Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Importance of Researching Publishers

Those of us who have been around the writing world for a while, have had this drilled into us. In fact, at the very first RWA chapter meeting I attended, Colleen Thompson presented a topic on the inner workings of the publishing industry and the importance of finding the right fit. I think this becomes even more important when dealing with e-publishing because publishing houses pop up every day or so it seems. They also tend to disappear with more frequency than I find comfortable. I think the most devastating instance was when Triskelon closed its doors and now, it seems that there's tension brewing within another house. You can check out the grumblings here. An author can't anticipate some of the problems that occur, but he/she can safeguard against a lot of it. No one can protect your interests better than yourself. So - go into this business with your eyes wide open and fully armed with as much knowledge as you can gather.

Where do you start? The first place I always go is to Preditors and Editors. They try to keep the site updated with latest warnings. Try to avoid vanity presses, especially if you hope to make it with a bigger publisher one day. Very few authors make enough money on sells to cover the expense of "paying" to have their books printed. Promotion costs money and bookstores rarely stock books printed by vanity printers. That means the author has to beat the pavement to sell their book and of course, this cuts into quality writing time. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd much rather be writing.

Let's say you've targeted several publishers to query and you actually get an offer from more than one publisher. What now? Look at the list of published authors contracted with those houses, and e-mail a few. Most will be happy to answer your questions. Learn to read between the lines. If the author is unhappy about one aspect of the business, he/she might skirt around the issue and not address it fully. Just remember, though, if an author takes you into their confidence, this does not give you permission to spread rumors. Make sure you get more than one opinion on the matter before making up your mind. And don't be afraid to ask the publisher questions before signing the contract.

Do you need an agent before signing the contract? Not necessarily, but you need to read the contract carefully and understand fully what it says. The reputable publishers usually have pretty standard contracts with similar wording, but you want to be careful regardless. I allowed several pretty savvy folks to read mine before I attached my signature.

What questions should you ask? I'll add a few here and maybe others will chime in and add to the list. First, I would want to know how active the publisher is in regards to promotion. Yes, the author has an obligation to promote themselves, their name and their books, but the publisher has an obligation to promote the publisher's name and bookstore. I would also want to know how professional the publisher is in regards to communication between him/her and the authors. At the same time, is the publisher's discussion loop a comfortable place to be with the diversity of the authors there. Is the publisher's website easily navigated because if it isn't, chances are you won't sell many books through them. What other avenues does the publisher utilize for selling your masterpiece? Do they have a print program for moving e-books from digital to print? What system is used for editing your work? Does only one editor look at it and if so, how many times? Does the cover art you see on other books by this publisher grab your attention? Check out the reviews for several books. Are the reviews consistently good? Is the publisher a member of EPIC? (to me this indicates the publisher's willingness to keep up with current trends and issues related to the industry)

Money? Does the contract allow for a standard percentage or does it fall lower, higher than other companies? When does the publisher send royalty checks. Does the publisher offer an advance?

I'm sure there are a ton of questions to be asked, but you won't know the answers unless you ask. I was very fortunate. At the time I signed with Champagne Books, the company was in its first year. I signed on blind faith and the recommendation of another author. Others haven't been so lucky with their choices. Often, the dream of being published gets in the way of common sense. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't right for you. Trust your instincts and do your homework. That's probably the best advice I can give.


Anonymous said...

Great advice my friend. I only wish there had been some red flags before I elected to sign with a specific publisher. :( I actually had heard good things from one author published there, so I had no indication what I was walking into. I only hope it never happens to anyone else. It's not a pleasant experience and really makes you question your judgment.

Ciara Gold said...

Ah, but fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I think we all go through cases where we have to learn the hard way. At least now, you are better armed so it won't happen again. Much success to your future in publishing.

Kimber Chin said...

I truly believe that when you sign up with a publisher, you're entering a partnership. It is just like marriage. Would you marry a complete stranger (some people do)?

In addition to what you mentioned, Ciara, I also looked at it from a business point of view. A publisher growing too fast is a red flag. A publisher not growing is another red flag.

What is the publisher's relationship with the rest of the literary world? Do their books get reviewed? Are books listed on Amazon? Have their books won any awards (like...ummm... a certain Ciara Gold winning an Eppie, perhaps?)?

This is a whole other post but the contract is darn important.

Is there a perpetuity clause (i.e. the publisher owns the work forever)? If yes, walk, no run away.

Does the publisher want ownership of more rights than they'll ever use (film rights, etc)? Again, run away.

Is there no bankruptcy clause (the rights reverting back to the author in case of insolvency)? Just say no to no bankruptcy clause.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, well written and precise. Way to go J.

Big Mike

Phyllis Campbell said...

This is great information, Jami!! I think this needs to be done but not only new authors, but us that have been published for a while. I am one of the unhappy authors at Highland Press. I'd love to get out of my contract, and I'll be asking someone at the RWA National level for help. When I joined Highland Press they were just getting started, so they didn't have anything on P&E about them. Look what happens in one year. Scary! All of us authors need to know what to look for so we are not trampled on!

Thanks for posting this, woman!


Ciara Gold said...

You're welcome, Marie! And thanks, big Mike. And Kimber, you added some great points. Like I said, I was just very lucky in choosing Champagne Books, but at the same time, I had a request for the full from two other publishers and one of those is now defunct. I could have just as easily been one of those unhappy, homeless authors fighting for the rights to my book back.

Nancy Henderson said...

I have been very lucky with my publishers. I have friends who are still caught up in the Trisk... mess. It's so sad & frustrating for them. Makes me count my blessings.

rajF9 said...

Newspaper is a regular published print product containing information, news and advertising. Newspapers are living textbooks and they are source of information and learning. It’s a source to find out whats happening in movies, books, concerts, games, jobs and events. Major advantage left to newsprint is that reading it does not require any sophisticated, cumbersome technical equipment. This offers the reader a high level of flexibility: newsprint can basically be read in any place at any time. The reader can absorb the information offered at his own pace. Even the fact that the reader can touch and feel the printed paper while turning the pages may be of some importance.

Disadvantage of Printed edition of newspaper -
Circulation of the newspaper is one of the principal factors, circulation is not the same as copies sold because many copies are read by more than one person this is a major offset as the number of copies distributed are not read.

People away from their home place would always love to read their regional paper wherever they are in any part of the world. Take my case; I have been hunting for my favorite newspaper Times of India in the heart of New York City but in vain and the only solution I found at this time is e-paper.

E-paper and its advantage -
Will e-paper is going to replace the printed edition in future is the question to be asked? ePaper is the replication of newspaper pages which allows one to get the same experience as reading the hard-copy edition and e-paper has the advantages of being interactive, multimedia, of providing internal and external networks and offering selection functions, the possibility of regular updates, access to archives, rapid access to a large number of newspapers, and being paperless, thus creating no problems of waste disposal.
Not even that it’s more convenient from the customer’s point of view while reading the e-paper, I came across Nokia new model cell phone, and by clicking on it; I was taken directly to the website, where I could compare the prices.

So this has led to some predictions that is newspapers will shrink or even disappear?
All the recent surveys both in USA and abroad indicate that print newspaper readership is going down; there has been a dramatic drop in the circulation of papers.
Full time professional employment at daily newspapers is falling. In a desperate attempt to offset the falling revenues, more newspaper groups are setting them up online.
All of the major news publishers have adopted e-paper technology in order to increase their readers and revenue.

Looking at the enormous growth in the Digital News Publishing Industry, many new media companies are offering ePapers and eMagazines at affordable costing with low or no upfront investment. Pressmart Media Limited, a leading new media services company based out of India and USA provides an excellent Multi channel distribution on Web, Mobile, Podcast, Search Engines, Social Networks, Web2.0 sites and RSS.

I hope you do agree that digital versions of news publications will be an added advantage for publishers in increasing their brand value, customer reach and revenues.

Candace Morehouse said...

As Ciara knows, she is the reason I signed with Champagne. She is very savvy about this e-publishing thing so I chose to trust her (a complete stranger at that time).

But I did my homework beforehand (and I think this is essential before contracting with any publisher). I looked at the list of authors and found Ciara's Email address, then sent her a message asking her honest opinion about Champagne. She was kind enough to answer me and I went ahead armed with the knowledge she imparted. I've never regretted it.

Thanks again, Ciara.

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