Staying Safe in a Publishing Minefield2013-Sep-30 -> from the the-dark-side-of-indie department
No matter what you do, there are always those who circle the waters like sharks, waiting for their next victim. They always target those who are new to an industry, those who are too naive to believe that the scam artists are out there. I was there once, and I was almost burned by somebody who was a master at making people believe he was fighting for the little guy, when all he was really fighting for was his own pocketbook.
I never want to see anyone else burned like that, because even though I lost nothing on the deal, it still hurt a lot to find out that somebody who acted like such a friend was such a snake.
The publishing industry has gone through some wonderful changes recently, but these changes have also blurred the lines and make it tough to figure out who is for real, and who is just in it for the money. Here's a quick guide to help you navigate the minefield, and hopefully keep yourself from getting burned.
If It Sounds Too Good To Be True...
When I was approached by a publisher, and told that they would have my books in bookstores, and they would have hardcovers and paperbacks, and would be able to get great prices on it all, it sounded too good to be true. They promised that they would put me on the map as one of the leaders in indie publishing. Big promises often lead to big disappointments.
Any publisher making claims like this should be treated with caution. How many authors do they currently have under their name? What are their sales like? Can they show you reporting that proves out their claims? What are they willing to do for you as far as marketing goes?
If they have trouble answering even one of these questions, you should be very cautious in dealing with them. The publisher I dealt with had a number of authors under them, and books were being published. Problem was, none of the authors were being paid. The leader of this group was so convincing, that I think some members even today believe that he would have done great things for their books. Truth was, he did nothing.
Research Your Options
Information about publishers is a Google search away. If they don't have an established web presence, there's a good chance that you don't want to deal with them. Think about it... if they can't get themselves to the top of Google's search, how can they possibly get your book there?
There are also sites out there that can give you a good idea of a publisher's reputation. Preditors & Editors is one of the most prominent sites, and has a fairly extensive alphabetical list of publishers and what kind of rating they give them. A not recommended rating from Pred-ed means you almost certainly don't want to deal with that publisher.
Find the publisher's books on Amazon and read the previews. Poorly edited books mean that the publisher isn't concerned with putting out a high quality product, and to me, that's a big problem. You can also contact the authors to see what they think of the publisher.
Don't Give Them Money
A publisher who is out to make you a success will never ask you for money. A publisher should be paying you, not the other way around. If they ask you for money, walk away. Seriously. It may not be a scam, but they certainly aren't keeping your best interests at heart.
Beware The Murky Agreement
Anything that goes on between you and a publisher should be in writing. What services they provide for you, what they expect from you, royalty rates... everything. If they avoid the issue of a contract, or scoff at them, I don't recommend doing business with them. Without having an agreement in writing, you have no legal basis from which to make a complaint if something doesn't go the way you expect it to.
I've seen authors lament their position before, where they've handed over their babies to a publisher who never wrote out what they would do. The book gets published with a crappy cover, poor editing, and without a written agreement, the author has little recourse to resolve these disputes.
What Should a Publisher Provide?
I think the biggest reason people fall into traps is because they don't know what to expect from a real publisher. Not every publisher will do everything for you, especially if it's an indie publisher, but most will offer a selection of the following services:
Book Blurb Writing
A really good publisher will include you in every step of the way. You should have frequent contact with a representative of the publisher, and they should always be willing to answer your questions. Remember: this is your book. Don't let them push you around or make threats. If they are evasive or dishonest with you, or try to change their claims after the fact, walk away and take your books with you.
When I got involved with a scam publisher, I was grateful that I saw the warning signs before I could get burned. I walked away in plenty of time to salvage my book and do the rest myself. My hope is that with this advice, I can help many more of you avoid the sharks in the water, and find your sunken treasure!
Thanks for reading!
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