Friday, July 20, 2007

Find the right publisher (Part Five)

So, after a short break last week, we are back!

This is just a shorter post, a general round-up of a few things I'm not sure I touched on. But keep checking back on Fridays, if you've been following the series, as I have some things planned for August that I'm very excited about, and I may need your help too!

So we've talked about how to examine and evaluate publisher websites, how to research a publisher, and whether or not it's a good idea in general to submit to a brand-new publisher. The issue of RWA recognition has of course been eliminated, so there's no need to discuss it further, but I thought of a few more things to keep an eye out for, as they are possible/probable Red Flags:

Calls for Submissions are something to watch; does the publisher keep changing its lines? I don't mean deciding to do a special summer series or set of anthologies, I mean are they asking for new things every month? Are they suddenly starting an erotic line, an inspirational line, a manga-inspired line, a gothic line, an anything-we-hear-might-possibly-sell line? Are they starting them seemingly on top of each other?

There's nothing wrong with a publisher branching out, and I'm certainly not implying that starting a new line is in itself a red flag, because it emphatically is NOT.

But a publisher suddenly totally overhauling their requirements or asking for three or four new kinds of books at once sends a dangerous message if you know how to read it: that the publisher isn't sure what's selling, that their own current releases aren't selling, and that they're desperate to try and find anything, any way to catch on with readers.

Another thing to watch is, if you are an RWA member (or belong to a similar writer's group) the First Sales column. How many books is the publisher acquiring? If you read the column every month you'll see most publishers only have one or two sales reported; that's because not only do they have limited slots, but they have many authors in their stable already. Epublishers can be expected to buy more new authors than NY pubs, but still, does the amount seem excessive? Do the books sound good and original to you, after your own study? Do they sound similar at all (not always important, but something to keep in mind just to see if there's any rhyme or reason to their acquisitions)? Too similar?

A publisher who every month purchases twenty or more new books might be biting off more than it can chew. Allow your other research to guide you here, but remember, even Ellora's Cave (which to my knowledge releases more books every month than the other epubs) releases roughly thirty-two books in a month (if my math is correct), and they never have such a large number of new sales reported.

Why? For one thing, because their authors tend to stick around. A publisher in constant need of new blood is a publisher whose old blood is rapidly bleeding away. (Okay, enough with the bad blood analogy.) If those authors are sending their work elsewhere, there's a reason, and it probably isn't a good one.

For another, because they aren't accepting almost everything, hoping it will catch on. Because they aren't blindly trying to grow in size and so are forcing more and more books out there which may not be as good. (I didn't say they weren't as good, just that it seems excessive to me and a lot of people I know.)

It's not enough to be big; you have to stay big, grow steadily, and not take risks with your authors' work.

How many members does their Yahoo group have, or rather, how many more members does their reader loop have than their Business loop? Not everybody joins a reader loop, of course, which is why this is here in the tag-ends of stuff to be aware of rather than the big important stuff we covered earlier. It's just something to keep in mind.

Have you read interviews with any of the editorial staff or seen them in forums? Do they seem to know what they're doing? Do they make sense? Do they talk about books and reading with passion? Does what they say about the industry gibe with what you've heard elsewhere? Do they answer questions politely, or do they behave like children? (I saw not too long ago on a forum a publisher reacting to basic questions about its business with name-calling and finger-pointing; you can bet I'd never let my work or the work of anyone I know get within ten feet of them.)

Can anyone else think of something I've missed?

Be sure to check next week, we'll be covering some other stuff too, but I believe this concludes this particular series. :-)


Scary Monster said...

Me really has to sit down and carefully read all the info you have provided here. To be honest Me knows absolutely nuthin about publishing and since me has been considering doing some work on me Cabo stories, Me believes that a good study of these posts is in order.
Thanks for all the insight.


Camille Alexa said...

I saw not too long ago on a forum a publisher reacting to basic questions about its business with name-calling and finger-pointing...

It astounds, astounds me to see the way some industry people behave on forums. It can make me lose a lot of respect for someone I've submitted my work to for publication.

kis said...

It always troubles me a bit when you have a ton of releases each month--how much time will your book have on the main page of the website before it's relegated to the backlist? And how many resources does the publisher really have available to promote it, if there are 8 other titles coming out that week? This won't be a problem for authors who have built a following, but for newbies like me, it's a worry.

Awesome series, DQ.

BernardL said...

Kis is right. Your point concerning new book offerings concludes your series really well. It’s tough to impossible getting published; and to have your finally published novel get buried by an avalanche of weekly material, robs the blush from the rose so to speak. :) It represents just one more aspect of all this I never considered.

Lynne Simpson said...

I totally agree about the editorial staff's online behavior. When I read a certain editor's blog posts a few months ago, I was shocked not only by their unprofessionalism but also by the seriously bad writing. That, more than anything else, convinced me that the publisher was not long for this world.

Seeley deBorn said...

So where else, other than the RWA list, can a person find the first sales info?

And a note on Yahoo's just way too easy for people to have more than one persona. Even if a publisher's reader loop has more members than the buisness loop...most of them could be the writers and editors using other names.

Demon Hunter said...

Great post! :*)