Writerly Wednesday – Choosing A House To Write For

This is a long one and it’s totally based on my perceptions of small and epublishing houses.

Recently, we’ve seen the demise of a few epublishers. Some people like to use this as a platform to crow about how epublishing is risky. Some people like to use this as an excuse to blather on and on about how they’re all mistreated and misunderstood and to make it seem like normal business practice to not pay authors, to sign contracts that are monumentally one sided like NET contracts or to make it okay to address the public as a publisher in all caps while screaming about hormones, sexually promiscuous family members or some other conspiracy.

There are basic things to guiding yourself through the publishing maze. First and foremost is a freebie – COMMON SENSE. Truly, your mother was right. Common sense will save a lot of heartache in so many ways. Despite what some in this business attempt to tell you (usually from a soapbox while holding a spotlight on themselves) there is no “one true way” to this business. There is simply the best way for you. This is about how I do it. Others do things differently. Your mileage may vary.

Firstly – folks, I know how much waiting sucks. God, do I know. I feel the pressure as much as anyone else does to hear back and get manuscripts contracted. But this is something you can’t be penny smart and pound foolish over. Yes, you can submit to a new epublisher and most likely hear back in a very short period of time and get your book out very quickly. This will feel good. At first.

And then you will realize why waiting is part of the process. Because, and I can tell you this from experience, the difference in sales is monumental. The difference in name recognition (which is after all, what you’re trying to build) will have far more impact if your book is read by more people than less people. That’s basic math. I don’t mean to sound harsh. I don’t have any beef with start up epublishers as a general principle. But there is a reason why you’re going to wait months to hear back from Samhain or EC (just as an example – there are others out there, I just write for them so I can speak with some firsthand knowledge) and just days from other epublishers. Demand usually means an established reader base.

If you go with a start up or with a very small publisher, do it with your eyes open. Just as an example: I submitted Giving Chase to Samhain when they were very new. It was a risk for them to take something totally different from me and for me to sub to a start up. But I did my homework and I knew Crissy Brashear was a smart woman who’d done a lot of great things for EC before she started Samhain. I also looked at who was writing for them and I asked a few folks what their experience was. I subbed and went through the process before I sent them anything else and I’ve been thrilled. EC was established long before I started writing for them and had a group of excellent authors writing there (many you see writing for major NY houses now).

CONTRACTS: Here’s where things get tricky because the things I personally hold to be important may not be important to you. There is no one true way, but you have to read that contract carefully and don’t let your eagerness to sell a book overcome your common sense. This is just some basic stuff based on things I find important.

Think about several things: Length of rights. How long will the publisher own rights? Are you okay with that? I have book contracts for all sorts of different terms. In truth, this, to me, is about relative power. When you’re new, you don’t have a lot. Also, how important was it to me to sign with the publisher? Did I think they’d do something with the rights? Did I have a way to get them back if my book went out of print? Etc.

Here’s one thing – people don’t sign a contract where you have to pay to have your book up for sale. Seriously. A reputible publisher isn’t going to charge you to list the book at their website, or to make you pay the credit card fees or anything like that. It’s ridiculous and totally scadalously unfair to authors. There are costs authors have to bear in certain circumstances in certain contracts (front and backmatter sometimes although that’s one of my particular issues, some other authors don’t care) or if you pull a book you might have to pay for the editing or the cover art, READ YOUR CONTRACT BEFORE YOU SIGN IT. If you ask questions and aren’t dealt with professionally, that’s a big red warning flag. They might refuse to budge, but a publisher who flips out when you ask questions is not professional.

Percentages – in ebooks there’s a pretty standard range that’s about 40% (give or take a few percentage points one way or another). If it’s very low, and we aren’t talking about a NY publisher who is also putting your book out in digital form, you might really think on it. If they can promise you a hell of a lot of sales for 5%, it might be worth it. But how many sales does that have to be? Because you’d have to sell roughly eight books to one at a standard rate.

Distribution: what is the distribution like? Where do they sell your book? Can people find it? What do they do to help people find it?

Look at their website. Is it easy to navigate? How easy is it to buy a book? Because let me tell you, some epublishers have the worst freaking point of sale situation ever and it does effect sales. I won’t buy from some epublishers because of how stupid ridiculous it is to get the book to my hard drive. Is it updated frequently? Is it horrible to look at with terrible colors? Do they give focus to three authors while everyone else’s books are hard to find? (because folks unless you are those three authors, that sucks). Do they only take paypal or some other form of payment not everyone will be able to use or want to use? Do they have a page for individual authors? I have my mom go to the site, if she can navigate it, it’s pretty easy. But that’s just me.

How does the staff conduct themselves? Because seriously? As an author seeing publishers and editors get out in public and make ridiculous statements and do stupid stuff makes me cringe. And it’s not just confined to a few publishers either and this puzzles and enrages me. I don’t want to know about your personal beefs with other publishers. I don’t want to know about your personal beefs with your authors. I don’t want to know about your personal problems at home, your money problems or whatever fungus is growing between your toes. STOP OVERSHARING. My god. You may be having money problems or problems at home and I’m sorry for you. But the author loop, your public blog, the business loop and other people’s blogs are not the appropriate or professional place to share your business. It makes you look unprofessional. It hurts sales for the authors at that house and nothing pisses me off more than when someone’s behavior messes with my bottom line. I work hard and I don’t think it’s fair when I hold up my end of the deal to have someone come and blow that all to bits with unprofessional behavior.

There are other things – promotion, advertising, covers, EDITING! Read what they put out. What is the quality of the books they publish? If you write for a house who puts out crap and who doesn’t edit, you’re going to look bad by association. EVERYONE can benefit from editing and sometimes, even great authors get rejected. A house that accepts everything isn’t one readers are going to be able to count on. A house with crap editing isn’t one that people will have a good perception of. This affects your bottom line. It also affects your overall reputation.

CAN YOU ASK QUESTIONS AND HAVE YOUR CONCERNS ADDRESSED? This is not solely a problem with start ups or those epubs who’ve gone out of business. I’ve had a very negative experience and I’ll never go back again even though others are happy there. LISTEN TO YOUR GUT. You aren’t a troublemaker for bringing up concerns. It’s how you conduct yourself that’s the issue and I’ll get into that part another day. But if you feel like you can’t even ask a question, that’s a red flag. If there are authors who are in the good graces of the publisher and anyone who asks questions is put at the bad kids table, that’s a red flag.

However, preferential treatment IS NOT NECESSARILY A PROBLEM. It’s a reality. I have no problem with it because of course any smart publisher is going to keep slots open for their big sellers. Sales matter and they help mid listers and newbies too. Big names attract readers. This is a good thing. It’s how you make your own name. What you do with the attention is up to you. Publishers who take care of their big sellers AND make opportunities for others are a good thing. Publishers who show preferential treatment to punish people are a bad thing. This is something you need to decide for yourself.

6 comments to “Writerly Wednesday – Choosing A House To Write For”

  1. Jorrie Spencer
    September 19th, 2007 at 8:35 am · Link

    Great post, Lauren!

  2. Jaci Burton
    September 19th, 2007 at 10:18 am · Link

    What you said and a bag of chips, honey.


  3. Michelle M Pillow
    September 19th, 2007 at 12:15 pm · Link

    Me lubs Lauren. 😎

  4. Bev Stephans
    September 19th, 2007 at 12:19 pm · Link

    I liked the comment about not taking anything but Paypal. The why I won’t go into right now.

  5. Lillilan Feisty
    September 19th, 2007 at 3:45 pm · Link

    Awesome post, Lauren! Very informative!

  6. AJ
    October 2nd, 2007 at 1:01 pm · Link

    SO wonderfully put. You really pointed out some very valid issues. Thank you for taking the time to write something so thoughtful. It really helps newbies like me 🙂