Things that should make you say “hmmm”

We believe that writing is a cathartic process and that you deserve to have a voice and express exactly how you feel about your life and/or your writing.

All good points, but authors still need to be edited. Our words don’t come directly from the hand of the Great Cosmic Muffin. And I’m of a mind that if there is a Mrs. Great Cosmic Muffin, she edits him as well. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

All of our book covers are black with a central image and white writing. We do this for branding purposes; people who see our books associate with our company. This makes your book more visually appealing and desirable.

Horse manure. This is drop and drag cover design that requires no talent, no forethought, and no ingenuity. It’s one-stop design that the beagle could pull off after a pitcher of margaritas. This isn’t branding. It’s lazy, cheap, K-Mart stuff. They are trying to compare this to say Harlequin or other niche publishers whose covers have a set tone. But at that, those covers are all unique. That’s what sells books. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

We are looking for the first time author because yours is a voice that is fighting to be heard.

This is double speak for “I really hope you’re too flipping stupid to see through this ruse.” You are nothing more than a profit center for these types. You make them rich by buying your own books by the truckload. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

We are distributed by Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

This is shorthand for “we don’t have national distribution, and you won’t find our books in bookstores unless an author was able to talk a nice store manager into taking a few copies.” Publishers get their books distributed by one of several ways; they hire their own sales teams who establish relationships with the genre buyers, indie buyers, librarians, and national accounts. They may sign with an independent distributor whose sales teams perform these tasks. Or they may sign with a larger publisher and have them distribute their catalog.

But saying that they are distributed by Ingram and B&T is a throwaway sentence that says nothing. It’s like saying you listed your bike for sale in the L.A. Times. You hope someone will come along and want to buy your bike, but you have no way of making buyers aware of its existence because you’re not out there pitching it to prospective buyers. Only way you’ll sell that bike is if a buyer stumbles across the ad. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

Why bother with an agent when you can submit directly to us?
Those big guys aren’t looking for fresh voices.
Publishing is broken.

They usually go on about how those greedy rat bastard agents steal a percentage of your earnings, and they’re really the root of all evil. While they, on the other hand, are the paragons of truth, justice, and the Writerly Way. I can almost hear the angels singing.

This is called salesmanship, and PODs and vanity presses do it better than anyone else. Why? Because commercial publishers don’t target authors. They sell to book buyers. That’s how the beagle keeps her running inventory of designer chew toys and tequila.  Since PODs and vanities don’t have distribution or bookstore presence, they get their money from authors, and that is where they aim their sales pitch. They put up outright lies as the ones I pulled from various POD sites, hoping the author believes it. If you see these kinds of statements on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

“They are so nice!”

If I had a dime for every time an author told me this, you all would bowing at my feet calling me Madame Editor Who Rocks All. Of course these folks are nice. But compared to what? How many editors have most authors spoken to? In spite of my snarkitude here, I can really be quite charming. Even friendly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I drank an author’s blood just for kicks.

In truth, we really are nice, polite people. I have to be decent, or my mother would kill me. And so would every other editor’s mother. So the nice thing doesn’t hold water. Having a nice personality doesn’t equate to a quality book and sell through, yet I see many authors fall into this trap. Only too late do they see that Mr. Nice Editor really has green drippy fangs and a bad temper if you don’t get your butt out there and market and promote your book. You may find yourself the recipient of nastygrams if you aren’t selling many books because you are their unpaid sales force, and you need to keep feeding the monster. If you find yourself saying this, you should say “hmmm.”

We’ll get your book published way faster than the big guys.

This is true. A POD or vanity press can crank out your book in a matter of a month or two – faster if they skip the editing. So if speed lights up your personal flashlight, by all means go for it. But keep in mind that the quality will mirror the amount of time it took to print it up. Also bear in mind that your book won’t be seen by any of the trade reviewers.

This, to date, remains one of the biggest surprises of the POD/vanity author. Well, that and finding out their books won’t be in the stores. New authors don’t realize that there is a set of criteria that results in a book being eligible for review, and one of them is that reveiwers need at least four months lead time before the book is published. If your book is hot off the presses within a month, you can be assured that you won’t be reviewed.

Trade reviewers require an ARC (advanced reading copy), and PODs and vanity presses don’t produce these because it costs money that they will never recoup. They are very stingy about sending freebie copies to anyone because it’s a loss. Where we may send out 300 freebie copies of a single title, they may send out five – after some grousing. This is because the general reading public isn’t their target market. You, the author, are. If you see this kind of statement on a publisher’s website, you should say “hmmm.”

“We are late paying royalties because our distributor is late paying us.”

I have seen this statement from both POD and commercial presses. For PODs, this isn’t surprising that they can’t (or won’t) pay up if their vendors (PODs don’t have distribution) are late paying because they don’t often have enough cash reserves. Even if they do, it’s more advantageous to make the authors wait. I’ve seen PODs who are busy buying imprints, yet they are consistently late paying their authors’ royalties.

For commercial presses, the notion that the distributor is late paying the publisher is bunk – yet I have seen this happen as well. This kind of statement should tell the author one thing; the publisher is hurting for cash. I don’t know of a single reputable distributor where publishers can’t get their current sales status online, so they always know how much money is coming to them. If you get an email with this kind of news, you should say “hmmm.”

There are a million other things that should make you say “hmmm,” but these are the main offenders I see time and time again that result in authors being confused or cranky. Remember what your mama told you. If something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is.

Be safe out there, and never be afraid to take a step back and say “hmmm.”

3 Responses to Things that should make you say “hmmm”

  1. Nicola Morgan says:

    Lynn, are you psychic or what?? Have I been talking in my sleep? I have just had this exact conversation with someone. He had all those lines, even the “they were so nice” one. In fact, a few minutes ago I posted a very short piece to the same effect. Will people ever learn??

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    Sorry, Nicola, the beagle reports that you do, indeed, talk in your sleep – especially after a pitcher of her margaritas. I love it when she goes to spy on you; she comes back with the cutest little accent.

    Will people ever learn??
    No. And that’s the saddest part of all. The urge to see their words in between a book cover is far stronger than stepping back and asking whether this is a good idea or not.

  3. Lauren says:

    “In spite of my snarkitude here, I can really be quite charming. Even friendly. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I drank an author’s blood just for kicks.”

    *checks arm for blood flow . . . issues sigh of relief*

    This is true.

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