Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Find the right publisher (Part Two)

Note: Several Months after this series first came out here, Dear Author did a worthwhile post on the same topic. It's worth checking out too.

Okay, so on Monday we looked at print publisher websites and learned a bit (hopefully) about what to look for. But epubs are different, so we’re going to look at an epub site today and see what we see.

For the legitimate epub site, I’ve chosen Liquid Silver Books. I chose them because I’m not published with them (so this doesn’t look like a plug) and because they’re not currently RWA-approved, and because I know for a fact they’re legit and have a stellar reputation. I have a lot of friends published at LSB.

Epubs almost always have a submissions link on the first page. (See it? Bottom left.) However, notice it’s still not a huge link right under their logo & slogan. It looks professional; they’re not trying to grab anything or make you submit before you’ve looked at the site. What matters most still matters here: this site is clearly aimed at selling books to the public. See, the “Cart” is right at the top, as is the list of genres.

What else do we notice?
*No typos
*Professional-looking covers (I’ll get to those in a minute)
*List of genzres is clear; there’s no twee little categories or euphemisms to make it hard to find what you want (with the exception of “molten silver”, but I think that’s easy to figure out, don’t you?)
*There’s a link for their newsletter and Yahoo Group; this is also a good indication that they try to grow customer loyalty (I’ll discuss customer loyalty probably on Friday.) They have a forum, which I love, and a blog.
*I particularly like that their series have separate websites. The Terran Realm and their Zodiac series both have them, which is cool.

So everything looks nice. This is more important than you’d think when it comes to epublishing. LSB has either paid someone to do their site or somebody really knows how to work the html here.(Note: Since originally writing this I've had an email from LSB's Acquisitions Director, Tina Burns. Tina informs me that LSB is working on making their site even more user-friendly and impressive, including a new shopping cart, wish lists, etc. They'd love feedback on the new shopping cart and welcome suggestions on other things readers would like to see on the site. She's given me permission to post her email here; it's Tina AT [replace the AT with @ and remove the spaces], and she's happy to answer any questions any of you might have about LSB as well. Thanks Tina!)

Check out the About page. Lookie there! There’s the names of the publisher, acquisitions editor, and editorial director, as well as the art director. (You also see they’re listed with Fictionwise. This is a good sign but not as important as some people think, IMO, because some perfectly legit companies choose not to distro through Fictionwise, and we’ll look at that more on Friday.) There are “Contact Us” and “Customer Service” links too, and while I prefer to have the name and email link on a page, rather than just being sent straight to email, again that’s personal taste and doesn’t mean anything as far as legitimacy or professionalism goes.

Let’s look at the covers. Now, I know there’s one legitimate press out there famous for their awful covers. But in general, covers are an important indicator of how professional a site is and how well they’re doing. LSB has perhaps an unfair advantage here, because their cover artist April Martinez is famous for her design skill. But you know what? That’s what you want. Covers are a big part of what makes a book look enticing and appealing. It’s one of the things that makes a difference between a site you want to shop at and a site you want to laugh at.

The occasional Poser cover (those artifical people with the bendy bodies and glassy eyes) isn’t a crime; some authors request those covers and some people like them. (And for people who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like, as Miss Brodie would say.) But look at the covers in general; do they look professional, or do they look like bad fonts stuck of top of clipart photos? Are the images oddly stretched? Are the colors shreiky and painful to look at? Really, is that the kind of cover you want for your book?

In general, I would say at least 50% of the covers should appeal to you. (Unless you have rather unique tastes.) And that’s a minimum.

Let’s pick a book to use as an example of what a listing should have. Once again, I’ve chosen (at random) an author I don’t know and am not to my knowledge associated with at any of my other publishers (I’m pretty sure I would remember “D.J. Manly.”)

Here’s D.J. Manly’s “Suffering Jordan”. (Personally, I’d prefer it if you could click the book’s cover for more info, rather than a link below it, but that’s personal taste.)

Okay. Title, author and ISBN right at the top. Check. Blurb makes sense, is spelled properly, and is grammatically correct. Check. There’s a nice big buy link at the bottom, and the price clearly listed (again, I prefer the price be a little bigger or in bold, but it’s certainly not hidden. It’s a reasonable price, too.) The genre is clearly shown. Even if the cover hadn’t given us a clue, we are told this is a ménage book, with m/m interaction as well as m/f/m, and some light bondage too. There’s also a link to buy more of that author’s titles, which is pretty standard and always nice to have.

We’ll look at the excerpt now. I’ll be honest and say the voice here isn’t really to my taste; but again, there’s no spelling or grammatical errors. The excerpt is long enough for us to get a feel for the book, to see if it’s something we want to buy or not.

All of which lends legitimacy, but we’re not done. You can’t possibly know if your book will fit in at a publisher after looking at one listing and excerpt. This is a process that takes time. It’s just as important as the actual writing, so please don’t skimp. Look at a lot of listings. Read a lot of excerpts. Look at genres other than yours. What kinds of stories do they sell? What kinds of heat listings do you see? Do these look like books you would read? Do they look like the kinds of books you write and the heat level at which you’re comfortable?

If not, move on. Why would you send your book to a publisher whose editing looks sloppy, whose books look dull, whose tastes don’t appear to mesh with yours? Readers tend to stick with specific epublishers. They might have several they buy from, and they might be willing to branch out, but they usually have a favorite, and that’s where they’ll buy new authors too—because they trust that publisher. So look carefully. Spend some time, I can’t emphasize this enough.

As you flit about reading excerpts and ogling cover art, pay attention to how easy the site is to navigate. Is it constantly making you pop up and exit new windows? Are any of the links broken? Are all of the pages finished—it’s easy to have a nice-looking Home page, but that care should extend throughout the site. An “Under Construction” notice is okay, but beware too many of those too.

Also look at their list of authors. Have you heard of any of them? Do you know any of them? Have you seen good reviews for them? Make note of some of their names and websites, you’ll need them later.

Now buy a book. After looking at all of those excerpts, you should have found at least one book you’d like to own (in fact, you should have found quite a few.) Buy it. You need to make sure the buying process is smooth and easy to understand. It’s better not to have to get codes and stuff in your email hours later; ebooks should be pretty much immediate (at least that’s what I think). You want to be able to choose a book, click a link, fill in some info, and get your book within minutes. Put a bunch of books in your cart and see how long the cart holds them, and if it’s easy to remove some later and add more. You should be able to keep stuff in your cart for a while; I know one non-ebook site I shopped on once deleted my cart after like twenty minutes, which annoyed me so much I gave up. You don’t want readers to give up. You don’t want them to get annoyed by having to hit extra buttons and wander through different windows. They will go somewhere else.

And if they’re going elsewhere, you might as well have left your book in your hard drive, right?

So does anyone else have anything to add?

Continue to Part Three


Bernita said...

Excellent, excellent!
Did I say excellent?
The excerpts tell you a lot about the quality of the editing.

BernardL said...

Another stellar chapter, D. You brought up a point I never considered, and it is vital: ease of buying the book from their site. Their covers were definitely more professional looking. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Sela Carsen said...

Great post, December -- I'm bookmarking this for newbies who ask this question!

Robyn said...

Fabulous advice. I hadn't thought about the cart being dumped.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks Bernita! And yeah, excerpts are important. Every editor at house has different tastes, so you might not like all of the excerpts, but overall they should be at least enjoyable.

Thanks Bernard! Yes, it is really important, and I think the thing that does get overlooked the most (aside from something I forgot to mention but will get to on Friday, which is how many books do they actually have.) You just don't think about it; you assume it's easy to buy but some sites aren't so user-friendly.

December/Stacia said...

Hey, thanks Sela! I appreciate it!

Thanks Robyn! As I said to Bernard, it's funny how we forget to check stuff. I've been really guilty of that in the past. :-)

pacatrue said...

One thing I found intriguing while going through the Liquid Silver site with you was D.J. Manly's bio. Old D.J. really makes a lot of effort not to reveal his or her gender. I began wondering if D.J. is a man and doesn't want to reveal that because his readers want to read M/M/F from a female author or what?

Anyway, the take home points from your essay to me were: Would you want to be a customer here? If buying is a nuisance and you don't like anything they publish, don't publish your own stuff there. Makes sense, but it is easy to forget when you want just anyone to publish your stuff.

Will you be tackling author payment in the future? I have assumed that all epubs are a percentage of revenue, but I don't know if that is true.

Anonymous said...

Further proof of your brilliance.

(I'm dying to know who's renowned for their terrible covers. Most of the ones with covers I used to laugh at have improved considerabley)

December/Stacia said...

You know, Paca, I didn't even look at Manly's bio? DUH.
It is easy to forget, isn't it? There's a new epub opening every day and it seems like everyone wants to leap on board as fast as possible, but it pays to be careful in the long run.

As far as I know, most epubs pay a royalty percentage on gross, yeah. Usually anywhere from 35-50%, depending on the publisher. A few pay on net, which is never a good idea.

December/Stacia said...

Email me, Seeley. Or check the Smart Bitches' latest post. :-)

Lynne Simpson said...

Excellent analysis, December. I am really enjoying this series!

Rebecca said...

great advice December - You know I would have benifited from reading this B4 I started submitting Nightswimming - You know, I hardly did ANY of that stuff. I was just lucky that Samhain is a really good epublisher!

Bu, how sensible to buy a book first and check out the editing/ ease of buying/ overall quality etc etc - all the things that become SO important when you are trying to sell your own book.

Unfortunately when you are a newbie you are so keen to get your book out there that you can neglect to think about these most crucial issues.

Anonymous said...

Sp, an open opinion question here... How much publishing/business experience do you think a person should have before starting an e press? Does it make you a bit suspicious if the owner/publisher blurb doesn't list publishing experience at all?

Vicki said...

Great blog as always...and just so you know I told you on your comments that you are anything but boring girl. :)

julia said...

Hi - I've popped through from Rhian's blog to congratulate you on your Rockin Girl Blogger award. Just had to have a look, and found a really great post. No wonder!

ERiCA said...

What a great series--thanks for the fabulous info! =)

Arin Rhys said...

Great post! I'm linking this on my next post.

Damn, this is a lot of good information that can take a while to accumulate on your own. I could have used this awhile ago, but thank god, I have good friends online who can talk me down when my head gets in the clouds.

December/Stacia said...

Thanks, Lynne! And please, if you have anything to add do! You have some very sharp observations on this business yourself, and I'd love to have your input.

That's very true, Rebecca. (And yes, you don't need me or anyone else to tell you Samhain is an excellent publisher. But I know when I started out none of this occurred to me and with new epubs opening all the time...I'd like to help people avoid mistakes and disappointment.

December/Stacia said...

That's a really good question, Michele. Honestly? I definitely prefer to see someone with publishing experience, even if it's just in the epub they work for that's been open a few years. A new publisher with no previous experience would make me very, very cautious. It's easy to start an epublisher. It's hard to start a good one. And especially now, I don't see any reason why a publisher shouldn't at least have a year or two of editing for a different publisher under their belt before striking out on their own--and even that would make me cautious.
Not having experience doesn't mean a publisher is bad, or not legit. But we're in this business to make money, and you don't want to hand your work over to someone who hasn't proved themselves.

December/Stacia said...

And if anyone else has any opinons on Michele's question, please reply! This doesn't have to be all me, I'd love to have a lot of different viewpoints.

Thanks Vicki. :-) I feel very boring. I mean, some people use their blogs to post sexy photos and tell funny stories, and here I am blathering on about research!

Hi Julia, thanks for stopping by! Rhian's awesome, isn't she? Who else would give me an award for being able to play some power chords? I'm glad you enjoyed the post. :-)

December/Stacia said...

You're welcome, Erica, thank you! Can't wait to read more of the cool series you're doing!

Thanks Arin! And I'm glad you had people to help you, especially not long ago--I think you made the right decision there but got to it too late to offer my opinion. :-)

Anonymous said...

Good advice!

Though I have to say, even one of the "top" epublishers has their share of horrible, horrible ebook covers!

kis said...

I can't second strongly enough the idea that excerpts are important. There's one epub out there with several titles that really interested me, but I couldn't find an excerpt anywhere on the book's order page. Maybe they're posted on the epub's blog or the author's website, but I shouldn't have to go traipsing all over the internet looking for them. And I wouldn't submit anything to them, either, knowing how hard it is to view a sample.

And ease of buying is a HUGE issue for me. There's one epub that wouldn't process my order unless I lowered the security settings on my computer to allow more cookies or something. A good, well-known, legit epub, recommended by lots of people, and with plenty of books I was interested in buying. But they won't be getting my business that way, especially since I order with my husband's computer and he's, ahem, not exactly paranoid, but very security-conscious.

And I think I know who you're talking about with the so-bad-they're-oddly-mesmerizing covers. Oh, my eyes, my eyes!

An awesome, helpful post with some very useful, thought-provoking info, December. Even for people who think they already know everything, like me ;).

kis said...

Oh my god, I thought I knew who you were talking about, but then I went and looked on SB, and now my retinas have detached. Yowza.

Darragha! said...

Well spoken.


Anonymous said...

The Man figures porn movie covers look better than those.

I must agree.

Thanks for the laugh.

There goes another!

December/Stacia said...

Oh, Isabella, they all have their share! But I think 50% is a good base point, personally. That's what I look for, at least. :-)

Couldn't agree more, kis. When you buy a book in a store, you can thumb through it. But an ebook? All you have is the excerpt, so it needs to be a decent length. I have the entire first chapter of my book(s) on my site--only two are up so far because they're out of editing, but as time goes on they'll all go up--but that's something for my website viewers or people looking for more about me. The excerpt on the publishers' sites should do enough.

That's a great point about the ordering process, too. Ease of use is key.

You do know it all. You just don't know you do. :-)

December/Stacia said...

Hey Darragha! I feel like a celebrity now. :-) Thanks, I'm glad you liked it!

Lol Seeley, yes, some covers are really terrible. I think with that particular publisher it's become their "thing", but that's just conjecture.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a nice review of the LSB site.

I've been an author with Atlantic Bridge Publishing, the mother company of Liquid Silver Books, since the summer of 1991. Liquid Silver opened its doors in January, 2003. Thus, Raven Moore has some years under her belt. Your recommendation to look at the publisher's background in publishing is sound advice.

Just thought I would let all your readers know that LSB has some deep roots in e-publishing.

Monette Michaels aka Rae Morgan

December/Stacia said...

Thanks, Monette/Rae. I knew both companies had been around for a while, I didn't realize it was that long!

Anonymous said...

I made a mis-statement, I have been with Atlantic Bridge since the summer of 2001-- Mike at LSB pointed out I must have been a time-traveler in my former life. Ha!

I think Atlantic Bridge opened its doors in early 2001 or late 2000. The LSB imprint began in January of 2003. I was one of the first authors for it.

Still Atlantic Bridge has been around almost as long as New Concepts, Hardshell and Awe-Struck, and was one of the first e-publishers out there to stay in business for the long-run. I can say that I was with one transitory e-publisher that was a speck of dust in the universe before I landed at AB and LTDBooks (which sadly closed its doors over a year and a half ago).

Sorry for any confusion I might have caused. I wouldn't want to mislead anyone. Chalk it up to me being bad with dates ending in "1". LOL

Monette Michaels/Rae Morgan

December/Stacia said...

No problem, Monette. I can never remember how old I am, it seems. :-) Thanks for clearing it up, though!