You may have noticed the explosion of small press publishing in the last few years. Some small publishers are fantastic while others leave a lot to be desired. So how do you know if the publisher is reputable or not? Here’s a few guidelines to help you!
UPFRONT FEES: Is the publisher asking for money? If so, this is called a vanity publisher. Traditional publishers pay the author, not the other way around. Vanity publishers may request funds in the guise of providing marketing and publicity, but a traditional publisher will provide those tools to you at their expense. The amount of marketing provided by publishers varies from house to house but they will never ask you for money. Many authors might wonder what’s wrong with choosing to publish with a vanity publisher. For starters you will need to pay upfront fees amounting to thousands of dollars. Since the publisher hasn’t invested any money in the book (except yours), you’re the one that has now shouldered all the risk. Dorrance Publishing, Tate, and iUniverse are examples of vanity publishers but there are many others. If you’re going to spend money publishing a book, why not self-publish instead? At least this route allows you control of the project and you’ll keep a greater portion of royalties.
MARKETING: Does the publisher actively market their books? Social media and blog posts are easily completed by authors and their friends, so if this is the extent of their marketing plan you might want to think twice. A good publisher is submitting books for review (and following the guidelines of the reviewer to ensure the book has the best chance of being reviewed), they’re placing ARCs on NetGalley (and have those ARCs ready months in advance), and they have a marketing plan in place which targets the appropriate audience long before the book ever goes to print.
PW RIGHTS REPORT: Watch this place. If a reputable agent is willing to sell to the house, it could be a good sign. Granted, not all agents submit sales to PW so it’s not necessarily a red flag if the publisher is lacking reports in this venue. If you never see the publisher’s name in PW’s Rights Report though, that could be a warning sign that agents are unwilling to work with them.
IN THE NEWS: Small publishers rarely make the news but when they do it’s usually not a good sign. You may recall this post about Month9 books or this one about Jolly Fish Press. If the news looks bad, chances are it is.
NDA: Non-Disclosure Agreements really only benefit the publisher so definitely be cautious if you’re asked to sign one. You could be silenced into submission. A voiceless author can’t warn others.
DISTRIBUTION: Does the publisher have distribution? Anyone can claim to be a publisher but it’s another thing to have distribution and shelf placement in a brick and mortar store. Online availability is much different than physical shelf space, so do yourself a favor and check your local bookstore for any of the publisher’s titles.
LIBRARY PLACEMENT: Can you find the publisher’s books in your local library? What about the library database (World Cat)? If you can find their titles, how many libraries have a copy? Is it 100, 1,000, 10,000? As writers for children, think about the importance of libraries and reaching your readers.
COVER DESIGN: Speaking of readers, there’s one thing that’s sure to grab their attention: beautiful, eye-catching covers! Readers react to great covers by picking them up off the shelf and reading the blurb. Which, in turn, could lead to a sale. So most authors believe that these beautiful covers are all they need. But be warned, great covers don’t necessarily equal fantastic content, good editing, or fair contracts.
CONTRACTS: Which leads me to the next point. Read the fine print in your contract. Are the royalties based on net or list price? If it’s calculated on net, how is the publisher accounting for the expenses? You’ll want an itemized list of their deductions so you’ll know in advance what you’re getting paid. Is the publisher asking for exclusivity to audio, film, and foreign rights? This might not be a bad thing if they’re actively pursuing these sales. But if they’re not, then your book’s potential could be tied up indefinitely. Is there a FROR (first right of refusal) clause? If so, is the publisher one that you’d want to work with on your next book? Here’s a post on why FROR clauses (sometimes known as Option Clauses) are bad for authors.
PHONE A FRIEND: Other authors are your lifeline so it’s vital that you enquire about their experiences with the publisher. Unless they’ve signed an NDA, they should be willing to share their experiences. Sometimes authors are hesitant to speak out as they fear being blacklisted, so there’s a chance they may be tight lipped. In that case, you will simply need to use your best judgement based on the criteria addressed above.
Working with a small press can be a great experience but, like anything, it’s important to do your homework. Authors in every stage of publishing, be it a debut or a seasoned professional, need to protect themselves from predatory publishers. So be cautiously optimistic should you choose a small press as your book baby’s home. There’s nothing worse than having a bad experience spoil your publishing journey.
About the author:
Amie Borst is the author of the Scarily Ever Laughter series featuring three books for middle-grade readers; Cinderskella, Little Dead Riding Hood, and Snow Fright. She is a PAL member of the SCBWI and a founding member of the group blog, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. Find her on her website www.amieborst.com and her blog www.amieborst.blogspot.com.