Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on formatting The Seance. I’ve formatted a book before, but for some reason, I really struggled with the task today. At one point, I even considered hiring someone to do it for me. Fortunately (for my wallet), I persevered and eventually got it right. Though I briefly thought about the possibility of outsourcing this particular task, at no time did I say to myself, “I wish I would have given all my rights to a publisher so I wouldn’t have to worry about the details of bringing my book to press.”
For those of you who are new to my blog, I’m a little gun-shy when it comes to publishers, particularly new small presses. I’ve even heard some unsettling stories about the more established smaller publishers.
Now, this isn’t to say all publishers are bad. I wish I would have managed to snag an agent to help me navigate the world of contracts and subsidiary rights. I wish I would have fallen in with a publisher who had clout in the industry, who could get my book on bookstore shelves, who worked tirelessly to get my book noticed. If you can find a publisher who can do all that for you, GO FOR IT!!!
A GOOD publisher is always worth considering. But a BAD publisher can ruin your book and destroy your career. Trust me.
Not everyone who claims to be a publisher is reputable or experienced. Not everyone who claims to be a publisher knows how to format, edit, or market your book. Some of these wanna-be publishers can’t format, edit, or market any better than you can. Unfortunately, instead of hiring professionals to perform those tasks they cannot, they muddle through - and your book suffers for it.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you willing to sign away your rights and your royalties just to avoid a few hours of hassle?
- Is it worth the risk of being stuck with a substandard product just because you’re afraid to format?
- Is a free book cover and free editing a benefit to you if you end up with a bad cover and a poorly edited book?
- Unless you’ve found a publisher who can offer you something you cannot do for yourself, there is no reason NOT to consider self-publishing. You can do your own formatting, hire your own editor, and commission your own cover. You can do many of these things at little cost to you. You can upload a book to Kindle, Smashwords, and Createspace for FREE. You can get your own book on Barnes & Noble and most of the online sites.
If you decide to sign away your rights or royalties, a publisher needs to offer more than amateur editing and formatting. Anyone can do those things.
What should your publisher be doing for you?
- Your publisher should provide professional editing.Your publisher should employ editors who have worked in the industry. A fiction editor should have experience editing novels–being the editor for his university’s newsletter does not qualify him as a professional. Reading a lot of books isn’t enough. Having an advanced degree in English Literature or Creative Writing isn’t good enough either. A professional editor should have edited many books (not only his own). He should edit with an eye toward not only what it grammatically correct, but what is appropriate for the genre and age group you are writing for. Plot, voice, characterization, structure, pacing… there’s so much more to editing than just cleaning up errant commas.
- Your publisher should know the business. Marketing novels is different from selling cars, banking, teaching, or even writing. If your publisher has had lots of careers before following his starry-eyed dream of starting his own publishing company, he’s probably a well-rounded person–but probably not a good publisher.
- Your publisher should have clout in the industry. Like any other business where sales and marketing are involved, it helps to know people. If your publisher is a one-man operation and is brand new to the industry, he’ll have just as much luck as you will when he cold-calls bookstores and asks them to shelf your book. But, if your publisher is established and has a good reputation, that can only help your book, You should be proud to tell people who you’re published with.
- Your publisher should have a marketing plan for your book. Nowadays, even the Big Publishers expect their authors to do some self-promotion. But, if you’re expected to do all your own promotion and marketing, is it worth it to even have a publisher? Marketing is one of the most difficult aspects of publishing. Your publisher should help with that, even if it’s just a spot on their website, a periodic feature on their Social Media pages, a publicity tour, blog tour, or a press release. You should expect something.
- Your publisher should be organized and reliable. If your publisher says something will happen, it should happen. You should have a set-in-stone release date long before your book is due to release. You should have someone within the company you can go to with questions, who you trust to follow through and give you the correct information.
- Your publisher should know what sells. Your publisher should employ people who have not only an artistic eye when it comes to commissioning book covers, but they should also know the industry. The should know which types of covers are appealing to the intended audience for your book. They should know different genres require different packaging and different marketing.
- You publisher should help you get reviews. At the very least, your publisher should provide a PDF and a Kindle compatible version of your book to provide to reviewers. This copy should be error free and perfectly formatted. If possible, your publisher should also provide paperback copies for reviewers who request it. It’s really hard to find reviewers, so the more formats your publisher will provide, the better. Some publishers will contact reviewers for you–if you have a publisher who will do this, you’re very fortunate indeed.
- Your publisher should be a full time publisher with employees who receive regular paychecks. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right? Most businesses start off as husband-wife or father-son teams. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, a one-man or two-man show is exponentially more unstable than an established business with a staff. If your publisher has a staff, there will be employees who specialize in different aspects of the publishing process. And, there will be someone who can take over if an employee gets sick or quits. If your publisher consists of a husband-wife team, what happens if someone has an extended illness? Or, if there’s a divorce? If your publisher is a one-man show who enlists contract employees, what happens if the contract employee gets a better job offer halfway through editing your book? Or, holds your manuscript hostage because he hasn’t received payment in a while? Oh, yes. All these scenarios are not only possible–they’ve happened. The publisher should a full time business, not a hobby that takes backseat to the owner’s other obligations.
- The publisher should have pride in authorship and concern for their reputation. If you’ve signed with a company, the staff has strong motivation to do a good job–it’s called a paycheck. If your publisher is a one-man operation who plays publisher in his spare time, he might not be as motivated to do a good job. Most people have pride in something they put their name on, but not everyone does. For some publishers, changing their company name (or their own name) is an easy solution to earning a bad reputation. If one business doesn’t work out, they’ll simply start another. Be sure your publisher has a good reputation and has an interest in maintaining it.
If you find a good publisher, sign. Let someone else take over the burden of editing, formatting, and marketing. But, if an inexperienced press without a proven track record wants your book, your best bet is to either continue to search for the publisher of your dreams, or self-publish. Don’t settle. Your book deserves better.