my writing career. I’ve been asked by the website powers that be to do a series on The Business Side of Writing, which will cover everything from finding the right publisher to negotiating the best contract, clause by clause. If you have any particular topics you’d like me to cover, drop me an email at emilymtippetts (at) gmail (dot) com.
This first post, however, is by a guest blogger. Please welcome Amy Metz, author of Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction. She’s written a fantastic piece on vetting a new publisher. So without further ado:
Vetting Publishers Online
by Amy Metz
So you’ve written your masterpiece and you’re ready to have it published. You send out queries, and you start collecting rejection letters. You wait. And collect. And wait some more. You finally get a yes. You’re thrilled. Ecstatic! Someone wants to publish your work. This is so cool. Except…
The publisher is brand new. So what, you say. Their website looks professional. They have four editors on staff. Okay, maybe they don’t list the editors, maybe the site uses stock photos and common templates, maybe they haven’t yet published any books, and there are a few grammar mistakes on the site, but let’s overlook all that, because they’re new and you really, really want to be published, you say.
Friends advise you to be careful about signing with an unknown publisher. So you do a little research. You don’t find much, but that’s to be expected with a new company. They have to start somewhere, right? You don’t care. You want to sign.
So the publisher sends you a contract. You look it over, but you have questions. You ask, and the publisher answers, although nothing is changed, there is no negotiation, and you feel a little uneasy. But he was nice, and you really, really want to be published! So you push aside those niggling feelings and sign.
Friend, with the stroke of a pen, you just signed away your writing life for the foreseeable future to this unknown, untested publisher. But I’ll be a published author, you say! It’s all good. Right?
Um…no. What you just did is the equivalent of marrying Prince Charming after you met him online. The “romance” is fast, it’s seductive, it feels right. You agree to meet at the wedding chapel. And…your dream man or woman turns out to be a smelly, hairy, ugly nightmare wielding an axe. I would never do that, you say. That’s right. You wouldn’t marry a stranger, and you shouldn’t give your baby (AKA manuscript) to an unknown publisher.
Fact: Anyone can call himself a publisher. All they have to do is put up a website, spout pretty mission statements, make a lot of great promises, say they have a staff, and declare themselves a publisher. It is up to the author to do a lot of research before signing a contract, because once it’s offered, the promise of publication is so seductive, you’ll be tempted to ignore red flags you should have heeded. A writer simply must vet a potential publisher as if he/she were hiring an employee. This is so important I’ll repeat it: Always, always, always vet potential publishers.
Look at the publisher’s website. Does it look professional? Is it kept up to date? Does it list its authors and published books? Do they look like quality products? Are there typos in the text? Grammar mistakes? If you see grammar mistakes on the publisher’s website, that’s a big fat red flag. Publishers should be excellent editors. If you don’t see a site unique to that publisher, that’s a second red flag. Anyone can slap up a website. If they’re serious about growing their business, they’ll be serious about their website.
Are their editors listed with names, experience, and photos? It’s easy to say you have four editors. But those four editors could be merely friends who like to read. Make sure they exist and they know how to edit. (I’ve even heard of one publisher who pretended to be one of the editors by getting a fake email address and corresponding as if he were she. It turned out there was no such person. The “editor’s” first and last names were those of the publisher’s dogs. Think hairy, smelly, ugly axe wielder.) The more information on a website, the better. And make sure they can back up their claims.
What about their overall online presence? Are they active in social media? Look at their Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads pages. What’s on them? Do they promote their authors? Their websites and posts should be active, plentiful, professional, nit free, and up to date. Don’t settle for anything less.
Next, Google, research, and investigate the company and the people associated with it. And when I say Google, I don’t mean look at the first one of two pages of hits. Dig deep. You can find all sorts of interesting information if you’re patient and diligent. (One author found out her publisher had registered eleven domain names—all publishing related. But she found it on the tenth page of hits.) Do Internet searches on the publisher’s and the company’s names. How long have they been in business? Is the company’s address legitimate? Not all small presses are going to be housed in big fancy buildings, but you do want to make sure the address is real. That “suite” that’s part of their address? Is it an actual suite, or just a box number? Check it.
You also want to look for the publishing company on Preditors & Editors ( http://pred-ed.com/ ). This site keeps an active list of publishing companies (and agents, distributors, organizations, and much more), and they state whether a company is recommended or not. If a company is “not recommended” on this site, you don’t want to do business with them. Period. Also check out Writers Write ( http://www.writerswrite.com/ ), Absolute Write (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/ ), or other online writers’ forums. It’s trite, but true: leopards don’t change their spots. If there’s negative press about them, don’t even approach them.
Does the publishing company want to charge you for editing, formatting, distributing? If there are any costs to the author, they are a vanity press. Publishers pay authors, not the other way around.
Verify the quality of the company’s work. Examine their published books. At the very least, go to Amazon.com and look at the “Inside the Book” feature. Are there nits? Bad grammar? Poor formatting? Poorly written work? Make sure the editing and the product is quality. If they haven’t published any books yet, be very cautious about signing with them. Be very, very cautious.
Is an advance offered? An advance simply means the company has faith in the author. There are many legitimate small presses that don’t pay advances, so a deal with no advance isn’t always a red flag. It’s just something to consider. Ask why they don’t pay advances. They might say they don’t offer them so they can keep the overhead low and pay higher royalties to the author. Well, anybody can say anything.
Ask who will print the book. Some companies use CreateSpace. Don’t give away royalties for something you can do yourself. Just as there are hairy, smelly, ugly axe wielders proclaiming to be George Clooney look-alikes and Romeo clones, there are publishing companies who are either inexperienced and in over their heads, or out and out crooks. Writer beware!
Vetting your publishing company is vital, preferably before you send the query letter. Failure to vet could turn your dream into a nightmare. Cyberspace breeds unscrupulous people faster than a hot knife through butter. It’s an ugly world. Let’s be careful out there.