I’m published with several publishers, one large and a few small. I’ve spread my literary seed around, you could say. I didn’t plan this, it just sort of happened. I find personally working with more than one publisher gives me more options and I don’t have to restrict myself as far as genre and content are concerned. If something doesn’t fit with one publisher, I can submit to another. This has also given me insight into how different publishing houses work, certain things that are the same across the board no matter who publishes you, and things as an author I need to watch out for. An author can learn a great deal about the business by branching out to more than one, or even two, publishing houses.
And so, I’m going to share with you the top five things to look for and expect in a publisher, based on my experiences:
1. Mutual respect. A publisher is taking on your work because presumably, they think it’s a good story and they believe that they (and you) can make money off it. But you are also the creator of the work and your opinions and thoughts on the process and the final product should be considered. A publisher should be communicative and open to any concerns you have. You should always be able to email someone with a question and get an answer. I do say mutual respect, however–which means you should also act in a professional and respectful manner when communicating and expressing your thoughts and concerns. Getting your book before the masses should never feel like a tug-of-war with the publisher. You’re working together, to mutually benefit from the end result.
2. Professionalism. This is one of my biggest sticking points. A huge red flag goes up for me whenever anyone from a publishing house behaves in a non-professional manner, either publicly or in private–be it on author loops, through emails, or other routes of communication where the reader isn’t present. Professionalism to me means behaving in a business-like manner, keeping conflicts one-on-one, and sticking to relevant discussion and using respectful language. I have, more than once, seen extremely unprofessional behavior within publishing houses–but because I consider myself a professional, I would never name names or talk about these incidents in public. The author needs to be a professional too. Try to solve your issues outside the public eye. You never know who’s watching.
3. Fairness. Read every contract entirely and carefully before you sign it. Do your research and get an idea of what constitutes fairness as far as length of contracts, royalties, rights, and payments are concerned. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something and don’t be afraid to ask for changes if something seems unfair. This seems like something you’d never want to do, but if you can’t come to an agreement on a contract, withdraw your work. It’s not career suicide–it’s just being business savvy. If it’s your first time signing a contract and everything seems crazy to you, talk to other authors and find out what’s fair and what the fine print means. Educate yourself and be wary of publishers that want too much and don’t want to budge on their terms.
4. Reputation. Absolute Write Water Cooler is one of the best places on the internet to research publishing houses. Go to the ‘Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Check’ forum and you’ll get first-hand information from people who have worked, or are working with various publishing houses. You can also look up what authors write for a publishing house and get in touch with them and ask how they feel about their experience. Many authors are willing to give their honest opinions and I’ve gotten a few of those emails. Google is also your friend: if a publishing house has a bad reputation, believe me, someone out there is talking about it. Writer Beware is another place to learn who’s trying to screw over their authors.
5. Attention to detail. Pick up some books the publisher has put out. Are they well put together? Do they have nice formatting? Are the covers appealing or do they look like they were slapped together in Photoshop in ten seconds? Is the editing sloppy? Do they pump out so many books a month they seem like an author mill? Observe the quality of what the publisher is putting out before you decide to go with them, or you might find yourself disappointed and a little embarrassed with the end result, and stuck in a contract you can’t do anything about.
How about you? What do you look for in a publisher, and what would make you turn and run the other way?