How to Pick a Publisher
By: Theresa Oliver
So, now you play the waiting game. You've sent out your manuscript, your baby, to a publisher and now you wait. Many of us play this game and are thrilled when one finally accepts our book, becoming validation that we are finally authors. However, every writer should be careful who they send their manuscript to. Every publisher is different. With some publishers, the writer loses all control of the final product, having no say over the edits while still retaining copyrights. Other publishers will work closely with authors, taking the time to produce a finished product that both the author and publisher can be proud of. So, before you send your baby off for acceptance and validation, make sure you research the publisher to ensure that it will be a worthwhile experience. Here are some things to look for:
1. Make sure the publisher will work with you on the edits. This is number one. Oftentimes, I have seen authors excited to be accepted by a publisher, only to be let down by the finished product. Make sure the editor will send you the edits for your approval before it goes to print. Any editor worth his or her salt will send you the edits for approval prior to publication. Ask the publisher if the editor will work with you and if you will be able to approve the final edits before the work goes to print. If the publisher responds that their editors are "professionals" and will "ensure that the work is edited properly," but says nothing about showing you the final edits for approval, then do not submit your work to them. Although the publisher has the final say over the edits, make sure that you are included within the editing process. After all, you want to make sure that your baby looks its best before it is presented to the public. In my company, the editing process takes the longest, as we want to make sure that the finished product is something both author and publisher can be proud of.
2. Research the publisher's published books. Once, I was researching children's picture book publishers and came across one that looked promising. It sounded great from the promo; however, when I researched their books, the illustrations were not of good quality. I looked at some of their books, wanting to believe that it was just the illustrations on one or two books, but upon further inspection, none of the illustrations were of good quality on any of their books. I crossed them off the list and went on to the next publisher. Do not settle. This is your baby we're talking about presenting to the world and you want to make sure that you are placing your baby in the best hands possible. Also, go on Amazon and research the ranks of some of the books by publishers. This will also help you in choosing the right publisher for your work.
3. What are the distribution practices of the publisher? Make sure you ask this question of a publisher. Make sure that your book will be available to book stores for purchase in addition to Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble online, Smashwords, Kobo and more. Before submitting to a publisher, find out if their books are made available through the Ingram catalog or Baker and Taylor. This will ensure that your book will be made available to book stores for purchase. You want your baby to be available in all venues. In addition, when your book is available through Smashwords, the publisher can provide you with free e-book codes that you can use to send to reviewers and use for promotions, as well.
4. Compensation reports. Before submitting to a publisher, ask them if they provide compensation reports from all venues o their authors. Oftentimes, I hear authors complain that their publisher just sends them a check and does not send a compensation report. Any publisher worth his salt will provide their authors with detailed sales reports, breaking down the amount of books sold, the revenue the publisher received for the sale of your books, and then your cut of the profit.
5. Venues. Make sure that the publisher you consider submitting to will offer your book in both paperback and e-book forms. Let's face it: e-books are here to stay and are not going away. You don't want to miss out on the e-book piece of the pie. Also, you need to make sure that your book is also offered in paperback, as well. You can't sign an e-book at a book signing. Well, you could, but it's not the same. Also, you need to literally get your book in the hands of readers and having paperbacks is the way to do just that. Ask a publisher how you will be able to purchase books for self promotion and make sure that it wi worth your while.
6. No publisher should charge the author! If a publisher tells you that they charge for submissions or that they charge for publishing your book, then they are a vanity publisher. Get out immediately! However, some publishers ask authors to buy a minimum amount of books from them prior to publishing. This is a gray area. I once was accepted by a children's book publisher, but then they told me that I had to buy 500 copies of my book prior to it going to print. I thanked them and got out immediately. Publishers such as these depend upon sales to authors, not to readers. However, you need to use your own judgement. If a publisher asks you to buy 100 copies of your book at a low price and you are already planning on purchasing copies for book signings anyway, then you may want to consider it. However, if the publisher asks you to buy more than that, then they ware not planning to make their money on sales to readers. Again, get out. Also, make sure that the publisher will charge you a fair price for paperbacks. You need to make sure that you will make some money on your sales at book signings, as well. Remember: you are not only paying for the book copies, you are also paying for the shipping and handling and taxes on the book. This will come off your profits at book signings, too. Again, make sure that it's worth your while.
7. Contracts. So, you've been by a publisher! Congratulations! Now, you need to clear your head and go through the contract they offer you with a fine tooth comb. I was once offered a contract, but the publisher kept movie deal rights and only offered me seven percent. Make sure to go over the contract and if any red flags come up, ask the publisher about it. Also, make sure that the compensation you are slated to receive is fair. If you have to, take it to a lawyer. Personally, I hate contracts, but they are a necessary part of business. Also, a publisher can make minor changes to a contract, if needed, but ask them first. But on the other hand, do not ask a publisher to completely rewrite a contract. Once, I offered a contract to an author and he completely rewrote the contract and sent it to me. Of course, he had all the rights and I had nothing. I laughed, promptly released him and didn't offer him the contract after all. Contracts must be fair for both parties and have the author's best interests in mind. However, remember that they are putting all the money up front to publish your book, so don't demand an astronomical amount from them. They need to be compensated, too, but you also need fair compensation for your hard work and creativity, as well.
8. Get the stars out of your eyes and ask the questions! Oftentimes, writers are so happy that a publisher chose their book to publish that they overlook red flags. If there are too many red flags that come up with a publisher, then thank them and find another publisher. After all, if one said yes, then another will, too. Sometimes it takes a bit of hunting to find the publisher that's right for you and your book. So, do the leg work first before you submit and find the publisher that is right for you and your book.
9. Make sure that you are not locked in to one company. When you decide on a publisher, make sure to ask if there would have hard feelings should you decide to publish another work with another publisher. I have known publishers that expect their authors to publish all of their books with them. This should not be the case. Every author should be free to publish their future work with the publisher of his or her choice. Make sure that your contract is just for one book or the series. Then, if you have a great experience publishing with them and wish to publish with them again, then go for it. But you are only locked in for just one book just in case. Also, contracts should be for no longer than five years. An author friend of mine is locked into a ten-year contract with a book series. His publisher is doing nothing to promote his book series and now he's locked in. Don't let this happen to you! Again, contracts should be for no longer than five years. Then, if it's been a good experience for you and the publisher both, you can renew the contract for another five years. But, if the experience was less than enjoyable, you can thank them and go on your merry way. The only thing is that if you decide to take your book to another publisher after the five year contract is up, then you may not take the edits or the book cover of the previous publisher, unless it is agreed upon by the publisher. So, essentially, you will be starting over from scratch on the book again.
10. Look at small publishers, too. When I was looking for a publisher years ago, I once met an author and he advised me not to discount small publishers. He was absolutely right. Small publishers are able to work one on one with their authors and become a very close knit family, of sorts. Whereas, in the big publishing houses, authors can become lost in the shuffle. Also, publishing with small publishers is a great way to get your feet wet in the publishing world and to gain a publishing credit or two, as well. When applying to agents and large publishing houses, the more publishing credits you have to your name, the better. Also, pick a pen name and stick to it. This way, your publishing credits will build under one name. The more publishing credits you have to your name, the better. Going with a small publisher will help you to step into the publishing world.
11. Don't be a diva! The above responses are for what to look for in a publisher, but this one is for you. When you are accepted by a publisher, be cordial, nice and easy to get along with. Authors that are demanding and too hard to get along with will be let go by their publishers. Remember that publishers have a long list behind you and can easily go on to the next author if one is too difficult to get along with or too demanding. After you finally settle on a publisher, then work with them. You do not want to get a bad reputation for being hard to work with in this business, as word does travel fast. Yes, don't be afraid to ask questions of your publisher, but do so in a cordial, respectful manner. Publishers and editors are usually flexible and easy to get along with, but will dump an author if they are too hard to get along with or are too demanding, no matter how good their book is. As a publisher, a diva is not worth the headache.
11. Enjoy the ride! As I said in last week's post, enjoy the ride! Once you find the right fit with a publisher, then enjoy the publishing experience! Be open minded and learn as much as you can.
Good luck in the publishing process. Although researching publishers can be a daunting task, do it! It will be worth it in the long run. Finding the publisher that is right for you and your book is essential in having a positive publishing experience and is well worth it ... especially when you see your name on the cover of your book! Happy writing and enjoy the ride!
Theresa Oliver is the owner of Write More Publications and the author of two young adult series, Star (Starland Vamp Series) (Vol. 1), and Cambria (Cambria Series) (Vol. 1). Her next young adult book Thou Shalt Not Kill is coming soon from Write More Publications and her first children's picture book Five Loaves, Two Fish, One Boy and Jesus is coming soon from Mirror Publishing. She is also a teacher in Florida.