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On Publishers

I don't want to talk about contracting - I'm not a contract expert and would never give any advice except to take advice, or know contracting enough to be confident. Instead, I want to talk about some of the practices I've seen and, perhaps, give a heads up to those who are trying to decide if a press is for them.

(Suffice to say, checking the press seems solvent, pays royalties, isn't known for screwing its authors, is business like and has been in business long enough to be confident* is good. (*Or, if not, they have experience onboard. I went with a new press and it worked out fine, but I knew my editor had a lot of experience and was giving great advice).

However, (this blog is going to need a Get-out-of-jail contract of its own, soon), what press is right for which author will vary from person to person, circumstance to circumstance, and book to book.

But here's some of the questions I think it's worth asking before signing.

1. What editorial support will you be getting? If you have a book that's good to go, you might be happy with a copy edit and leave it at that. But for debut authors, or those who feel they'd benefit from more guidance, the experience of the editor might be important.

For me, my books always mature because of the searching questions my editors ask, and I like the whole works, thanks. Being told my book would  be turned around without editing time would be a no-no for me.

2. The finish. I always, always check what a publisher's book look like. I download the sample of a couple and check them for formatting and errors. I check reviews and see if any mention a lack of polish. If they're in bookstores, I go look at the paper copy and explore it. I want my books to be of good quality.

3. Reputation. Does the publisher have a good rep? Do they treat their writers fairly? Any complaints on Absolute write's Bewares and Reccommends? Any compliments? If so, is there a reasonable balance? Few publishers go through the business without engendering the odd bit of dissatisfaction. But if there are serial problems, how are they being addressed - and are you happy to live with them?

4. How big a management team does the publisher have? Enough editors that should one leave, the publisher can keep going? Enough to manage the output of the publisher? Enough that if the person at the centre breaks a leg and is AWOL for a few weeks, things can keep going?

5. How many books does that publisher bring out a year? Some publishers bring out book after book, hoping to hit jackpot and willing to allow books that don't do so well drop out of sight. Usually they will get the books out according to a formula that controls costs. For writers who follow the high-volume, get the books out model, this might be perfect.

For me, it doesn't work. I'm work and juggle writing amongst it. I want to know what I'm expected to do, in what month, so I can manage my time. I don't want to be trying to do high-volume work-work in June (I work in education), and have an edit to turn around in 6 weeks at the same time.

I'd rather be a little slower in releasing books and have more time for all the stages. Especially promotion. Time to get ARC reviews out, and feedback in. Time to ask reviewers - and for them to have time to review. It takes so much longer than you expect, that part of it.  

6. What is the publisher's expectation of you? How much promo will they do, and how much you? Will you be expected to attend conventions - and if so, will they set it up? It's better to know these kind of things in advance to avoid confusion later. (And shocks when they tell you you've got a book tour to do and you're subject to social anxiety. Or whatever.)

7. How much say will you have in the publishing of your book. It's one of the reasons a writer goes with small publishers over big - to have a little more bespoke approach.

My covers have all been agreed with me before they're released and, if I've been able to speak up. I'd find it hard to discover I hated one and couldn't say anything about it.

Ditto pricing. Peter Newman's The Vagrant ran the gauntlet of some pretty harsh reviews over its kindle price. Big publishers seem to be able to sell a kindle for the same price as a paperback. The average debut or small-press author will struggle to shift any volume at a high price.

If you don't get any say, that's not neccesarily a no-no. You're back to point 2 and the checking of other books released by them. Did they get the pricing about right? Do you like the covers? If so, you might be in good hands and have the luxury of not worrying.

8. Who does what? Useful to know, this. Who chases blurbs on the front cover? It should be the publisher but you might have the contacts to ask a dream blurb-er. Are the publisher okay with that? Or, if they don't seek blurbs, can you? And if they seek them, do they consider it unprofessional for the author to do so? Who contacts the media? Which brings me to point 9:

9. What stands behind you? A media pack at the very least, I hope, ready for you to share around. A publicity team (unlikely, but not unknown)? A publisher forum or website? This is all so important. We all know writers have to pull their weight these days - but they don't need to be alone in doing so.

10. Does the publisher feel right to you? This is, for me, just about the most important equation. How do I fit in? For this, I like, if I can, to chat with the publisher or editor, at least over skype. I like to know we're aiming for the same goal and going the same way. I like to feel I belong. And, once that happens, being with a small publisher can be an incredibly rewarding experience, where you feel valued and that you have room to grow. If you can get to that, smile, count your lucky stars, and enjoy the ride. 

That's me signing off for Christmas and I hope you and yous have a peaceful and happy few weeks, whatever you're doing, with whom. And a big thank for all the support this year.

Jo Z