In Part 1 of “How to Know if a Publisher is Reputable,” I discussed few warning signs to watch for that indicate that a publisher isn’t what they appear to be. Part 1 addressed what to watch for in operations of the publishing house as a business. This next part will address potential problems with marketing and how a publisher positions their catalog of books. Please keep in mind that the answers to these questions will vary greatly from one publishing house to another.
Quality of Books
Look at the books in the publisher’s catalog. Do the covers appeal to the eye? Check out what the readers are saying about the books on websites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. Then consider your brand as an author. If reviews mention bad writing, editing and covers design, it could reflect poorly on your own book and reputation if you are associated with that publisher.
Has the publisher priced the books competitively? If every book in the catalog has a bad sales rank, it could be a marketing issue. If the books are priced too high, they won’t sell. If they are too low, the publisher is undervaluing the work and relying on a promotional gimmick as a permanent solution to generating sales. After a while, buyers will question the quality of a book if the price is consistently listed lower than its counterparts.
“Do one thing, and do it well.”
Lack of Focus
How does the genre of your story compare to the genres in the publisher’s catalog? If the publisher’s catalog of books looks like a hodgepodge of unrelated genres or lacks delineated imprints, the publisher may need focus. A publishing house that flits around and never settles on a core genre or group of related genres may not last because such practices make it difficult to build a base of readers to market to. Does the publisher routinely publish the genre that you write? If not, they may be testing a potential market with your book, or perhaps the press you are considering will publish anything that is well-written regardless of genre. Either way it could translate into lackluster sales for you.
Do the genres they publish pose a conflict or a moral dilemma? It’s hard to promote YA or Christian books alongside erotica and BDSM or to use science fiction to cross-promote chick-lit. This type of marketing could indicate that the publisher does not understand their readers. If the publishing house has a large selection of genres but very few books in each genre, it will hinder a reader from returning to that publisher to select a similar book for their next read. Ultimately this could result in fewer sales.
The above list is not meant to be all-inclusive or a foolproof way to find a reputable publisher. It is simply meant to give you a few insights into what indicators could spell trouble. And while some publishers may lack a bit in one area but are doing well in most of the others, don’t be too quick to rule them out. No one is perfect. But a publisher that struggles with several of these areas may not be a good investment.
Ultimately the decision on who to publish with is a personal one and should be approached with great care and knowledge. So do your homework. Understand your genre and your audience, and then find a publisher that specializes in what you write.
If there are other warning signs I failed to mention in this post, please feel free to share them below in the comments section for all to read. Share your publishing horror stories and what you learned from the experience.
Special thanks to Shay Goodman and Lauren Schmelz for their contributions to this article.