Friday, June 29, 2007

Find the right publisher (Part Three)

Note: It looks like this may not be our final post in the series. :-) So look for more in the next few weeks.

Okay. You've found a publisher who interests you. You've checked out their site and found it appealing. The excerpts are good. The covers are nice. The stories look interesting. The purchasing process worked well.

So now it's time to start digging. A site can look great, but there may be darkness lurking beneath it. Darkness that could have serious implications for your career.

Your first stop should be Piers Anthony's Internet Publishing Index. (Note his disclaimer there, below the photo.)Mr. Anthony collects scuttlebut from hundreds of anonymous authors, editors, and publishers, and updates his list quarterly.

I'm not going to direct you to a specific letter of the alphabet or publisher here; but do take some time and look around. Remember these reports are often subjective, but pay attention.

The following is a list of what I consider to be red flags on the Index:
*Reports of unpaid royalties (this is a HUGE one.)
*Reports of trouble getting royalty statements
*Reports of low sales
*Reports of poor communication, or keeping authors in the dark about certain aapects of their business (which I'll go into more next week)
*Reports of requiring payment from authors
*Reports of management shake-ups, authors leaving, etc.

Now, again, I stress the Index is subjective. You're looking for a preponderance of evidence. For example, one listing mentions, several updates ago, royalties being paid late. There are no further reports of that, so it's up to you; what else do you know about this publisher? If everything else, from our other sources, looks good, they're probably fine.

On the other hand, this subjectivity also matters when reports are good. It's a good sign when everything comes up rosy on the Index, but it doesn't mean your research is done.

The following I do not particularly consider red flags:
*A single report of "arrogance"
*A single report of "bad editing"
*A single report of "poor communication"

All of those things are particularly subjective. What's arrogant to one author may be fine to another. Now, if you see this report more than once, you want to be careful.

Now we go to Preditors & Editors. Some companies don't have a listing on P&E, and that's fone. Not being listed is not a black mark. Some publishers are simply listed, and that's okay; it means P&E hasn't received any negative reports. But if P&E lists them as "Not Recommended", you don't want to submit to them--it means they charge fees, or try to bilk writers, or any number of little nasties.

So you've checked out at Piers and P&E, and all is well? Great.

Your next stop is the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Take some time here, too. Go first to the Bewares and Background Checks section. Look around. Search for the publisher you're looking for (the search key is in the "Threads in Forum" light blue line, it says "Search this forum", on the right hand side.) Do the search. See what comes up.

Don't just check "B&BC", though. Head for the "Writing Romance" and "Writing Erotica" threads (or, obviously, whatever genre you write.) Look through those threads; do a search there. Look for authors who work with those publishers and PM them (you have to register to send a private message, but it's free and well worth doing.) Start your own thread and ask people to PM you about their experiences, and tell them it's because you're considering subbing to them. You'll be surprised how willing people there are to help. (Note: if you see a post where someone asked about a publisher and got no replies, PM that person. Don't assume they got no replies because nobody answered; it could be that nobody wanted to comment publicly.)

Okay, so Piers, P&E, and AW all look good? Check the EREC site (linked in my sidebar) and have a look there. What sales numbers Emily Veinglory (a stellar woman) has been able to collect, she's listed there. (And authors, please submit your numbers! It's totally anonymous!) This is IMPORTANT. A publisher could be as fair and good as Snow White; it still doesn't mean you want to submit to them, especially if they're brand new or their sales are very low. You might, you might not.

Okay, remember when you collected those names and web addresses for authors at your chosen publisher? Start looking them up. You'll only very rarely (if at all) find an author willing to say on their site or blog that they're unhappy with a publisher, but what they don't say matters too. Do they mention their house and/or editor often, in a positive way? (And does it sound sincere?) If so, that's a good sign. Do they display their covers proudly, do they talk about their books, do they have more coming out with that publisher? That's also a good sign.

But if they don't mention their publisher, if they don't say complimentary things, if they put out on book with that publisher nine months ago and have since published three somewhere else? Kind of a red flag. It could be nothing, but it could be something.

So email them. Tell them why. Ask if they're willing to share any info with you. Would they recommend Publisher X? Pay attention to their response. Look for what isn't said as much as what is.

Last, do a both Google and Technorati searches. When you goggle the publisher, their site should come up first. See if you can find anything else about them. For example, I know Googling one publisher turns up, in one of the first search engine pages, a post by a review site commenting on how they'd had repeated problems trying to download books from that site. One publisher that is now out of business and had the owner apparently take off with some money turned up all kinds of things about the publisher, before anyone else had the info. (Keep in mind, Piers is only updated every three months.) Technorati could turn up more of the same.

So now, what if you've searched for this publisher at all of these places, and found either nothing negative or positive things, and it all looks rosy? Should you go ahead and submit?

Well...probably. But there's one thing I didn't tell you to look for, and it's one of the most important. There's also something I didn't tell you to look for, because it is in my opinion fairly unimportant.

Next time I'll talk about the Honeymoon Period, about length of time in business, and about RWA Recognition (although I've already blogged about that here and here. So I think you can guess which of the things I didn't tell you to look for I consider the most important.

Sorry, I did think I could do all of this in a week, but I don't want the posts to get too long either. So I hope you'll bear with me. :-)

Continue to Part Four


Bernita said...

Girl, this is a superb exercise in due dilligence!

December/Stacia said...

I'm trying, Bernita, lol! I'm trying! I just hope I'm not making it look like too much work to bother with. :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow. I've learned some pretty interesting tidbits, DQ. Thanks for the hard work. -V95

BernardL said...

My Self-Publishing favorite, Authorhouse, which used to be 1st Books when I started, has a bunch of bad reviews. The two places now looking at my two new manuscripts are fifty-fifty. Oh well, back to my day job. :) Thanks again for the wonderful links and series, D.

Bernita said...

December, you should think about putting together an E-guide.

Rebecca said...

Great stuff December!

McKoala said...

Beware the darkness that lurks beneath... Your urban fantasy is creeping on to your blog!

These posts have all been fantastic - so fantastic that Writer Beware has mentioned you. Did you see that?! I was excited for you. And I think Bernita's idea of putting together an e-guide is great.

littlebirdblue said...

Hey, December--
I'm going to go check on Writer Beware in a sec, but that's pretty sweet exposure [thanks for the tidbit, mckoala!]

Keep on keepin' on, woman!

Anonymous said...

Good stuff!

Vicki said...

These have been excellent!! Thanks so much for all the info you've given us.

Girl you Rock!

December/Stacia said...

You're welcome, V95. Glad it's of use!

Fifty-fifty doesn't always mean terrible, Bernard. Depends on how old the complaints are and what they're about. Besides, look how many other ones are out there!

What's an e-guide, Bernita?

December/Stacia said...

Thanks, Rebecca!

I did see it yesterday, McKoala, I was so pleased! I read their posts all the time, I couldn't believe this was deemed helpful enough for Victoria to link to!

I know, LBB. Makes me very happy that this might be helping quite a few people. I hope it does.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks Seeley and Vicki!

Emily Veinglory said...

Great info. Another caution I would add is not to place to much weight on forums, sometimes the cheerleaders will post to forum threads and the disgruntled will stay quiet. Unhappy writers sometimes signn gag orders to get their rights back. Absence of complaints on the open internet may not mean an absence of problems! That's why your advice to email a few people directly is well worth following.

Lynne Simpson said...

Yet another fab article, December!

Emily raises an excellent point about message boards and blogs. Just look at how many people jumped to Triskelion's defense a couple of months ago.

December/Stacia said...

That's very true, both of you, thanks! I do plan to talk about it more later (I plan another post on general red flags), I'm just not sure exactly what to say.

There's so much to think about when choosing to whom to submit.

Pamela J. Dodd said...

I think this is a wonderful series of posts for those who are beginning their journey toward publication, or for anyone who has a book with a less than stellar publisher and is looking to do better next time.

How authors, especially eBook authors, are paid was a bit of a shock for me. I really didn't know that I might be getting a professionally designed cover, good editing, several good reviews, and a few pennies. There is a romance writer who has a page on her site entitled "show me the money" which lists advances, royalties, and total earnings for some of the more well-known publishers. It is entirely possible to earn less than fifty dollars for the entire contract period (yes, we're talking years) with an ePublisher. Some authors don't care about the bottom line, but some do, and the financial picture is often difficult to discern.

Your post has some great information. Covers are great, a professionally designed site is necessary, but enough money to visit a hamburger stand would be really nice.

Great series, December.

BTW, I jumped over to your website to check out your books. Good luck with all those titles "coming soon."

December/Stacia said...

Hi there Pamela!

Yes, you're right. I tried to cover that in Part Four a bit, because the bottom line really is money. It's fine to have a publisher who treats you well, but if nobody visits their site and they don't have a readership you might as well have held on to your book and tried somewhere else.

Thanks! My first EC book releases Wednesday so I'm quite excited!