25 March 2011

The ins and outs of publishing continued

But there are also cons to going with a new, untried publisher. Obviously, it’s much easier to start a fly-by-night outfit with no intention of making good on any promises than it is to start a genuine, hard-working company. And it’s very difficult to tell at first glance which is which. So while you shouldn’t be afraid to sign with a new publishing company if they offer a contract, you should proceed with caution.

If the publisher asks you for up-front money, they are most likely not legit. A legitimate, non-vanity publisher does not charge reading or editing fees. Nor do they try to sell their authors any paid services. If a manuscript is accepted at a legitimate publisher, the reading and editing is paid for by the publisher. The only up front fee that an author should ever expect to pay is the $35 copyright fee to the US Copyright Office. Many publishers are now requiring authors to pay this fee. If the publisher does not ask you to pay this, be sure to check that they will, in fact, pay the fee themselves and register the copyright, as some publishers are no longer even copyrighting their shorter books. They’re just inserting a copyright notice and calling it good.

And make sure to read your contract very, very carefully. Some authors have recently discovered to their dismay that their publisher has inserted a clause into the contract giving the publisher ownership of the characters and series of authors contracted with them. This means if your book is popular and readers demand a sequel, the publisher can hire someone else to write the next book in the series, leaving the original author out in the cold. More than one author has had to sit back and watch what should have been their next book come out in someone else’s name. Also be sure your contract includes specific terms for when and how your rights to your book are returned to you. With so many publishers failing and/or changing hands, a lot of authors are finding it difficult to get their publishing rights returned after the publisher has stopped producing their book.

If you can’t understand the legalese and complex wording in the contract you’re offered, you should get a competent attorney to review it. Yes, attorneys are expensive, but the consequences of a bad contract can haunt you for years. One of the pros of going with a new publisher is that they can be a little easier to negoitiate contract clauses with than some of the traditional publishers. So if something in the contract bothers you, speak up and see if you can negotiate better terms. If not, you’ve haven’t lost anything.

And if possible, talk to some of the publisher’s other authors before you sign a contract. If the authors who have come before you have had bad experiences with the publisher, chances are you will, too. Most authors have websites with a contact form. Contact them and ask how they like the publisher. It could save you some headaches in the future.

And remember, although you may be a newbie author and thrilled to finally have a manuscript accepted and a contract offered by a publisher—any publisher—if the book is really good enough to be published, you can find a legitimate publisher to take it. If the book is not good enough to be published, chances are the publisher who accepted it—usually the one asking you for up-front fees—is not really going to publish the book anyway. At least not until they’ve bled you for as much as they can get.

So should you go with a new publisher? If they appear to be legitimate, are willing to offer a contract you can live with, and other authors have had good experiences with them, then you’ve nothing to lose by giving them a try. But if not, run as fast as you can in the other direction.

Lauri Blasch,
Acquisitions Editor
Black Opal Books

1 comment:

Mona Karel said...

Full disclosure up front, Black Opal Books is publishing my first sale, a fantasy romance "My Killer My Love."
Having gone through the endless submit, wait forever, hear they no longer are interested in the idea they loved a week ago at the conference, hear my idea is good but my work is weak, pitch my story to them at a romance conference only to hear they don't actually publish romance---
I could go on but I think everyone has traveled this road at least once. When the possibility came up to submit to a company "of authors and for authors," I jumped at the opportunity. Sure contracts CAN be couched in such legalese they would confuse anyone who doesn't live in the world of law. But they don't need to be.
When the "fit" is right, it's right, whether it's with a long time publisher or a start up. The books we write are OURS and we have the right, or we should demand the right, to submit where we feel we fit best.