The above quote is from George Orwell’s, Animal Farm – one of my favorite books of all time. I’m going to twist the context a bit for the purposes of, well to make my point. (as in, yes I know the original context of the quote and it doesn’t translate here precisely but I love the quote so I’m gonna make it work)
All publishers are not equal. Period. I’m sorry if that hurts people to read but it’s common sense. All shoe companies are not equal either. Nor are all coffee shops or pencils or whatever else. Aside from the basics of personal preference, there’s a pretty big gap in quality between some publishers.
As an author – it’s your job to use your common sense to note this. There are danger signs – for instance, does your editor or other representative of the company return your correspondence in a reasonable amount of time? Now of course different issues require different speeds of response. But you know, if over a long period of time, it takes months to hear back on issues if at all, that’s a problem.
I write for several different publishers both NY and small press and all my editors get back to me within 48 hours on important stuff. I consider that professional behavior. I don’t consider not responding to author’s emails when you’re an author liaison to be professional. I don’t consider the oversharing of personal information when you’ve messed up professional. I don’t consider publishers or editors personally attacking each other, their competition or authors to be professional.
Also, late payments occasionally may not be an issue, but late payments as a rule? Not a good sign. Authors put on ‘blacklists’ for bringing up issues – a bad sign, even if you’re one of the authors on the good list. You never know when the tables can be turned on you.
Poor customer service is an issue, a big one. (Martha Punches at EC is a goddess! I love her to death, she’s fabulous fabulous fabulous). If your readers can’t get books, if the books are in bad shape and they can’t be returned, if reader correspondence dealing with real issues is ignored – red flag.
At the same time – this is your business too! That means, you share responsibility.
So as unpopular as this might make me, I’m going to suggest that authors really need to do their damned homework. Now, it’s one thing if you’ve sold and suddenly things go south. But once things go south, a wait and see attitude is far better than continuing to submit new work when no one answers your correspondence for years at a time. And if you get paid late over and over and you keep subbing new stuff – you either need to find a way to make peace with that or not sub new material.
I know the desire to get published but if it makes you blind to red flags, you have to, at some point, realize you share responsibility when the publisher you ignored those red flags over goes bad.
Also? You have a responsibility to be a professional as well. Turn your stuff in on time. Meet your deadlines. Address any issues professionally. Be as easy to work with as you can (and that doesn’t mean you’re a doormat). Market yourself.
In the end, I want to say I hate it when bad companies do stupid stuff and then everyone thinks all epublishing or small publishing is the same. It’s not. Samhain is not Venus, nor has it ever been so. When I first sold a book to Samhain they were new, so I watched and waited to see how they’d do. I knew they had a woman at the helm who knew how to run a successful publishing company and when I saw edits and watched the process, I was impressed enough to submit something else. My editor is supah fabulous, my checks are on time and my books show up when they’re supposed to where they’re supposed to. I can market effectively because I get advance release dates on digital and print.
As much as I love writing for them, if they stopped paying me on time or stopped answering my emails or generally started acting hinky, I wouldn’t write there anymore after my contractual responsibilities were dealt with. Sometimes you’re hemmed in and you can’t pull something because the behavior is bad but not bad enough to violate the contract – that sucks, I’ve been there too and I did my homework. So you make the best of it, call it a painful lesson learned and don’t send any more work their way.
No one is perfect. No contract is perfect, no author is perfect, no publisher is perfect. There are publishers who are better fits for different people. But there are things that simply shouldn’t be tolerated – not getting paid is a big one!
This isn’t a trend and it’s not indicative of all epublishing and small presses either. It’s indicative of bad business practices catching up to companies and sadly, hurting authors. That’s the part that sucks. I know many authors, smart, savvy authors, who write for a company who seems to be on shaky ground right now and it makes me sad.