Publishing is a weird, weird game. You can’t swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting no less that 4,572,901 articles on How To Get Published, How To Get An Agent, How To Get a Book Deal and How To Attract Perverts By Swinging Dead Cats. The thing is, those articles are universally bullshit (except for the attracting perverts one. Those are pretty accurate). Because the only secret is there is no secret. There is skill, and there is luck, and there is timing, and all are involved in some measure that isn’t the same from one book to the next.
But, man, do people rail about how their way is the best way- and with good reason, if not good information. If you are an author, likely you want your book out there. And just as likely, you have a fair amount of skill and at least a working knowledge of language, but you probably aren’t an expert of publishing. So you start googling, which leads you down the rabbit hole mentioned in the previous paragraph.
It used to be fairly straightforward- You found and queried an agent, in turn to the big publishing houses, and then you got a book deal or you didn’t. The waters, to say the least, are muddied now. There are sill the big houses and their myriad imprints, there is self-publishing, and seemingly endless small presses in the middle.
And it’s that middle group that needs to be addressed. Before I go on, a small disclaimer- I am not stating anything dogmatically in this post. I self-published. That doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t go the traditional route, or even that I won’t at some point. Self-publishing is not for everyone- hell, a lot of days, it isn’t for me. Nor am I condemning anyone- anyone who doesn’t deserve it, anyway. But more on that in a second. My point is, none of this is meant as an attack on what you do. It is to bring attention to a problem- a big one- in publishing, which doesn’t get talked about very much.
That problem is ‘small presses’ which are either a) Vanity Presses or B) Completely useless. Thanks to Amazon and the like, publishing is easier than ever. Literally a few clicks, and your book is available to the world. This means anyone can do it, an that carries with it the painfully obvious fact that anyone can do it.
This also means that anyone can be a publishing company. Email me a word document, and I can ‘publish’ it for you. I’ll give you 50%. If the book sells for $3.99 on Amazon, I make a tidy 20% (Eighty cents, baby!) for doing very nearly nothing.
Because of that accessibility- either through design or ignorance- people start ‘publishing companies’, and boy do they make promises. Peruse a few small press websites, and you’ll find so many buzzwords, you’ll think you showed up at an SEO conference. But really read what they have to say, and you’ll find there are a lot of words that don’t actually say anything.
Not a great look for a book publisher.
Even worse, they do, you know, buy books. Which, on the surface, should be good. But when authors regularly receive little-to-no support in the areas of editing, design, distribution or reviews- you know, the things you give up a percentage to GET- what’s the point? If an author has to do everything themselves, why shouldn’t they just do it themselves?
What these individuals thought process is, I have no idea. But when this is a story I have heard from multiple people- people who are very good authors- that they signed a contract, signed over rights, and received nothing in return? Just… why?
Maybe it’s well-intentioned ignorance on the part of publishers. How hard can it be to sell ebooks? Frank can design covers, Susie can edit, and we’ll tweet about it and it will sell. This is also the mentality of 75% of self-publishers. So they make grand promises, and have no clue what is actually involved. And so the author loses rights, sales and time.
Maybe it’s malicious, in which case it’s worse and less understandable. I don’t know why one would spend several thousand dollars to purchase rights and do worse than nothing with them, but the internet is full of examples of hate which I don’t understand, so, whatever.
In any case, if you’re an author, with a book to sell, seeking a book deal, let me tell you a secret word to use:
It’s a very powerful word. Because, plain and simple, you have the product. Without books to sell, a publishing company is Starbucks without coffee. There’s a lot of fancy marketing and pretty colors, but the product is what they need. And they need it.
So you can tell them no. Even if you really, really want to say yes, because no one else offered you a contract. Because this is your dream. Well- and I hate to sound like a motivational poster- your dream deserves better than sitting on someone else’s shelf.
And if you are inclined to say yes, get everything- everything– in writing. Because all that crap they promised you over the phone or over email? Doesn’t matter if it’s not in the contract. Make them put it in, and if they won’t, walk away. It might not feel this way, but they need you more than you need them.