Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Publishers, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly... Part 2


This is part 2 of the 5 part series on this blog. To find out more about this go to Dean C. Rich's blog The Write Time for more Terri Bruce on Indie Publishing


A publisher is rated "not recommended" by Preditors and Editors—doesn't that mean they are a vanity press?
The insinuation that vanity presses are somehow a scam is somewhat old-fashioned and I’d like to see it go out of use all together. A vanity press is one where the author pays to have his/her work produced. In essence, self-publishing is vanity publishing. The term comes from the idea that these types of publishers will take anyone who can pay the fee (which is true), and, by extension, that authors published this way are of lesser quality (which is not necessarily true). I’m going to keep my fingers and toes out of the debate about whether or not self-publishing and “vanity pressed” pubbed authors are “real” authors or not. But I will say this: “vanity publishing” can be a perfectly reasonable way to meet a particular need. If someone has put together a book of their family’s history for their children or grandchildren and lacks the skills to have it produced through self-publishing, then by all means, he/she should pay to have someone publish it.

As always, my advice remains the same: know what you are getting yourself into. Be sure that there are no hidden fees, requirements to purchase a certain minimum amount of books, and that you aren’t transferring copyright to the publisher. Also, understand who the intended customer/book buyer is of such set-ups: YOU, the author, are the customer of vanity presses and even some self-publishing operations. They are, in essence, a glorified copy center. They are designed to produce a physical book, not to sell books to the general public. Do not expect publicity or marketing support or even that your book will be commercially available through so much as an internet store front.  

Now there are certainly a good many publishing scams out there, including disreputable companies that masquerade as reputable traditional (non-vanity) publishers. Websites, such as Predators & Editors, which is the most comprehensive and the best  known, can be helpful in determining if a company is on the up and up. But here’s the thing: there are a lot of reasons that a publisher can receive the "not recommended" label at P&E—here is the list: http://pred-ed.com/perating.htm. In fact, P&E makes a distinction between simply "not recommended", "strongly not recommended" and outright labeling an entity as predatory (in the latter they generally state outright what they feel is squirrelly about a company such as "poor contract" or "charges a reading fee"). A simple "not recommended" is not necessarily a reason to run for the hills.

One indie publisher that I applied to has the "not recommended label" because something went awry and authors didn't get their royalty checks one cycle. The staff were working to track down the problem but there was some miscommunication - unbeknowst to the authors, the CEO had a health emergency and was hospitalized. The authors were sending him frantic emails looking for their money and didn't get a response. So they complained. P&E labeled the publisher as "not recommended" as per the "Fails to answer or ignores legitimate questions from their contracted writers." The problem was straightened out, straightened out fairly quickly, and when the CEO returned from being hospitalized, he apologized profusely to all of his authors. This is the kind of glitch that is not unusual at a small company, but now that company is marked as “not recommended” and for TWO YEARS the CEO has been trying to get the P&E rating removed to no avail because of ONE incident. All of that press’s authors that I spoke with are exceedingly happy with the publisher and he has attracted many talented writers, including some that have been traditionally published and are currently repped by big name agents. P&E also doesn't appear to have been updated in some time (the last update on any of the pages is from 2010) and many of the new publishers don't even appear on the site, so authors should be aware that some of the ratings and information may be out of date. This isn’t to rap P&E, which, again, is an incredibly useful site that I relied on very heavily during my agent/publishing search, but, as always, I urge caution in relying too heavily on one source of information and in doing your own, first-hand homework.

Another major source of information on agents and publishers is Absolute Write Water Cooler. But, remember the old adage about not believe everything you read (especially, on the internet). It is incredibly easy for one person to conduct a massive smear campaign against a company by using multiple accounts or screen names to make it appear that many different people are complaining. The other thing with Absolute Write is that this is a community of advocates for writers, which means they look askance at any aspect of a publishing contract that does not favor the writer 100%, which is a good thing—writers too often get the short end of the stick—but a contract that has elements that favor each party can still be a good deal. And the world of publishing is changing. For instance, the AW folks will advise authors to run far away from any publisher that doesn’t pay an advance. However, advances are shrinking across the board, even from large publishers, and small presses often can’t afford to pay advances. This doesn’t mean the company is predatory; it’s just a business reality of working with a small press. The AW folks are right to tell authors to question the long-term financial health of a company that can’t afford to pay advances, and to point out that without an advance you aren’t guaranteed to receive at least a token amount for your work, but there are perfectly reputable small presses that don’t pay advances. The fact is, places like AgentQueryConnect, P&E, and Absolute Write are all good places to start your research, but the only way to get the absolute facts is to do some firsthand research by talking to both the publisher’s staff and a good number of authors who have published with that company. And, again, if you still have reservations about a company, then only negotiate the sale of only one book or story with them and don’t give them so much as right of first refusal on any future works until you are sure about the relationship.

Terri will be back tomorrow to give us more insights on why she decided to go Indie and other thoughts on Publishing. Don't forget to check out The Write Time for the first section of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Publishing, hosted by Dean C. Rich

Biography:
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats. Her first novel, HEREAFTER—a contemporary fantasy about a woman’s search for redemption in the afterlife—will be released by Eternal Press later this year. Visit her on the web at www.terribruce.net.

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HEREAFTER
Coming August 1, 2012 from Eternal Press
Thirty-six year old Irene Dunphy didn't plan on dying any time soon, but that’s exactly what happens when she makes the mistake of getting behind the wheel after a night of bar-hopping with friends. She finds herself stranded on Earth as a ghost, where food has no taste, the alcohol doesn’t get you drunk, and the only person who can see her is a fourteen year old boy-genius who can see dead people, thanks to a book he found in his school library. This sounds suspiciously like hell to Irene, so she prepares to strike out for the Great Beyond. The problem is, while this side has exorcism, ghost repellents, and soul devouring demons, the other side has three-headed hell hounds, final judgment, and eternal torment. If only there was a third option…

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