Top Things to Consider when Picking a Publisher

Hi folks!  I thought I’d share a little bit about some things I’ve learned in my few years of being an author having multiple books and short stories published.  There are a lot of different kinds and types of publishers out there, and not all of them strike a good balance between wanting both their company and their authors to be professionally and financially successful.  Especially with smaller or independent publishers, it can be a daunting task separating the “knights in shining armor” from the plain old shysters.  I’ve had my dealings with both kinds, and I’d like to share with you a few insights and things to look for that I’ve discovered along the way.  Any feedback you may care to share is welcomed via the comments section below!

Top Things to Consider when Picking a Publisher

  1. What do their other books look like?  Take a moment to look around the publisher’s website (WARNING: if a publisher doesn’t have a dedicated website for their company, they are missing out on a key way to sell the books they publish) or search their books on Amazon.  Do the covers of the publishers’ other books look like a cover you would want on your book?  Most companies use only one or a small handful of cover artists, so the odds are good that (if you decided to publish with this company) the cover for your book will have a similar design or theme as the already-for-sale books.  It’s true what they say: “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but in an increasingly populated marketplace, a shoddy cover is a surefire way to make potential buyers pass you right by without even bothering to discover what your book is about.
  2. How are their other books doing in sales?  This is not always a perfect indicator, but if you hop on Amazon and see that all the books from this publisher are languishing at the 2-million-ranking mark or higher, odds are good that not a lot of promotion for these books (and, in turn, yours when it comes out) is going on.  On the flip side, if you see good sales numbers, the company could definitely be doing some excellent marketing to go along with a solid book.  Of course, an author can many times go out and whip up a sales storm, so make sure to take those numbers with a grain of salt; go out and pick up a copy of a magazine that is specific to the genre you are writing in (for example, if your book is horror, than go grab a Fangoria or Rue Morgue) and see if the company has any ads out there.  Of course, the easiest way to get direct book sales numbers – if you have the gumption – is to simply ask the publisher directly for this information.
  3. Does the publisher have a publicly-noted good/bad reputation?  Visit an online forum or author’s club, or once again hit up Amazon and take a look at the conversation threads attached to any of the publisher’s book’s pages.  The website Preditors & Editors is a great resource to find honest information from other authors as well.  Good publishers will have people singing their praises; bad publishers will have people with many horror stories to tell you.  Both kinds may be slightly embellished, but you can usually take any trends you find out there as a pretty solid indicator of the truth.
  4. What are the terms of the deal they are offering?  This seems simple enough, but in reality there is actually quite a bit to consider here.  In addition to how much money per book you will make (and NEVER take an agreement that asks you for money up-front!), be sure to find out how many free copies of your book you will get sent to you upon release, and what kind of a discount you can have if you order extra copies of your book.  Be sure to note the length of time you will receive royalties and how long the book remains “exclusive” with the publisher.  Most publishers will offer you royalties from book sales for a set amount of time (3, 5, or 10 years, as some standard examples) but will ask to keep the book in their library “for as long as there is public demand for the title” (i.e., forever).  After your royalty period ends, I strongly encourage you to ensure the contract states that the exclusive rights also end, allowing you to sell the book on your own or publish it with another company, even if a version stays with the original publisher – you should always be able to get paid for your book!
  5. Are they professional in their communication with you?  This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the kind of things a publisher may say to you in your e-mail or phone call communication.  Good manners, mutual respect, and excitement about your work are key – also of great importance, that a publisher is well-spoken and knows correct grammar and spelling!  I used to work with a publisher who wrote the most haphazard e-mails you’d ever see: line breaks at the wrong place, misspellings so plentiful I’d sometimes be confused as to what was being said, and not a single capital letter to be found.  If a person who runs a “professional” company can’t even be bothered to present as professional to you, how do you think he/she treats the products (i.e., your book)?  Also of note: be wary of someone who constantly badmouths other authors/publishers/companies.  If he/she speaks so unprofessionally and poorly about people he/she doesn’t work with, how do you know he/she doesn’t say the same about you to others?

Hopefully these pieces of information will be helpful to you as you go on your search for the “right” publisher.  There are many out there, so take your time and don’t necessarily feel the need to jump on the first offer you get simply because it’s there.  You know the value of your work – make sure you get your fair slice of the pie!

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