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Wanted: Questions You Should Ask The Publisher Before You Sign
by Vic Peters
There are days when I feel as if everyone I know is a writer, and that
they are all looking for the same thing, to be heard. The pursuit of
finding someone to accept a manuscript for publication is at best
disheartening. Many begin to feel that continued rejection is about as
miserable as a writer will ever feel – it is not. Signing with the wrong
publisher not only brings misery in a new and clever package, but it can
also quite possibly destroy the inclination to write.
Greed and deception are as prevalent in publishing as anywhere else. There
are many companies willing to take an authors money and hard work. The
irony is that it is given just for the asking. Choosing a good company to
work with is equally important as the words chosen in the manuscript.
In an author beware world it pays to be informed. This guideline is
designed to help you make decisions based on information, rather than
Like it or not, you and your publisher enter into a kind of marriage, the
kind of marriage where their name attaches itself to you. Think about
that. An important facet of the relationship is the reputation your new
partner has in the industry. If their stature is questionable, it may be
difficult to find reviewers, distributors and even readers. It’s called
guilt by association. Therefore, your first order of business is to do
One way to establish a publisher’s reputation is to visit your local
bookstore and ask the owner if they are known. If so, what are they like
to do business with? Using the Internet to investigate the company’s
name and their officers is also an advisable avenue. Still another
approach is to post questions within various writing groups. By far,
writing groups can be your best source of information.
Be direct and ask the publisher how many books they put into print last
year. How many to date? Are they are willing to provide you with a list of
their authors for references? A useful gauge in picking a publisher is
knowing how well the company treats its authors. Find out how many books
the average author has with this house – you want to know if authors
stay for more than one book.
Something else to consider is the book itself. Just what is it this
company is going to produce for you? A hardback? Trade paperback?
Paperback? E-book? Ask them what the size is going to be, along with an
estimated page count. What is the proposed list price?
What you need to establish is how well your book is going to stand up to
the competition – other books sitting on the shelf in your genre. If
similar titles are selling in the $13 -$15 range, and the publisher wants
to list yours at $22, your book may be tough to sell. Price does matter.
Find out what services the publisher provides. Editing? Copy Editing?
Format? Cover Design? Copyrights? How about help with the permissions for
songs or quotes? Are there any fees attached? Will the publisher help you
locate a well-known author or celebrity to write a forward? What about
that all-important back cover blurb – any help there?
Is the editing accomplished electronically or is it sent snail mail? How
many edits should you expect? How long does the process usually take? Will
the product have an ISBN? How about a bar code? Will they provide the
author with any free copies? How many? Is this publisher willing to send
you a sample of their current work? The sample should ultimately be a
reflection of something you would be proud to put into public view.
Read it, read it again and then have somebody else read it – like an
attorney. The last thing you want to do is to sign away the rights to your
manuscript without understanding every single detail.
What are you getting out of the deal? Royalties? Movie rights?
International rights? Anything? You need to know exactly how much you are
going to get paid and when. Watch out for percentage contracts with
variable rates. Does this publisher pay their authors? What is the average
pay for an author? Are they willing to give you verification?
When was the last time this company was audited? Is the company in good
fiscal health? How long is the contract for? Six months? A year? Your next
two books? Is the publisher asking for any money from you? Why? A
reputable publisher pays you – not the other way around. How long do
they plan on keeping your title in print?
While many will produce, few will promote. Even an outstanding book will
not sell unless it is correctly marketed. The major expense in publication
lies not in book production, rather book promotion. Some publishers would
like you to believe that once your book is in print, it will sell – but
that isn’t the truth. A successful author will tell you that it takes a
lot of hard work to get a new book into the public’s eye. If your
publisher is unwilling to show to you a proven marketing strategy, look
for another company.
What you need to find out is how the publishers marketing system works –
in other words, who is going to distribute your book? Ingrams? Baker &
Taylor? A regional distributor? Will sales be restricted to giants like
Amazon or Barnes & Noble? Does the publisher have adequate contacts
with independents like BookSense? Grocery stores? Chain stores? Warehouse
Stores? Are they willing to service the local stores in your area?
What are the sales percentages for each distributor? This is extremely
important. Some publishers will claim to list your book with many
different distributors, but just how many are actually being sold? Listing
isn’t selling. You may want to ask yourself how this company stays in
business if it doesn’t actively promote and sell books.
Ask what the terms of payment are for a given distributor. Most retailers
are accustomed to an open account with books being taken on a returnable
basis. Check to make sure that your publisher allows returns and doesn’t
demand orders to be paid in advance. This type of business practice will
get few, if any orders.
How many books does the publisher plan on initially distributing? Don’t
get tricked with some type of “Print on Demand” language – you
need to know if your publisher will commit to running a thousand books or
more at their expense, because “demand” is only created after a number
of reputable people have read your work and then communicate to others in
a positive manner.
Your book should be circulated to reviewers, newspapers, bookstore owners,
retailers, radio stations – even to your friends and family who will
give you a tremendous boost through their contacts – months before it is
ever “released.” This gives potential retailers a chance to preview
the product and opt-in. So, another piece of valuable information is the
number of copies the publisher plans on printing for advance review
Ask if the ARC’s are going to be distributed in the form of a book or
professional galley. If it is a galley, ask for a sample – again, it has
to be something you’d be proud of. Who will be paying for these copies
and the mailings? Will the publisher furnish a professional media kit?
This is a regularly updated promotional tool used to highlight your
interviews, signings, reviews, awards and appearances. If so, ask to see a
Do they provide posters? Shelf talkers? Bookmarks? What about a web site?
Will the publisher provide you with this service or are you expected to
furnish your own?
Are authors given an in-house publicist? Who is it? What is their
experience level? How many authors does the publicist work with at one
time? Will your publicist set up a book tour? Are they going to pay for
it? If so, ask where, when and how long you will be expected to be away
from your family. How about the scheduling of radio and newspaper
interviews? Will your book be introduced at tradeshows?
Granted, if you are a first time author, you may not get everything that
you want, but the company should still offer you fair compensation and a
reasonable chance for success.
The best advice that I can give to you is to keep your checkbook closed,
be patient and do the homework. Don’t take the word of the publisher or
agent at face value, instead, confirm their responses with others who have
had past business dealings and then make sure everything is in writing.
Keep in mind that web sites and promo literature are often clouded enough
to the point of being untruthful. Protect your work, protect your dreams
and keep trying.
Where to Get Started: Preditors and Editors
A guide to publishers and publishing services for serious writers
Print on Demand Database
“FOR-A-FEE” PRINT-ON-DEMAND PUBLISHER DATABASE©
Types of Publishers
An ongoing discussion courtesy of Writers Net
Fraudulent Literary Agents/Publishers in the News
WritersWeekly Warning Reports
The highest-circulation freelance writing ezine in the world
The Writer’s Center
"The easy path to publication is paved with your dollars."
Vic Peters is the author of Mary’s Field. You can learn more about him
and his book by visiting http://www.marysfield.com
Vic Peters is an author who specializes in spiritual fiction. His
first novel, Mary's Field, was released early this year. He is currently
nearing completion of a second book.