This is the second post summarising the points I made on the panel I presented along with L.A. Witt on Demystifying Publishing at the UK GLBT Fiction Meet in Bristol earlier this month. Last week was all about understanding publishing as a business based on risk. This week is all about publishing fails and red flags.
There is a truth we can’t escape from, which is that publishers, even good ones, sometimes fail. Now that you can start a publishing company in your basement, everyone and their granny seem to think they can and should. But even if the owners are well intentioned this can end in a horrible mess. If they are actually crooks it can be a disaster.
Do your due diligence about a publisher, preferably before submission, but definitely before signing a contract. (And of course you are always going to read your contract before you sign it, right? You are aren’t you? If you don’t I will come round and slap your legs.) Check them out online and look for potential red flags.
- Do they have a professional looking website? If it has a store on it would you feel confident inputting your credit card details into that?
- Read up about its staff. Do any of them have extensive experience in publishing? If not, be wary.
- Can you find writers with that publisher complaining online about problems? Especially late or absent payments and emails and even registered letters being ignored.
- It doesn’t give a physical address, just an email.
- There’s no evidence it’s a real business in legal terms.
- Unfair contract terms or an unwillingness to explain contract terms you don’t understand.
The biggest red flag of all – they ask you for money.
At that point a klaxon should start whooping and a red light flashing.
- They might disguise this as all kinds of things such as a “reading fee”, “editing fees”. Some will say it’s a new business model where the author and publisher “share” the cost.
- All of these are huge red flags and show they are not legit publishers at all.
- It’s an even bigger red flag if an agent asks for money. If they are making money from you before selling the book, which is when real agents get paid, where is their motivation to sell your book?
This is not to say you should dismiss out of hand anyone trying a new model of publishing, just that you should go in with your eyes open. Be aware that untried means “may not work”, so you’re taking a risk. Calculate the risk and be prepared for the venture to fail. Don’t put all your eggs in their basket. Don’t tie your whole career up with an experiment that may not work. It’s probably best to wait until you’re more established with more conventional publishing before doing anything risky.
The more time goes by and the more publishers you work with, the more likely it is that eventually you’ll be caught up in one of these publisher debacles. Can you protect yourself? Possibly not – especially not from actual crooks.
Research beforehand – but if they are a legit publisher who gets into difficulties later then you may have no reason not to sign with them at that point.
- Don’t be in denial if problems start to develop. If royalties start coming late or not at all, if emails go unanswered, or are fobbed off, take action.
- Remember it’s a business relationship. However much you like the people at that publisher you are not obliged to go down with the sinking ship if you have the chance to get off it before it goes under.
- Be sure you know how to get your rights back and even have a backup plan for what you will do if you get them. Or at least make that plan quickly when things start looking dodgy.
2 strategies for writers to deal with Risk and Publisher Failures
1) Stick with a single, or small number, of quite conventional, traditional publishers who are rock solid and well established.
Pros – less likely to fail
Cons – anyone can fail. If they do then they take all your books with them.
2) Work with lots of different publishers, some of them new start ups, trying new things.
Pros – spread the risk, minimise the damage.
Cons – more likely to end up working with one that does go under.
Reading and resources
Preditors and Editors
Useful Absolute Write Threads
Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check
How Real Publishing Works
Why Publishers Fail
Going Pro: One Author’s Advice on Getting Published with Small and Electronic Presses by J.M. Snyder. Ebook and paperback available. Very useful practical guide.