Choose Your Publisher Carefully


I’m gonna try and make this quick… It might seem like a no-brainer but sometimes it needs to be said: Authors, think carefully before signing those publishing contracts. We put a great deal of love and care into our work, and we want very much for it to be seen, read, and appreciated. There are some fantastic publishers out there, both big and small, but you have to be patient enough to look carefully at who you are handing your work and your rights to. Please.

This article by Erica Pike outlines her particular experience with a small press that went very badly, and the warning signs she saw. I suggest your read it carefully, the warning signs in particular. Her experience is one I feel for, and one with which I can sympathize. I no longer advertise the anthology in which my very first short story appeared because beyond the initial (ten dollar) advance, I’ve never received a cent in royalties in the  two and a half years it’s been for sale. I don’t see a way in my contract to reclaim the rights, either. I wish in hindsight I’d stopped to think carefully before signing. I wish I’d examined the contract more carefully, but I was naive and excited to see my first story released.

Remember this: The first publisher to make you an offer is option A. As the saying goes, there are twenty-five other letters in the alphabet. So if the contract terms look fishy, if the publisher itself looks shaky or you’ve heard things from unhappy authors (not just the one guy with a bone to pick, but the same story across the board from many people should be a red flag), then walk away. Something I see with many small presses is a refusal to work with agents, because they refuse to negotiate their contracts. If the contract is simple and straightforward, that’s one thing. They don’t wanna raise the royalty rate? I might understand. But I’ve learned the hard way that some contract clauses can legitimately impede an author’s ability to earn a living (non-compete clauses for example), and that’s a different matter.  So proceed with caution.

Bottom line: If your story is your baby, then don’t just leave it with someone you found on Craigslist who doesn’t have references. Find a good, reputable caretaker.

5 thoughts on “Choose Your Publisher Carefully

  1. Yep I already this article, and I feel so bad. I’m glad that I decided to do my research. I only queried two places. A vanity press and a lit agent. The lit agent didn’t get back to me, but the vanity did and luckily when I saw the prices, I sought out a different option and that’s where I learned about self-publishing. It is exciting to be published but I read alot of warning by other authors (traditionally and independently published) about things going on nowadays….So I decided to take matters to my own hands.

    • Self-publishing is a great option, and one I’ve chosen for some of my own work. I do caution emerging writers to enter into it with the same care and pace that they would traditional publishing though. I say this only because I don’t know your particular situation and it applies to all authors starting out: Make sure that book is really ready to be out in the world, you’ve honed your craft, hired a quality content editor(s) and cover designer, formatter, the whole nine. Vanity presses overcharge, but a quality self-pubbed novel shouldn’t be cheap to produce, or you’ll lose sales because you tried to save money.

      I might even consider entering writing contests or querying some more agents, because you never know what useful feedback you might get. You might find an agent you really click with, and even some self-pubbed authors have agents. Many authors take a “hybrid” approach because there are pros and cons to publishing traditionally AND publishing indy. Doesn’t hurt to try both ways. I don’t advocate startup presses because of things like what happened to Erika but I do think established publishers can do things indy publishers can’t in terms of marketing and distribution. Good luck to you and your writing career!!

      • Thanks for the feedback! I was thinking about that last night, that what I really want is an agent. But not alot of literary agents take self-pub writers, at best they’ll want to take your manuscript to the big 6 to get it published old-school. So I would have to find an agent willing to work with an indie author. So the journey continues….

      • Many self-published authors have agents, even well-known and respected agents, so I wouldn’t let that thinking get you down. An agent who doesn’t want to work with a self-published author isn’t a good fit for an author who wants to pursue a hybrid publishing model, but that’s fine. What agents definitely DO NOT want are previously self-published manuscripts. It never hurts to query agents though with a completed, polished, not-yet published manuscript, and if you’ve previously self-published other works that sold well, showing agents that you have a positive sales track-record will be something you can point to in your query. If/when you do get an offer for representation, just keep an eye out for anything in the agent’s representation agreement for anything that would keep you from pursuing self-publishing if you DO want to do both (the agent handles all work, all work over 40k, agent-assisted self-publishing unless that’s something you want your agent to handle, etc). Again, I wish you good luck in your writing journey! 🙂

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