Friday, 1 August 2014

Top 10 Things to Look At Before Signing with a Publisher

by Shawna Romkey

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I began seeking publication. This was such a long time ago and such a different galaxy that Google was yet to exist. Gasp! I know, it seems like science fiction, but it’s true.

I attended writing conferences and I bought the yearly publication of The Writers Market. I’d comb through agents and publishers, look at what they were looking for and query query query. I had no idea if they were legit or not and one of my first experiences led me to an agent who wasn’t on the up and up. The Writers Market and even those giving workshops at the writing conferences had lists of agents and publishers but couldn’t verify their legitimacy.

In today’s publishing world, there are all sorts of things you can do to make sure you and your publisher and/or agent are a good fit. As I am as yet agentless, these pertain mostly to publishers. Here is my top 10 pieces of advice for those of you looking to make a match in the publishing world.

10. Check out their online presence.   There are some small presses out there who do a great job engaging readers, featuring contests to promote interest, sharing their books on Facebook and tweeting. And there are some who don’t. As an author you will be doing a lot of marketing yourself. Make sure the publisher you sign with is an active partner in helping somewhat. A tweet announcing your release or your sale. Including your book in a giveaway they are sponsoring to attract readers to their books. Make sure they have some good numbers on the twitter followers and their facebook likes. And make sure their website looks professional and is updated.

9. Research the company.  A simple Google search could reveal angry blog posts from authors (after all, authors write about stuff so if they get burned, you’ll know it!). Also check them out on Preditors and Editors, Writer Beware, and Absolute Write. These sites will list whether there are issues with the publisher and whether or not they are recommended. Absolute Write is a form type of search. You may even get to read recommendations from current or past authors there.

8. Read their books.  Take a look at what they’ve published. Do the covers look professional? Is the editing well done? How about the formatting and the overall feel of the print book in your hand? Is it well done or amateurish? Look before you sign.

7. Ask some of their authors their opinion.  Look through their author list and make sure there are more than a handful, and Google them. Find the author websites and contact them. Most authors will have a site, Facebook and/or twitter. Ask them about the publisher. Most of them will at least let you know, even if they’d like it to be kept “off the record” or anonymous.

6. Read the contract thoroughly.  If it looks poorly put together or unprofessional, avoid signing. Have an attorney look at it. Have other published authors look at it. See what they think. If there are any terms that seem fishy, they just might be. After hanging around the Absolute Write site, you may learn some things that publishers put into contracts that are looked down upon, like the auto renewal clause for your rights. Things like that should be a warning. So try to negotiate those out if possible.

How do they pay out royalties? Net profit or net income? Are you paid after all of the other expenses are taken out (cover, printing, etc…) and if so, how do you know what those costs are to double check your royalties? If you are unhappy, how easy or costly is it to break the contract? What happens if they file bankruptcy? Do they have right of first refusal for any other books in the series? How long do they hold the rights for your book? How can you audit them to make sure you are getting the money owed to you? How regularly do you get paid? Is it a certain date of the quarter or is it dependent on when they get paid by distributors? If it’s the latter, how do you know when that is? If you audit them, who pays? You, them or does it depend on how “off” their bookkeeping is? All of these could become important during the course of your relationship with them. Make sure you understand how it all works.

5. Negotiate.  Like I said above, negotiate the things you don’t like out of the contract. If they refuse to negotiate, that could possibly be a sign of how they will be throughout your term with them. It’s a business agreement you’re entering into. You should be able to negotiate, or perhaps they aren’t as interested in you as they should be.

4. Check their contact info.  Make sure they are accessible outside of the website. Do they have a brick and mortar address or is it a PO Box? Anyone can get a PO Box. Do they post a phone number or would they rather talk through email only? If they don’t have a phone number, they don’t want to talk to you.

3. Ask if authors get a Galley or ARC.  If they don’t let you get a proof to review before publication. Also see if you get a free copy once the final book is ready. If they can’t spring for these, they aren’t recognizing your value to them as their author.

2. Document.  Keep records of all communication with your publisher. Keep copies of the contract and keep any statements once you sign.

1.  Make sure they are working for you.  If they are using CreateSpace to print the books, doing no marketing, and have editing and formatting issues, they aren’t doing anymore for you than you could do yourself. Make sure the relationship is a productive one that you both get something out of and that you aren’t just sharing your royalties for someone who doesn’t care about the product.

If you feel at some point that they aren’t doing what they have promised to do, get an attorney or auditor to advise you on what your rights are and seek help. 

Good luck!

Shawna Romkey, teacher by day, writer by night (or day or whenever anyone leaves her alone long enough to get some work done). Bestselling YA / NA paranormal author of Speak of the Devil. The second in the series, The Devil Made Me Do It, was released on July 1.

Shawna is from Kansas City, Missouri, but resides in Nova Scotia in a house by the sea with her husband, two sons, and currently two dogs but that’s subject to change depending on the local homeless dog population.

For more info, check out her website at