Because I’m fairly active on the Absolute Write Water Cooler, I receive a few emails and PMs from writers wondering if Brand-Spanking-New Publisher or Known-To-Be-A-Scam Publisher is a good bet. Anyone who knows me knows that I call ’em as I see ’em. If they’re a brand new company, I look at certain parameters:
- Who’s running the company
- Marketing and promotion capabilities
Who Runs the Joint
I admit that I’m less picky about the “who” as I am the “what” – meaning that any author should head for the hills if the publisher has proven to be a shady character. There are a number of these wastes of skin and oxygen who scam authors, close up shop, and re-invent themselves with a new company…all so they can resume their assossity with a fresh batch of authors.
Conversely, there have been some great Cinderella stories where the publisher didn’t know much of anything, but worked hard, never screwed their authors, and eventually became esteemed publishers. Off the top of my head, Dominique Raccah, who started the amazing Sourcebooks, and Ben LeRoy, publisher and all-around Good Joe, who started Bleak House Books and Tyrus Books. Neither of them knew much about the industry at the very beginning, but they are amazing people who learned, persevered, and conquered.
They understood how to pick winner books. Not all newbies have that ability. So just because a newbie publisher offered you a contract, it doesn’t mean they have the confidence to determine how it measures up against the competition.
The problem with brand new companies is that they haven’t had the time to establish a reputation. Any number of things can happen along the way:
- Run out of money – it takes anywhere from a few months to a couple years for a newbie to eat up their initial capital. They fold up, and the author loses.
- They didn’t do their research on the industry and had no idea that books are so hard to sell…and they run out of money. They fold up, and the author loses.
- They didn’t appreciate the notion of “returns.” So they ship out tons of books thinking that’s money in the bank. They do the Happy Dance and sing Tra La over bottles of champagne, only to die a thousand deaths when nearly all of them come back. They fold up, and the author loses.
- They didn’t promote or market their books, so no one knew those books existed. They depended on the author to do this. The only money the publisher makes is the sales they garnered from selling to their own authors. If you’re a publisher with the initials P and A, then you’ve made this business model to a fine art. If you’re not that publisher, then you run out of money. They fold up, and the author loses.
- They thought Ingram and Baker & Taylor were distributors, not warehousers, so their books never saw the indoors of bookstores around the country. They fold up, and the author loses.
Do you see the trend? While you may think it’s worthwhile to give a newbie publisher a shot, it’s also more often than not achingly dicey for the author. If these publishers fold – and they do – then your book is almost surely lost because many of them don’t bother to send out letters of reversion. Without that, no other publisher will touch a book.
If the publisher goes bankrupt, the authors’ books are wrapped up in bankruptcy court.
Marketing and promotion capabilities
New publishers may have their hearts in the right place – and that’s lovely. They may be really nice – also equally lovely. But those two characteristics don’t sell books. Marketing and promotion sells books. You owe it to yourself to find out what they do to promote and market their books.
Warning: You will find that many start-ups don’t understand this. Most newbies think being “distributed” by Ingram and Baker & Taylor equals marketing and promotion. It doesn’t. For starters, they’re wholesalers, as I mentioned before, meaning they stock the book to sell to bookstores and libraries. They don’t have sales teams who actively pitch their titles to the genre buyers of libraries and bookstores.
Marketing and promoting means they send out ARCs to reviewers and media. This means printing up hundreds of books that aren’t targeted for sale. Since many new publishers are on a budget, this is a big expense that has no guarantees. I can’t stress this enough: Your prospective publisher MUST send out ARCs.
We never know what seeds we’re dropping when we send out books out to media and reviewers, but one thing is for sure – if we don’t, then we guarantee the book remains anonymous.
Marketing and promotion doesn’t stop with sending out ARCs. Find out if your publisher will get your name into the RTIR – Radio TV Interview Report. Again, it costs money to do this, and many on a severe budget can’t afford to do this because there’s no guarantee media producers will want their authors for an interview.
Does the publisher set up book signings? Do they look for other potential readerships? Do they enter their books in reputable book competitions?
The better distributed a publisher’s books are, the more they will put into their marketing and promotion because they realize this is a major part of selling books. Their distributor expects it because it’s all about enticing book buyers placing orders. When I talk about distribution, I mean folks like IPG, Perseus, and Consortium, who represent commercial trade presses to the national and international book industry. They all have marketing staff on hand who will rip a book apart in order to find the best marketing/promo plan that will yield maximum interest from book buyers.
Not only do these companies have their in house marketing people, but they also have contracted book reps who cover the US and Canada (and other countries) territories. These are the godsends who have relationships with physical stores and talk directly to the store managers/buyers. This is especially important when a book has regional importance.
Publishers simply can’t have any hope of success if they don’t have distribution. Good distribution. Mind you, there are some horrible distributors out there who are little more than Ingram and Baker & Taylor. They don’t have sales people who actively promote their client-publishers’ books.
The dicey thing with a newbie publisher is editing. Authors have no way of knowing whether the editing is terrific or cover-your-eyes-and-scream. Best thing to do is wait until they have a few books out and actually read those books to see what they’re like. Be sure to check out the quality of the layout, cover art, spelling, pacing, flow, organization. This is extremely telling as to how they’ll treat your book.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that experience is the best teacher. Even though we had great mentors when we first opened our doors, there are many things we’d do differently. There isn’t a publisher alive who won’t agree with this. However, the more they know about the industry, they’ll less those learning curves will adversely affect your book.
Think about whether you want your book to be the guinea pig for a new publisher. If so, you have an admirable intestinal fortitude, if not a lapse in judgement.
And that’s the key here. Most authors I know who have read all the minuses of a newbie publisher and still decide to go with them are all victim of “I Want It Now” Syndrome. Logically speaking, why else would an author sign with a risky, unproven publisher?
The desire to be published is as strong as the beagle’s desire to drink margaritas for breakfast, and many won’t listen to reason. They’ve been offered a contract. Someone loves them. Hurrah! They’re thinking of fame and fabulosity and completely forgetting the soul-sucking realities.
Desire is the counter punch to Common Sense. The ache and yearning is far stronger than admitting the possibility they’re headed down a road to Nowhere’s-ville…until it’s too late.
So before you lose all perspective of being offered a contract, please honor yourself and your writing by making sure your book is headed for greatness instead of a black hole.