Yes, I know I'm opening myself up to some ridiculous queries with that headline. So far we only have a couple questions - I'm going to hold off on the Q&A post until we have 5. I know you're there and reading the blog (adsense says so) - so ask!
Send questions to editor at murdockediting dot com.
"For me, I put all electronic queries and submissions in a special folder in my email program. A folder that's very easy to ignore. Submissions are in tall piles directly in my line of sight on the other side of the office. As easy to ignore as I want them to be."
Update: This is the second post in a series on Quick-and-Dirty Methods. This is NOT meant to be a comprehensive review of the entire finding-a-publisher process - it's meant to be a guide for researching a publisher and knowing, in ten minutes or less, if they MIGHT be right for you.
There are thousands of small and independent publishers out there, and new ones pop up every day. If your book isn't selling to one of the big boys - or if you don't have an agent submitting your manuscript for you - an Indie publisher may provide the perfect home for your book.
First, a clarification. The definitions of Small Press, Small Publisher, and Indie Publisher vary from person to person, and the lines between them can be blurry (we can discuss this in a later post if you'd like, but I'm not going to get into it here). For the purposes of this post, I'm lumping them all together - we're talking about any publisher that (a) allows writers to submit their own work for consideration, (b) offers royalties, and (c) does NOT charge fees.
There are a number of things you need to consider before you start looking for a small publisher, but here are the two most important:
- Do you want your book to be available in bookstores, or is having a presence on Amazon and BN.com enough for you?
- How much marketing do you expect your publisher to do for you?
Your answers to these questions will determine the type of small publisher you choose. If you are determined to get your book into bookstores across the country and have a marketing budget to work with, you need to go with an Indie that has a solid reputation and history of exceptional sales. If neither of those things are important - you just want it available online and you're willing to do all the promotion yourself - a mom-and-pop shop might just be the way to go.
Once you've started searching for an Indie publisher, you'll want to vet your choices very carefully. The quick-and-dirty method below is a great way to thin out the herd.
1. You're going to start the same way we started our agent research, by running the name of the publisher through Preditors and Editors. Any warning signs? Consider that a big giant red flag - and consider running in the opposite direction.
3. Visit the publisher's website. We're looking for a number of things here.
First, does the site look professional? Have they invested the time and energy required to present a storefront that doesn't look shoddy or slapped together? Is the spelling and grammar correct? Poorly written copy on a PUBLISHER'S website is inexcusable. A misplaced period? Sure. It happens (even here!). More than that? Not okay.
The next thing we're looking for is a submissions policy. Some Indies are more selective than others. As a general rule, the more selective they are with manuscripts, the more likely it is that they can get your book into bookstores. Some Indies will take anyone and everyone. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but lax policies mean they're likely putting out a great deal of slush along with a few gems, so it's unlikely their reputation with reviewers or store owners is particularly good (or existent).
While looking over the submission policy, we want to WATCH FOR FEES. If your publisher is charging you a fee for anything up front - editing, pagination, cover design, marketing, etc. - this is not a small publisher - it's a vanity press. Again - not that there's anything wrong with that (note to self: stop quoting Seinfeld; it dates you) - but a Vanity Press is a completely different creature. Look for fees on the back end too. If the publisher requires you to buy or "guarantee that you can sell" a certain number of copies, you're still essentially paying to have your own book published.
If they have contract terms listed online, read them carefully. Less than scrupulous publishers throw all kinds of weird terms into a contract. If you see anything that doesn't feel right, check with an agent or other publishing pro (feel free to e-mail me). A favorite example I came across early this year (it's been taken down since then): "The publisher may publish parts of your work online prior to our offering you a publishing contract without prior notice." Not okay.
The Two Essentials
These two steps don't quite fit the Quick-and-Dirty description, but they are absolutely essential when working with an Indie press.
(1) If it is a very small publisher with limited info available on the web, call them. Talk to someone there. Make sure the actual people on the other end are available, knowledgeable, and willing to answer all of your questions. If they don't have a copy of the contract online, ask about the general terms. Ask about marketing efforts and budgets.
(2) Order a book. Don't sign with an Indie publisher (unless they have a STELLAR reputation in the industry) without ordering one of their books first. I recommend ordering the book either through Amazon or your local bookstore - not their website - so you can get a feel for what your buyers' experience will be like. Choose something you'd like to read, obviously (no need to waste that $12!), but then take a close look at the actual product. Is the cover design professional? Are there lots of typos and errors in the text? Does the layout look good? What's the quality of the paper? Make sure you know exactly what your book will look like if you choose this particular publisher for your book.
Have tips of your own to add to the Quick-and-Dirty Method? Leave them in the comments!
Next week: a new Query Contest (!) and a Q&A post. Have a question about writing, editing, or publishing you want answered? E-mail me at editor at murdockediting dot com.
As some of you know, I've been on a semi-hiatus this past week for personal reasons. If you're awaiting an e-mail response from me, it's on the way! If you're stopping by looking for my promised post on Quick-And-Dirty Methods for Vetting a Small Publisher, that will be coming next week (promise!).
A quick Murdock Editing business note. A few of you have been in touch recently about scheduling a manuscript evaluation, and - with a heavy heart - I've had to offer referrals to other editors in place of my own services. Why have I been so busy? I have no idea. Maybe my wonderful past clients have reached critical mass and their successes and recommendations are boosting my new client requests. Maybe I'm seeing the same query increase that many of my agent-colleagues have been writing about on their blogs lately. Or maybe Murdock Editing has finally, after many years, come of age.
Regardless, the uptick in manuscript evaluation requests means I need to rework my scheduling policies. Here is what I've come up with during the many hours I've spent in the car this past week - feel free to let me know what you think.
(UPDATE: Yes, I still love all of you; yes, I'll still answer all your questions no matter how full my list gets; and yes, I know the language is super-formal - I'll liven it up for you later!)
1. Appointments can be made up to three months in advance. 2. Once those three months are booked (as they are now), everyone else goes onto a waiting list. 3. Placement on the waiting list will be in the order in which you've placed a request for a waiting list spot - as opposed to the order in which we first begin corresponding. 4. When you ask to be placed on the waiting list, I'll give you an estimated start date for your evaluation. This is only an estimate. (This is actually why I'm changing the policy - I try to keep some slack in the schedule for last-minute projects, delays, or current-client requests - but I want to avoid bumping back months of appointments if things start to stray from the plan!) 5. If you're looking for something sooner, you should always feel free to let me know that and ask for a referral to another editor. I won't be insulted, and I'm happy to help match you with another freelancer who I think will be good for you and your book!
You've gotten the call (or e-mail). An agent read your query. He/She wants to READ YOUR SAMPLE CHAPTERS!! Or - better yet, he or she wants to talk about representing you!
It's the news every writer hopes and prays for, and it can be so easy when that call comes to get caught up in the "Thank G-d! Finally!" feeling and forget just how important it is to look out for yourself and your manuscript. Far too often I'll get a letter from an author I've worked with at some point letting me know that he's signing with Literary Agent Q, and I cringe, because now it's my job to tell that author that Literary Agent Q is a scam artist. It becomes my job to dash that author's spirits in order to protect him. I hate that part of my job.
I've been in this business long enough that I recognize the names of many of the agents - good and bad - who writers ask me about. But I certainly don't know everyone in publishing (not even close!). What I do know is how to find out the essentials in ten minutes or less.
1. Preditors and Editors. Start here. Look up the name of the agent and the name of the agency. Any warning signs? Consider that a big giant red flag - and consider running in the opposite direction. Only once in my entire career have I come across a report on Preditors and Editors that I felt was unfair - and it's since been removed.
3. Agent's site. Here's what you're looking for here: a professional-looking site, submission guidelines, AAR membership*, and SALES**. If your agent hasn't sold anything, you need to start wondering if this is really the agency for you. This isn't to say new agents can't or won't sell your book. Finding a newer agent who is backed by a reputable agency can be like winning the jackpot for an unknown writer. But an unknown agency with no sales history and no AAR members should be a big red flag - if they haven't sold other books, how do you know if they can sell yours?
4. Publisher's Marketplace. Many, although not all, agents list their latest sales and offerings on Publisher's Marketplace. If you're serious about finding the perfect agent, I recommend ponying up the $20 for a month-long membership. You'll be able to see who is selling what to whom for how much. If your potential agent doesn't list new sales on his or her website, chances are they're listed here.
No information on any of these sites? Does is seem like the internet has never heard of your agent, ever? BIG RED FLAG. Proceed with extreme caution - ask the agent for a list of books he or she has recently sold. A legitimate agent will have no problem with giving you a list of authors and sales. Use Amazon.com to check the titles and authors. Are the publishers legit? Are they all small publishers that allow authors to submit unsolicited manuscripts? You may have to dive back in and research the smaller publishers to get the full picture (come back for next week's feature, "Researching the Small Press").
And finally, if you can't find anything anywhere - shoot me an e-mail (editor at murdockediting dot com). Best of luck!
*AAR memberships are VERY expensive and have strict qualifications. It's not unusual for the junior members of an agency to operate without membership, especially if more senior agents are AAR members. Just because an agent isn't an AAR member doesn't mean they're no good - but if they are members, it's a good indication that they know their stuff.
**Just because an agent has sales listed on his website doesn't mean they're GOOD sales. Keep researching - run the titles through Amazon.com, find the publisher's name, and Google them too. If the agent is selling to Random House, well, now you can start jumping for joy. If your agent is selling to a POD publisher like LuLu - keep querying.