Archive for June, 2008

Getting published, part 8. What to look for in contracts

June 20, 2008

Okay, the phone was out AGAIN!   This time it was the highway mowing crew that cut something in two or knocked something over, or whatever.  That makes 9 days during the past three weeks that our phone has been out.  Terrible feeling, especially when cell phones don’t work down here in the hollow where we live!  (One reason we can’t get high speed Internet here.)

Now, back to our topic.  Publishing.

What will a fair contract include?  I recommend an expert eye as stated in part 7, but you can look for some things on your own:

1.   Business stuff:  Can you work with stated deadlines?  What rights do you retain?  If selling second rights is in the contract, do you get a reasonable cut?  (My present publisher and I split second rights advances and royalties 50-50.) How are you protected if the company goes out of business?   And, can you get your rights back under reasonable circumstances?

2.  Editing.  Will the publisher give good editing support?

3.  Distribution:  Is it easy for bookstores and libraries to order books from the distributors they are used to working with, like Ingram and Baker and Taylor?

4.  Publicity:  Does the publisher offer any publicity support.  (Mine produces flyers and catalogues.  They send out hundreds of these to libraries, bookstores, and interested readers, and give me a thousand or so to distribute myself.  They send out multiple review copies.  They promote on their well-publicized web site.

5.  Price:  Is the retail price in line with similar books.  Is the bookstore/distributor/library discount reasonable?  (45% or more is average.)

6.  Returns:  Can unsold books be returned to the distributor or publisher for full credit?  Unfortunately, at this time, that means even if damaged.  Note:  Publishers are beginning to squirm under this return policy, some, even in NY, are beginning to refuse returns, and, at lease (I think) publishers should only accept books in good condition and without stickers, marking, or autographs.


Getting Published, part 7. Small presses

June 3, 2008

I’m sorry for the gap in time! On May 22 an underground electric cable blew out down the road from us and took the phone lines with it. The power surge was so intense it burned out some of our phone wires and blackened a wall around an electric socket in my office. Power was back on the same day, but it took ATT over a week to get their act together and fix our phones.

So, now to a much more interesting subject!

The best advice I would give to someone seeking a publisher–especially if you have been repeatedly rejected by New York–is try for a smaller company. There are thousands of those throughout the United States and a majority of them are working for the good of authors, love books, and are legitimate businesses hoping to make a reasonable profit for themselves and their authors. They usually offer many of the same services as large houses and are a friendly and supportive delight to work with. Many pay small advances against future royalties, and the legitimate ones, advance or not, do offer royalties. Most do at least a degree of editing. Many get books into major distributors and provide some publicity, though they can’t put out big sums for ads in Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus. They don’t buy bookstore end caps or offer book tours like New York publishers do for their favorite authors.

Where do you find smaller publishers? Go to conferences and conventions for writers. Learn who works for what publisher, because many writers there will be with small presses. Read Writers’ magazines. Any new/unfamiliar names there? Go to bookstores. Look at books in the same genre or catagory as yours, make a note of publishers’ names. Join list servs for writers. (Such as DorothyL and Murder Must Advertise, for mystery authors.) There you will learn the names of many small presses, since people on the lists mention or review books and/or promote their own books. Network, network, network. Gab, gab, gab. Listen, listen, listen. MAKE FRIENDS!

Before you query a smaller publisher, look at their web site carefully so you’ll have some idea what to expect if they offer you a contract. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. No matter how much most writers want to be published, a miserable experience after the fact and the grief of “I wish I’d known” aren’t worth publishing at any price. Pay special attention to whether or not a publisher’s books are in distributors like Ingram and Baker and Taylor so your wonderful work can be sold throughout the United States.

Does the publisher send out any review copies? If not, will they give you free copies to send out yourself? (My publisher gives me 35 copies to use for reviews and for sending to those who wrote jacket blurbs, but they also send at least 50 copies out themselves. I take care of my local market, they do national.) Larger reviewers like Library Journal, etc. will expect review books from publishers, not you, so if your publisher hasn’t contacted them in the past, perhaps they will listen to your suggestion about a few places where copies could be sent for the publisher’s benefit as well as yours. And don’t forget…major reviewers want review copies at least three months before publication date.

If you have an agent, negotiating a contract is a snap since agents are equipped to do this sort of thing and get the best deal possible for you. If no agent, there are organizations who evaluate contracts for their members. One of those is National Writers Association, Also, you might find a “boilerplate” contract on line and compare it with your own. Another source of help is any friend within the writing community who has been or is under contract with a publisher.

I didn’t have an agent at the time I sold any of my own books. In the first case NWA evaluated the contract for me. In the second, a New York non-fiction editor evaluated my fiction contract. (Since the firm she was with only published non-fiction she also helped me find a fiction publisher. See what I mean about the importance of friendship!)

I’ll have a list of things to look for in a contract next time.

Til’ then, I (and all readers) welcome your input about your own publishing experience and your advice for those seeking a publisher.