This blog post serves to inform authors of red flags in traditional publishing. When properly prepared, you'll know what to look out for, and hopefully not suffer a negative experience.
The Publisher: Not all publishing houses are created equal; therefore, always do your research. If there's a record of unhappy publishing history, stay away.
- Has the publisher been in business long?
- Do they have a solid list of authors producing work and a decent list of distributors?
- Is their website up to date and professional?
- Are they active on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.)?
- Do they have a good track record? It's always good to check out sites like Piers Anthony (with a list of publishers A-Z and their pub history), Predators & Editors, and Absolute Write for any related negative information.
The People: The most basic way to understand what it's like to publish with any publishing house is by talking to the people already involved. This means finding out who the editors and authors are, how long they've worked for the company, and how they feel about the publisher overall. In my experience, most authors are happy to share their experiences. You should absolutely be wary of any publisher who refuses to provide answers to your questions about their staff.
The Contract: Upon acceptance of your submission, a publisher will send you a contract. Most contracts are full of legalese, but should be understandable. If you have trouble understanding, ask a close friend (or better, another contracted author) to be your 2nd set of eyes.
Key elements to look and watch out for:
- Avoid singing with a "vanity house", as in, you should never have to pay for proofreading, editing, cover design, formatting, ISBN, or distribution. You should only ever be responsible for personal advertising costs and the $35 fee for copyright registration with the Library of Congress.
- Be careful with "Rights of First Refusal". Will publishing one work with your chosen publisher obligate you to send them other work in the future? Will they own any part of your future work, characters, concepts, etc? Think hard on this should you find it part of a contract, as you may find yourself limited to working with only one publisher.
- Make sure your contract specifies how and when you will be paid, and how sales will be reported to you
- Make sure there is a clear written explanation of what happens if your publisher fails to publish in a set time period, pay royalties or provide statement in a timely manner, or files for bankruptcy/insolvency.
- If at any time your publisher fails to pay or provide statement, you should take action. Are you able to request the return of your rights without penalty?
- Be certain to understand how long your work is contracted with the publisher. Will they own the right to publish your book for 1 year? 5 years? What happens after the contractual period ends?
- What does your publisher intend to do with print, digital, and audio rights. These rights vary from publisher to publisher, and often pay different royalties, and may be under contract for different amounts of time.
- Some publishers require their authors by contract to maintain their author platform on social media as part of their personal marketing strategy. Make sure you're able to comply and interact with your readers or take part in online events.
- Any changes to a contract must be signed by both author and publisher. If this is not stated in a contract with a publisher you would like to publish with, ask to have a clause added. You don't want conditions of your contract to change without your knowledge.