Last time at ellenbooks, Gordon Williams, publisher at Babora Books, offered some thoughts on why, given all the information and advice that is freely available, so many independently publishing authors have lousy experiences. This time he gives us the nitty gritty on separating the wheat from the chaff. Before you think about signing any publishing agreement, you must read what Gordon has to say.
A lot of indie publishing choices are out there — some good, some predatory. Are there any tell-tale signs an author should look for to avoid the latter?
“Indie” covers a lot of ground — from small press, to DIY self-publishing, to “self-publishing” companies. Any of these streams has its own set of warning flags so I’ll try to be generic as possible about some of the key things I tend to notice.
Baffling Business Schemes:
Publishing is actually pretty simple. The three basic business models are:
- Traditional: The publisher pays the entire cost of publishing the book under its imprint.
- Pay-to-publish (aka “self-publishing company”): The author pays the cost of publishing and the book comes out under the publishing company’s imprint.
- DIY Self Publish: The author owns the imprint and pays directly for whatever services he or she needs to publish the book.
There are variations but if you visit a publisher’s website and it takes you more than about 30 seconds to fully understand which business model a publisher uses, it’s probably a good sign you need to look elsewhere.
Indy Publishers Quick Sniff Test: The “Author discount” on print books
The “author discount” reflects what the author pays the publisher for books for his her own use. One of the best-known “self-publishing” companies offers author copies at 30 percent off the regular retail price. When a reader buys that same book on Amazon, the retailer takes 40 percent of the sale price (the standard retail discount), and publisher pays the author a royalty out of what is left. In the end, this publisher makes more money by selling books to the author than by selling books to readers.
SNIFF TEST FAIL!!!
Claiming to be a “traditional publisher” while selling author services:
This is a huge potential conflict of interest. The author seeking a traditional contract can easily be lured into buying services (e.g. reading fees, editing, marketing) in hopes of getting a contract. These services might be provided directly by the publisher or indirectly through an associate that has an interest in the company.
A variation on this theme is what I call the “mixed model” of publishing — a company that bills itself as a traditional publisher while offering pay-to-publish services. This always feels like a bit of bait and switch to me because, again, it brings authors in the door with the expectation they are querying a traditional publisher. The author may get all kinds of encouraging signals, only to be offered a costly pay-to-publish contract at the end of the process.
Brand new in the business – e.g. less than one year in publishing:
Think of your book as having a lifespan of many years. The majority of start-up publishers fail within their first year or two of operation. This has nothing to do with integrity. It is simply a cold fact of being in the publishing business. Having your publisher shut down could leave your book in legal limbo and possibly put you back at square one. If your publisher goes bankrupt you may even have to battle with a receiver company to get your rights back. The best predictor of a publisher’s stability is a proven ability to stay in business for a few years.
Should an author be concerned if a publisher won’t provide a sample contract when asked for one?
Very much so. Not providing a sample contract on request gives the impression that the company has something to hide. While it is true that every contract can be tailored to specific project, common variables like contract length and advances (if applicable) can be blanked out if necessary.
How a publishing agreement is structured can tell you a lot about how the company approaches its authors. How is the company dealing with subsidiary and derivative rights? What recourse do the parties have if one or the other is not fulfilling its obligations? Under what conditions can the contract be terminated and rights reverted to the author? Is there a “save harmless” clause that puts the author on the hook for any potential legal costs?
Any of these items can represent a hidden cost to the author, whether that is giving up more rights than expected or the cost of getting out from under a publishing agreement that has soured.
What are five key things an author should be sure an independent publisher provides before committing to their services?
- Everything in writing.
- If the author is paying for services, exactly how much each service being provided will cost, and what you are getting for your money.
- Contact information for other authors who have worked with the company.
- A sample contract.
- Time to think about it.
Thank you, Gordon, for your time and patience! This is very helpful information for ellenbooks readers!
Gordon Williams is an editor and publisher with more than 25 years of experience in writing, publishing and communications. A long-time science fiction fan, Gordon and his partner founded Babora Books in 2010.
Babora Books is not actively soliciting manuscripts at this time; your best bet is to take a look at the Babora Books Web site to see if your work fits what Gordon publishes and if they are seeking submissions: http://www.baborabooks.com