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Time for a rant

As most of you know, I assist Ann Crispin and Victoria Strauss with the Writer Beware committee for SFWA. Additionaly, I put in some time at the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Check forum trying to answer questions that writers have when they're asking if this is a good agent or publisher to pursue.

Now, not every agent or publisher who's new is a scam trying to rip the uninformed off. Far from it. However, the forum index is littered with agencies established by frustrated writers who weren't able to get published and were convinced that they'd be able to help people do what they couldn't do. Or the inexperienced publisher who believes the marketplace is dying and there's a new paradigm out there just waiting to be explored. Or the person setting up a YADS (Yet Another Display Site) where writers can put their work out and agents will flock to it to discover them rather than wading through the piles of slush they already have at their offices.

But, this specific rant is aimed at the New Publisher.

Dear New, Inexperienced Publisher:

You may have noticed people discussing your company on various web sites. Normally, this would be a good thing, I mean, free publicity, right? No, not really. It seems many of these sites are discussing your company in unflattering terms.

"But, wait, they can't say that about my baby."

Actually, yes they can. See, just as ever writer does not "deserve" to be published, not every person who dreams of being a publisher deserves to hang out a shingle and call themselves such.

Publishing is a unique critter. Even so, it still has many things in common with other businesses and the first thing that cannot be overlooked is you need experience. Period. By calling yourself a publisher, you are claiming that you'll treat your authors in a professional manner.

If you have no experience in the industry (aka, you've never worked for a publisher at any level), then what are you offering your authors?

Sorry, good intentions are not enough.

And having never worked in the industry, you don't know what you don't know.

This means that not only are you going to lose a lot of money and time, but you're going to cost your authors a lot of money, time and also if their book is published through you and you don't have distribution lined up, if you aren't sending it out for reviews months before it's supposed to come out, if you don't know the audience you're aiming the book at, if you can't get it into bookstores (or into a good e-bookstore, if you're only offering e-books), then you're not offering the author anything they couldn't do on their own. Even if you don't charge them a cent up-front, you're still not a good fit.

Any publisher thinking about starting up must be able to answer the following questions:

  • What's your experience in publishing?
  • Have you ever run a company before in any capacity?
  • What's your business plan?
  • Have you secured sufficient funding to get this business off the ground
  • What's your target market? Bookstores? E-books only?
  • What's your plan for getting books into bookstores?
  • Who's your distributor?
  • Do you know the difference between a distributor and a wholesaler?
  • Who're your editors?
  • How much experience do they have editing novels or non-fiction?
  • How many authors do you expect to publish a year?
  • Who's handling publicity for your company?
  • What reviewers will you be sending preview copies of the book to?
  • Who're your sales reps? How many do you have?
  • Do you intend to use your authors as an unpaid sales force?
  • Who're the artists you have lined up to do covers?
  • Are you paying advances?
  • How are royalties calculated? Cover price? Net?
  • Can people see a copy of the contract to compare it against other standard publishing contracts?

And I say these things, not only as a member of Writer Beware, but as someone who ran a small comic publishing company in the 90s and who remembers what I went through and how much money I personally ran through to do A 32-page quarterly comic book. And this was with a lot of input and support from people who were successful small comic publishers who guided me away from many of the pitfalls I nearly plunged into.

New publishers should be ready to PROVE they're ready to go from the moment they make themselves available for any author to submit to them. They should be able to stand up to any scrutiny and have answers for questions that are going to be asked.

I believe writers want publishers to succeed.

I want publisher to succeed. I want places to submit my books to and I want to be able to make money off my work.

BUT, my primary concern is always for the authors. New publishers don't have the right to experiment with other author's books. They have to be ready to go BEFORE they ever ask for the first book. And I've seen too many new publishers crash and burn and authors lose their books because contracts couldn't or wouldn't be released before the company just disappeared.

None of these publishers set out to do this. But by reading the forums and threads, there is a unifying theme to them all. Inexperience. Sure, you could be THE one. Or, you could be one of the other 99 who disappear in less than a year.

So, yes, new publishers MUST earn our trust.

Do your homework. Be ready before you ever ask for the first book. Do not learn as you go.


I also finished the rewrite to Chapter Five of Steel on Target this evening. This rewrite is taking a bit longer than I had anticipated, but I think it'll be worth it in the end.


( 3 howls — Howl with the Pack )
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 13th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
Re: :de lurks:
I was debating whether to post this rant to the forums (especially since it combines several of the posts I've made there).

Just wasn't quite sure where it would be most appropriate.
Jan. 13th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC)
Great post, Rich! Writers as well as publishers should pay attention.
Jan. 18th, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
New publisher
Good afternoon -

I'd like to begin by admitting that I am one of the people your article is addressed to - I am in the process of starting an independent publishing company. Thus, it might surprise you to learn that I agree with most of the points in your article.

It is very easy these days to start a publishing company. The same technologies which some people feel have made self-publishing a viable option (print-on-demand and eBooks) have also made the cost of entry into the publishing business extremely low. All one really needs is a web site and a few willing authors to declare they are a "publisher". Because of this, you are correct that authors should always ask questions of the people offering to publish their manuscripts and that new publishers should be ready to prove they are up to the challenge.

I do disagree with one of the points of your article. Simply put, experience does not automatically equal success in business. Many people with experience in a field still fail at translating that experience into a successful business. While I personally have no experience in publishing, I do have experience in running a successful consulting practice. I have also spent the past nine months educating myself on how the publishing process works prior to making the final decision to start my publishing venture. I feel that my experience in business combined with this education will serve me well in this new endeavor.

I think the key is that new publishers must always be completely honest with authors. New publishers will probably not have the same access to markets (such as bookstores) and resources (such as reviews) that established publishers have. New publishers need to be honest about this with the authors they are working with. If they are planning on doing things which are not considered to be standard in the industry (such as releasing the eBook version for new author fiction first) they should be prepared to explain why.

I am currently working with two authors on manuscripts for publication. I have been completely honest with them about my experience and how I plan to market and distribute their manuscripts. I also plan on giving both authors the option to talk with agents and other publishers once their manuscripts are completed. Even if the authors choose to publish elsewhere, I feel the experience I am gaining by working with them will be invaluable.


Dr. Ken Tupper
( 3 howls — Howl with the Pack )

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