What Can Your Publisher Do For You?

Hello, it’s me again. Harping on small publishers. Yes, I know I’ve covered much of this territory before, but after talking to a new round of unhappy authors, I thought I’d better talk about publishing again.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been working on formatting The Seance. I’ve formatted a book before, but for some reason, I really struggled with the task today. At one point, I even considered hiring someone to do it for me. Fortunately (for my wallet), I persevered and eventually got it right. Though I briefly thought about the possibility of outsourcing this particular task, at no time did I say to myself, “I wish I would have given all my rights to a publisher so I wouldn’t have to worry about the details of bringing my book to press.”

For those of you who are new to my blog, I’m a little gun-shy when it comes to publishers, particularly new small presses. I’ve even heard some unsettling stories about the more established smaller publishers.

Now, this isn’t to say all publishers are bad. I wish I would have managed to snag an agent to help me navigate the world of contracts and subsidiary rights. I wish I would have fallen in with a publisher who had clout in the industry, who could get my book on bookstore shelves, who worked tirelessly to get my book noticed. If you can find a publisher who can do all that for you, GO  FOR IT!!!

A GOOD publisher is always worth considering. But a BAD publisher can ruin your book and destroy your career. Trust me.

Not everyone who claims to be a publisher is reputable or experienced. Not everyone who claims to be a publisher knows how to format, edit, or market your book. Some of these wanna-be publishers can’t format, edit, or market any better than you can.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you willing to sign away your rights and your royalties just to avoid a few hours of hassle?
  • Is it worth the risk of being stuck with a substandard product just because you’re afraid to format?
  • Is a free book cover and free editing a benefit to you if you end up with a bad cover and a poorly edited book?

Unless you’ve found a publisher who can offer you something you cannot do for yourself, there is no reason NOT to consider self-publishing. You can do your own formatting, hire your own editor, and commission your own cover. You can do many of these things at little cost to you. You can upload a book to Kindle, Smashwords, and Createspace for FREE. You can get your own book on Barnes & Noble and most of the online sites.

If you decide to sign away your rights or royalties, a publisher needs to offer more than amateur editing and formatting. Anyone can do those things.

What should your publisher be doing for you?

  • Your publisher should provide professional editing.Your publisher should employ editors who have worked in the industry. A fiction editor should have experience editing novels–being the editor for his university’s newsletter does not qualify him as a professional. Reading a lot of books isn’t enough. Having an advanced degree in English Literature or Creative Writing isn’t good enough either. A professional editor should have edited many books (not only his own). He should edit with an eye toward not only what it grammatically correct, but what is appropriate for the genre and age group you are writing for. Plot, voice, characterization, structure, pacing… there’s so much more to editing than just cleaning up errant commas.
  • Your publisher should know the business. Marketing novels is different from selling cars, banking, teaching, or even writing. If your publisher has had lots of careers before following his starry-eyed dream of starting his own publishing company, he’s probably a well-rounded person–but probably not a good publisher.
  • Your publisher should have clout in the industry. Like any other business where sales and marketing are involved, it helps to know people. If your publisher is a one-man operation and is brand new to the industry, he’ll have just as much luck as you will when he cold-calls bookstores and asks them to shelf your book. But, if your publisher is established and has a good reputation, that can only help your book, You should be proud to tell people who you’re published with.
  • Your publisher should have a marketing plan for your book. Nowadays, even the Big Publishers expect their authors to do some self-promotion. But, if you’re expected to do all your own promotion and marketing, is it worth it to even have a publisher? Marketing is one of the most difficult aspects of publishing. Your publisher should help with that, even if it’s just a spot on their website, a periodic feature on their Social Media pages, a publicity tour, blog tour, or a press release. You should expect something.
  • Your publisher should be organized and reliable. If your publisher says something will happen, it should happen. You should have a set-in-stone release date long before your book is due to release. You should have someone within the company you can go to with questions, who you trust to follow through and give you the correct information.
  • Your publisher should know what sells. Your publisher should employ people who have not only an artistic eye when it comes to commissioning book covers, but they should also know the industry. The should know which types of covers are appealing to the intended audience for your book. They should know different genres require different packaging and different marketing.
  • You publisher should help you get reviews. At the very least, your publisher should provide a PDF and a Kindle compatible version of your book to provide to reviewers. This copy should be error free and perfectly formatted. If possible, your publisher should also provide paperback copies for reviewers who request it. It’s really hard to find reviewers, so the more formats your publisher will provide, the better. Some publishers will contact reviewers for you–if you have a publisher who will do this, you’re very fortunate indeed.
  • Your publisher should be a full time publisher with employees who receive regular paychecks. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right? Most businesses start off as husband-wife or father-son teams. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, a one-man or two-man show is exponentially more unstable than an established business with a staff. If your publisher has a staff, there will be employees who specialize in different aspects of the publishing process. And, there will be someone who can take over if an employee gets sick or quits. If your publisher consists of a husband-wife team, what happens if someone has an extended illness? Or, if there’s a divorce? If your publisher is a one-man show who enlists contract employees, what happens if the contract employee gets a better job offer halfway through editing your book? Or, holds your manuscript hostage because he hasn’t received payment in a while? Oh, yes. All these scenarios are not only possible–they’ve happened. The publisher should a full time business, not a hobby that takes backseat to the owner’s other obligations.
  • The publisher should have pride in authorship and concern for their reputation. If you’ve signed with a company, the staff has strong motivation to do a good job–it’s called a paycheck. If your publisher is a one-man operation who plays publisher in his spare time, he might not be as motivated to do a good job. Most people have pride in something they put their name on, but not everyone does. For some publishers, changing their company name (or their own name) is an easy solution to earning a bad reputation. If one business doesn’t work out, they’ll simply start another. Be sure your publisher has a good reputation and has an interest in maintaining it.

If you find a good publisher, sign. Let someone else take over the burden of editing, formatting, and marketing. But, if an inexperienced press without a proven track record wants your book, your best bet is to either continue to search for the publisher of your dreams, or self-publish. Don’t settle. Your book deserves better.

20 thoughts on “What Can Your Publisher Do For You?

  1. Tricia you have said it all. Unfortunately, some of the answers can only be got once you’ve signed the contract. Promises can be broken, and you’ll be lucky to find authors with your prospective publisher who are willing to answer pointed questions about their experience. If they’ve been unhappy ones. You’ll get lots of praise from sycophants, but authors with bad stories to tell are generally intimidated. All you can do is your homework, well, and hope for a dose of good luck.

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  2. Wow, another excellent and compelling post, Tricia!

    Yes, it really is a minefield out there for the unwary. But you are absolutely right. Unfortunately anyone can set up a publishing company without any experience or skills to do so. Poorly formatted, poorly edited and cheap looking books generally follow, which do the author, their writing and their future career, no good at all. Very few buyers will look at a poorly edited book with a dreadful cover and remember the name of the obscure little publishing house that produced it, but they are likely to remember the author’s name and blame them for the dire quality of the product. Signing with inexperienced and incompetent small presses really can harm an author’s reputation if the standard of work produced is poor. Certainly my experience of my ex-publishers was not a happy one. As you pointed out, Tricia, any professional company should have paid employed staff to specifically deal with sales, marketing etc. They should commission professional cover artists for the book covers, not have one of the company partners who dabbles in art do them, often with dreadful results. They should have significant experience in editing novels. Editing leaflets, the odd article and bulletin boards doesn’t count as book publishing experience. A real professional publishing company should have offices with staff, telephones etc., what most people think of as an office, not their living room or a bogus London address which is actually just a post-box in a building with many thousands of other micro-businesses. They should have clout in the marketplace, or at least some professional impact. They should have a network of book contacts, including reviewers and outlets to stock your work. The author should not be left having to do ALL the promotion and marketing, which sadly many of them are, as I was. Every single interview, every blog post, every book signing, every piece of publicity, was all organised by me. The only ‘marketing’ contribution they did, was a rare mention on their website and an occasional tweet! Why do all the hard work for such little reward? To give an incompetent publisher money they don’t deserve while you receive a tiny percentage of RRP? Better to do all that hard work and at least keep the majority of the sales and have the satisfaction that you have produced a superior book that you can be proud of and not a poorly formatted and edited mess. Great point too, about one-man operations, or husband and wife teams, never a good idea and certainly not the stable professional environment you want to entrust your book to.

    Jane was also right, many authors who have had bad experiences with small press publishers are often intimidated into silence. In some cases, an unscrupulous publisher, fearful of an author telling the truth about their shoddy business practices, will try to silence them by threats or by slapping a ‘non-disclosure’ clause in the termination contract. It is important to know, that firstly such ‘non-disclosure’ clauses are not legally binding, freedom of speech is a RIGHT not a privilege and this supersedes anything. Do not be intimidated!!! Also, think about it, if multi-millionaires with deep pockets who try to slap injunctions on people to stop them talking, fail, there is no way that some crappy little micro-publisher will have any legal clout in this respect. Secondly, again, unless you specifically agree to and sign a ‘non-disclosure’ clause, then you are free to speak your mind and tell the truth to whoever you like, whenever you like. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing. Never be intimidated by bullies, they cannot prevent you from sharing your experiences if you choose to do so. FREEDOM to the people!!! 😀

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    • Thank you, Sophie, for sharing your story. You’re right about the non-disclosure agreements. Many are not enforceable unless it specifically defines which company secrets are meant to be kept confidential. In terms of libel–the truth by definition cannot be libel. It’s okay to speak out as long as you aren’t spreading lies with malicious intent. Some publishers might threaten and cry, but it’s permissible for an author to share their personal experiences, though many are afraid to do so because they do not know their rights.

      I have the greatest respect for ‘mom & pop’ businesses. Publishing is such a unique venture, though, and I think in most cases, a husband-wife team isn’t going to work. Your book could be held hostage for months in the case of a nasty divorce. If the publisher is a one-man show, one extended illness could completely derail your manuscript’s production. There are no guarantees in any business (large or small), but a large company might be able to offer things a small company cannot. Each author must decide what works best for their book.

      In my opinion, an inexperienced publisher doesn’t have right to call himself a publisher at all. It’s misleading and dishonest.

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      • I agree totally. Inexperienced publishers, whether they are well meaning or not, can do untold damage to authors and their careers. They simply do not have the experience, expertise and contacts to do the professional job the author is expecting and deserves.

        That for me, is the worst element in all this, those companies claiming to be open and honest which are anything but. Instead of honesty, what you tend to find are grossly exaggerated claims and vague or deliberately misleading statements. You might only have sold a single copy of a novel abroad, but you can claim international sales. You may live in a different country and simply have a post-office box in London, but you can claim offices in London and in such and such a country. Bogus addresses, as mentioned by Amy Metz, is a ploy a lot of these companies use. It goes beyond a company simply wanting to ‘big themselves up’, or having ‘delusions of grandeur’, which a lot of them have, and is totally misleading to the unwary author. If an author read that a publishing house sold books internationally and had offices in many countries, they would be impressed wouldn’t they? The important thing though, is to investigate a little deeper. What are their sales like? Are we talking thousands of books or a few copies? Are we talking about real offices with telephones and a sales team in USA, Madrid, London, Germany etc., or a post office box and someone’s living room? Do they have any actual impact in the marketplace?

        Unfortunately, if a company intends to mislead by wildly exaggerating their status, it may be difficult for an author to find the truth. When in doubt, stay clear of. What any author should be looking for is total transparency. Does the publishing house say upfront what percentage they’ll offer you? Are they as good as their word or do they constantly break promises? Have they had authors leave them? What is their sales record? What exactly is their book publishing history and experience? What exactly is their professional editing experience? Look at the website, if it looks amateurish, then your book will, if the language they use is clunky, odd or doesn’t flow, then perhaps their understanding of English is not what you’d expect and your text will suffer as a result. What are their covers like? All publishing houses should commission professional qualified cover artists to do the covers for their books, covers which look professional and will be attractive to customers and bookshop chains alike. If the covers are poor, yours will be.

        The impetus is on the author to do as much homework as possible before signing, but unfortunately, as Jane and Tricia have said, there is still an element of luck involved! Good luck to all! 😀

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  3. Lots of great points. Personally,I’ve decided to self-publish and have never regretted it. I’ve learned lots including some html code and I can format like a pro now. I’ve even put together a How To Guide on my blog. http://wordswithletidelmar.blogspot.com/
    Unfortunately, I’ve read too many Indie books put out by a “small publisher” full of eBook formatting mistakes. The kinds with weird graphics for special characters and odd spaces in random places. I was left thinking that a “publisher” should know better.

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    • I self published my second book, and though formatting was time consuming, I eventually got it right by being patient and reading directions. If someone sets up a publishing company, they should know how to publish a book. It’s surprising that some publishers set up their companies and don’t know how to do simple things like format an ebook. Mind if I add your How To Guide to my links list? It’s sure to help a lot of first time authors.

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  4. I love your posts. They make me think my decision to self-pub was a good one. Also…I’m terrified of signing with a publisher and having muse-sucking deadlines hanging over my head. *shudder* I personally decided to have my book professionally formatted. I found Angela from Fictional Formats through a friend and she did an amazing job for a very reasonable price. I’m not tech savvy enough to have done it myself without wanting to end it all.

    Keep up the great posts. They push me to keep going even when I second guess myself.

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    • Oh, thank you so much! Never second guess the decision to self-publish. Have faith in yourself. I signed with a small publisher for my first series because I didn’t have faith in my ability to self-publish. I published my second book and there’s so much freedom with no one to hold me to a deadline or to tell me I have to make certain changes. I hope you continue to enjoy your self-publishing journey. It’s a great trip.

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  5. Many authors think traditional publishers are all the same, but as you’ve both experienced and pointed out, they are not! I had one client whose agent asked me to look over the ready-to-be-published and “edited” file, which was a mess and in desperate need of editing! Lucky for the author, her agent had enough experience to see a potential landmine, but not all authors are so lucky.

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    • A good publisher can take your career to new heights, but a bad one can create a mess that requires lots of time and money to unravel. I hope new authors will be careful to seek out the good publishers.

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  6. Pingback: TBT: What Can Your Publisher Do For You? | Tricia Drammeh

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