Friday, March 20, 2009

Vetting Small and Independent Publishers - The Quick-and-Dirty Method (Plus Two Essentials)

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 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.

2. Google. The first thing you're looking for is anything with the publisher's name appearing on or the Writer Beware Blog ( You're also looking for Amazon links or links to authors' blogs or websites that mention the publisher - this is a great way to get a feel for the level of work they do and how well they support their authors.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment