In the past year or two, I’ve gotten much more serious about my lifelong writing hobby. Okay so I wasn’t penning fiction straight out of the womb. You know what I mean, smartass.
Anyway, one thing I’ve realized is that it’s pretty easy for newbs to fall into some big damn sinkholes on the road to publication. From vanity presses to indie houses to self-publishing services, below is the meager knowledge on avoiding craptastic publishers I’ve collected in my relatively short time in this crazy game. Enjoy!
1. Never pay a publisher. Not one cent. Ever.
One of the first things a properly seasoned writer (yum?) will tell you is that money always flows to the author. What does this mean? It means that you’re supposed to make money, not spend it. But why is it a red flag? There are so many reasons, but this is the only one I needed to know: a house whose authors are supplying the business’ income has no reason to be picky. They’d be stupid to turn anyone away, and as much as they might insist that they are just as picky as a “traditional” house (pro tip: don’t call trade publishing “traditional”), believe me, they are not. You are the customer here. Sales is about parting the customer from their money. Think about it. Do not give anyone there any money.
A publisher should never require you to write a check for any services. Not editing, not print runs, not promo materials. Do not give anyone there any money.
If you are offered a contract on your manuscript that requires you to purchase any number of books, run. Do not pass GO. Do not give anyone there any money.
You know what? Just DO NOT GIVE ANYONE THERE ANY MONEY.
2. Is They’re Editing up to Pare?
If you’re considering trusting your manuscript to a publisher, try this: go to their site and look it over with your editor eyes. What do you see?
No one expects you to catch every little misspelling, typo, and grammatical error in your novel, but if you are thinking of putting someone else in charge of doing so, make sure they are up to the simple task of writing serviceable website copy, FFS. If they don’t know the difference between “except” and “accept”, they probably shouldn’t be involved with publishing in any capacity, much less in charge of it.
Also, don’t point out mistakes in this post. I didn’t edit it. I never claimed to be an editor :P
3. “…No, But I Did Stay at a Holiday Inn Express Last Night!”
This is not the sort of answer you want to the question “do you have any actual publishing experience?”
Having written a book, or gone to school for marketing, or taught Lit 101 for twenty years does not qualify someone to open a publishing house on their own. Sure they might have a foggy idea about one or two pieces of the business, but chances are extremely slim that they are knowledgeable enough to run the whole shebang themselves.
Hell, I don’t even feel qualified to be writing this portion of the post. All I’m saying is find out what experience these people have. And yes, there should be more than one of them.
4. Less is More.
So you think you’ve found a publisher. They’re small, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They don’t seem to be asking for cash or hawking books to their authors. Their website reads as if it were written by a moderately intelligent adult human and not a remedial grade school English class. They are plural, and even appear to know what they’re doing. I mean look at them, they’re putting out dozens of new titles each week! You’re golden, right?
Whoa, slow down there, hoss. Business might seem like it’s booming, but you may actually be dealing with an author mill here. Ask around and you may find that most of their authors sell next to nothing. And before you get all “but I’m not doing it for the money, nyeeah nyeeah nyeeah,” just consider the fact that no sales generally = no one is reading it.
To be plain, more isn’t good if proper attention isn’t given to each and every product, before AND after it’s released into the wild–or in this case, shoved out of the nest and left to its own devices…poor wittle book baby :(
5. Just…Be Careful Out There.
Yeah, it’s 1:30 in the morning and I’m ready to wrap this up, so just be careful out there. This is only a tiny sampling of the shit that can go wrong when you go in search of that mythical beast we call a publishing contract (or as its known in my head the “super-scary-holy-shit-what-if-I-make-the-worst-possible-choice paper for my signature that means I can tell people to go buy my book thing”. Why yes, I do call myself a writer. STFU.)
Remember that if it seems like you’ve caught a break and someone finally recognizes you as the literary genius you are, it’s probably a bad idea. Yay writing!