Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On Looking for a Publisher

So you've done it, you've finished your novel, smoked your celebratory cigarette or gone out for that I done it  drink - or simply received a high five and a well done from friends, family and loved ones. The question is - what now?

If you're wanting to become a published author, and not just one of the great unpublished masses, then it's time to look for that oft elusive bird - the publisher. But don't go into it blindly. Here, as in every facet of life, there are pitfalls, and people to beware. Do this as you would anything - armed with the knowledge what will keep you from falling into traps and snares as much as possible.

Not every piece of writing is a good fit with every publisher, so first you need to look for publishers within your genre. What about an agent, you ask? Someone who will relieve you of the task of looking for a publisher and do  your promo work, etc? Right now, we're not considering agents, as they're not easy to get and not necessarily what you want. So, let's look for a publisher.

There are many places to look, two of these being your local library, as well as the Internet. At the library, you have access to reference materials such as writer's magazines -  Writer's Digest, Poets & Writers, etc. They often feature articles on topics of use to you in looking for the right publisher, besides having calls for submissions for some of them. When you look at a call for submission, you should see exactly what that publisher is looking for - genre, length, formatting, etc - as well as when and how to submit your work. Often these open calls are a good way to get your foot in the door with publishers who might otherwise have a closed door policy.

Some publishers only accept submissions from agents, so we'll disregard them for now. My experience is mostly in the romance genre, so that is where I'll concentrate for now, but this is applicable to all genres. There is a site called The Passionate Pen which, among other things, lists  some romance publishers, and tells a bit about them. I've used this resource often as a starting point for my inquiries. If you go there, you'll see that they list both major and smaller publishers. The major ones are harder to get into, because for the most part they only take agented submissions. But never give up - Avon does take online subs, and Avon's one of the big boys, so it is possible.

Before you get too involved in your search and  your excitement at becoming a published author, let me warn you - there are bad guys out there. People who are not looking out for your best interests. There are also degrees of good guys. Some publishers are better than others, but you'll hear conflicting stories, depending on who you talk to. Sometimes it's a live and learn sort of thing - you don't know 'til you do it, then at least you know better for next time. And some publishers are pure poison.

How do you know the difference? One way is to google the prospective publisher. This step is a must before you decide on any publisher. Chances are if people have had bad dealings with them, it'll be out there and you'll be able to find it. This prevented me from going with either Publish America or Writer's Literary Agency because I found out what other people said about them, and it sure wasn't good. They are both on my lists of publishers to avoid. WLA, technically not a publisher, tries to sell you their services. PA is a trap to be avoided. They both offered contracts right after I sent my submission - a pretty good sign that they take everyone and anyone, which is not someone you want to deal with.

I've noticed that a lot of publishers offer sample contracts on their sites now, so take advantage of that and look those over. The first contract I received was for seven years. That is excessive in the publishing world, where e-books do not have that sort of longevity. Three years is normal, and two is good too, while I've seen some go as low as one year. You want to make sure that after that term is over, you get your rights back - generally you need to request those in writing - if you do not renew with that publisher, maybe because you've chosen to take it elsewhere. Your new publisher will want to know that you have that in writing before they'll make a move to republish your writing. Also, be aware that publishers often have the first right to sequels featuring those same characters.

Do you have any friends that write? See if one of them will look over your contract when you receive it, as they're more familiar with those than you are. It's not necessary to get an attorney to look it over, unless you happen to have prepaid legal, but how many of us do, especially in this economy? But I'm ahead of myself a little, back to looking for a publisher.

Let's suppose you found Publisher X, and haven't found anything bad about him. Let's check out his website, and his submission guidelines. Look at the titles that he carries, particularly the covers. Do you like them? Or are they cheap and sleazy? Remember, your name is going to be associated with this publisher, and yes, people do judge books by their covers. I've seen books whose covers turned me off so much I'd never want to touch them. Does your book fit their guidelines? It's not one size fits all, most publishers are generally looking for something in particular. Some specialize in certain areas. Do you write romance or erotica? There's a difference, and it's reflected in who you go with. Some publishers want more heat, some less. You want to go where the readers are going to go for your particular style. No sense in subbing something that maybe only has a sweet love scene, no sex, to a publisher who's all about erotica and menages and getting it on. The readers won't appreciate it.

When you're looking at publishers, also consider this - are you looking to be published in an e-book, print, or  both? Any more, there are more e-book publishers out there than traditional print, and not all of them do print, but some do. Is this a deal breaker for you? Are you adamant that you have to be able to hold your book in your hand? Assuming it's long enough to go to print - all publishers who do print have minimum standards that must be met for that to happen. You'll find those in the guidelines.

When I first started my quest to be published, I began with all the big boys. The well known houses that we all know and love. And got nowhere. It took time, but I lowered my sights, and quit looking at e-books as the enemy, but as the wave of the future. And that's when I got my first hits. I didn't accept them all. I told you about two whose bullet I dodged. I received a contract from a third publisher - it was ten pages long and I'd never seen one before, so I had questions. I emailed the publisher, but received no answer. I waited a few weeks, emailed them again. Never did get a response. Another writer suggested a different publisher - I tried them, and received a contract. I had questions for this one too. The difference was this publisher answered them, quickly and efficiently, so that's where I went. When I emailed the other publisher about my decision, I never received the courtesy of any sort of reply at all. They are on my list of publishers to avoid now. I've since heard of other people who've  had trouble with them.

Getting published isn't the answer to everything, but it's a start. You still have a learning curve that you'll have to negotiate, but that's all part of life. Living and learning. You will probably have more than one publisher in your lifetime. As you go, you'll understand more of the publishing industry and how it works, hopefully without too many painful lessons. Ideally, you can find a publisher you want to have a permanent relationship with, and make them the main recipient of your work. Good luck with that! That would be an ideal situation indeed, although you should also keep your eye on reaching a higher level, when you're ready. Everyone aspires to be published by Random House or Harper Collins or Doubleday, right? You gotta get through the minors to make it to the majors.

Join writer's groups, such as the ones on Yahoo. Talk to other writers, see what they suggest. Nice ones will show you the ropes, give you the benefit of their experience.

Finally, don't rush it. Everything in it's time. It's when you panic and think you have to do it now or die that you'll make a serious mistake that will cost you later. Take your time, know your publishers, and you'll have a better chance of making a good fit. You too can be published!

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