I’ve written before about how critical it is to watch your step when hiring a professional to help you edit your book or design your cover (See “Is the Professional You Hired Doing the Professional Job You Expect?” posted 12/26/14), and we all reaped the benefits of publisher Gordon Williams’ insights in his two-part interview (posted 2/2/15 and 2/5/15) on the various publishing options available to writers.
Still, there are a few things I need to get off my chest on this topic. My mental machinery nearly blew a brain gasket several months ago when I first learned about a new company, a publishing company I thought, and when I decided to look into it, I got flamed for my effort. I went into the inquiry thinking the company might be a nice match for what I need; might be a good place to refer those of you who look to the ellenbooks blog for recommendations…. but that’s not how it turned out.
The Web site wasn’t very helpful and the response to an e-mail I sent seeking clarification just sent me back to the very Web pages that didn’t answer my questions in the first place. I posted a question to fellow writers and self-publishers on a forum to find out if anyone had experience with the company or could help answer my questions. Apparently asking questions was the wrong thing to do. To make a long and sordid story short, the owner of the company ended up answering all of my questions through his online behavior. To this day I appreciate fellow forum members who came to my defense.
I learned a lot in the exchange, although most of what I discovered wasn’t about the company I originally wanted info on.
To add to Gordon’s terrific advice about sorting out the good from the not-so-good when it comes to companies who want to “publish” your book, I’ll offer these items:
- Check their Website for credentials related to *publishing.* It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies out there are actually *web development* companies, not publishers. Look for information on the staff, then check to see how many staff members have experience in editing, book production, graphic arts, and other areas related to book publishing. If the experience cited is all about marketing, promotion, or web development, then you’re dealing with a company that can help in some ways, but they are NOT a publishing company.
- Read carefully to see what they will do for you. In the case of the company I was researching, they devoted paragraph after paragraph to describing a process that had nothing to do with editing or publishing and everything to do with popularity contests. If your book got enough “votes” (or something like that) then when you reached a certain level, the company *might* extend a contract offer to you. This has nothing to do with the quality of your work — only with how popular it is.
- While you’re reading, ask yourself, “Does this business model work in their benefit or mine?” In the case I referred to above, the author ends up spending a lot of time getting people to vote for their book, all in hopes of getting a contract. That doesn’t benefit the writer, it benefits the company. They get to see a groundswell of support before they invest in you. Of course every company needs to make some money, and the more confident they are in their investment upfront the better. But what will they be doing *for you?* So far, you’re doing all the work and they’re not doing anything for you except provide a platform for garnering “votes” — support you could be building on platforms you already use.
- Watch for vague language and terms. Using the same company as an example, I found lots of hemming and hawing in the way they described how their business model worked: if you got to a certain level of support for your book, they *might* offer a contract. If you decide to invest in editing or a professionally-produced book cover, they *might* reimburse you. Don’t pretend you don’t see those words. “Might” and “will” are not the same thing, you know.
- Pay attention to who’s paying for what. Every publishing or printing company worth its salt is very clear about what they will cover for you and what they won’t. No secrets. No pretending. No slight-of-hand, no smoke-and-mirrors. Believe me, I’ve waded through real-life, reputable book publishing contracts, and they are very clear. In my case, my publisher paid for all editing, the cover, the book blurbs, even postage for sending out review copies (not to mention the cost of those review copies), for example. Nothing said they “might” pay for that stuff.
- If something isn’t clear, ask questions. “This says you might pay for the cover art. What’s your criteria for your paying that cost? Can you give me an example of when you did cover the cost? Can you give me an example of when you didn’t with an explanation of why?” Reputable companies want you to understand the business — you’re a better client if you do — and they have nothing to hide. So if you ask questions but don’t get clear answers, WALK AWAY.
I hear a lot of writers claim they’ve been “ripped off” by some publisher or another. I always wonder what they signed — what their contract actually said. Yes, buyer beware. If you’re willing to tolerate wording like “we might pay for your cover art, if we decide to reimburse you” then don’t complain when they don’t. Instead, tell them you want a contract that says they *will* pay for it. They’ll either agree to that or they won’t, but you’ll be better off for having gotten it straight.
In business, we call this “due diligence.” Like it or not, you’re now in business. Performing due diligence isn’t an option — its your best protection against getting taken advantage of. Considering a coach to get you through the publishing catacombs? Not a bad idea — just make sure you perform due diligence on the coach!