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.