Is [insert name] publishing a good publisher?
I get this question all the time, usually from authors wanting to know if a publisher is reputable. Nowadays, the publishing environment is such that anybody can put up a website and call themselves a publishing house. As a result, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of small publishers out there who will publish your short story or novel. So how to you sift the wheat from the chaff?
Ask yourself what you want from a publisher. Decide what your expectations are and then do some research to see if they are realistic. Ask what you will get out of the relationship. Are you paying money to get your novel published, even a little? Do they require you to do all the marketing? Is their marketing almost 100% internet based? What does their distribution look like? How transparent are their business practices?
While the answers to these questions will vary greatly from one publishing house to another, there are a few warning signs to watch for that indicate that a publisher isn’t what they appear to be.
The publishing house requires that you sign a non-disclosure agreement before entering into negotiations or before issuing a contract. This indicates that the publisher has something to hide, that their business practices aren’t on the up and up, or that their royalty rates are lower than standard. This makes one question whether the publisher will hold up their end of the contract.
A lopsided contract gives most of the rights to the publisher and is of little benefit to the author. Never sign a contract thinking that the publisher is looking out for your interests. There should be a give and take to make the business venture appealing to both parties. Spending the money to have a lawyer look over the contract is money well spent if it saves you from a binding contract with little benefit to you.
Unfair Royalty Rates
Is the publishing house offering you a small royalty when they have minimal overhead? If their distribution is nonexistent or consists mostly of ebooks and shipping a few paperbacks out of someone’s garage and the author is expected to do most of the promotion, the overhead is not equal to that of a big publishing house. You should get a bigger cut if the publishing house is not bringing much in the way of services to the table. Otherwise, you may want to consider self-publishing.
Lack of References
What do current and former authors of the publishing house say about their experiences with the publisher? Is the feedback positive? Or are they even allowed to talk to you? If the only people you can talk to are agents of the publisher, you may want to look elsewhere.
Little Industry Experience
How well do they know the business of publishing? A simple search of the internet will let you know if the principles of the publishing house know their stuff. If there’s little information available, ask about their industry experience. If they give you the run around, run the other way.
Pay to Publish
If a publisher asks you to front the money to publish your book (even a small part) or uses words like partner, investor or entrepreneur when referring to their authors, they could be a vanity publisher. You will be expected to pay for some or all the cost to publish your book. Chances are you will also be responsible for the majority of your marketing. And while not every vanity publisher is bad, you should do your homework. If you are not interested in working with a vanity publisher, walk away.
Stay tuned. Tomorrow I will post Part 2 of “How to Know if a Publisher is Reputable,” which will address potential problems with marketing and a how a publisher positions their catalog of books.
Special thanks to Shay Goodman and Lauren Schmelz for their contributions to this article.