You are judged by the company you keep; or, Publishing tips for indie authors

If you’re interested in publishing your book and you don’t care who does it, have no regard for the reputation of the publisher or the quality of their books, then go ahead and ignore everything I’m about to say. This post isn’t for you. If you are interested in publishing and you want to give a shit about the product that’s put out with your name on it, then read on. Maybe you’ll learn something; maybe you won’t. It’s up to you.

First and foremost you need to decide how you want to publish. I don’t mean indie, traditional, or self. I mean as a hobby or as a business. Do you want to publish just to get your work out there or are you looking to monetize your writing? Is this your career path? Is this how you want to make a living? Is this where you want your name to live?

If it’s the latter then you’ll want to treat publishing like a business. With a piece of your soul. So it’s going to be hard to separate the two. You’re going to want to jump at the first opportunity because what happens if another one doesn’t come around? You’ve been rejected so much and now THIS PUBLISHER wants to publish your book! OMG dream come true!

To which I’ll say get it out. Scream into a pillow. Dance around the room. And them come back and screw your head back on and approach this rationally. This is going to be your product and if you’re going to outsource an element of publishing to someone else you’re going to want to make sure that publisher does right by you. If you’re working without the added layer of protection of an agent you need to be doubly careful. You’re going in practically blind. You don’t have a relationship with anyone. So how do you protect your product and your image?

RESEARCH. Do this before you even get to the submission part of publishing. This shouldn’t be something you’ll figure out later as you canon blast your manuscript to 1,001 publishers hoping something sticks. Know who you’re submitting to. This conversation is going to exclude major/established publishers. I’m talking exclusively about indie publishers.

Always do your research regardless. You should not be querying for agents or publishers blind. This is a piece of you you’re putting out into the world. Put your best foot forward always and make sure you’re making the best fit attempt.

If the indie you want to submit to hasn’t hit the ten year mark yet I would highly recommend digging pretty deep. What does that entail? Message boards. Absolute Write is one of my favorites for this kind of thing. New indies will pop up on there almost immediately and people work diligently to dig into them for you (and for themselves). Writer Beware is another excellent resource for vetting publishers and agents. I would point you to Preditors and Editors but they’ve taken their information down for the time being.

What you’re looking for is how legit is the publisher? How new are they? What’s the background in publishing of the people working there? What are they going to offer you as an author? Sometimes it’s easy to spot perhaps well-intentioned but obviously inexperienced people trying to publish books and sometimes not so much. You want people who actually have experience in publishing to publish your books. With experience comes contacts. It comes with a knowledge of interior and cover design, editing contacts, marketing capabilities. They should not be fumbling around trying to get your book published.

Another way to vet a publisher is to contact their authors. Just shoot them an email. Ask them about their experience. If you find an alleged “spurned” author contact them too. If you find a lot of angry authors coming off of a publisher with similar stories, perhaps it’s best to stay away from that publisher. It’s one thing to be Harper Collins and have a couple of cranky authors. It’s another to be Jim Bob’s Good Enough Books Publishing with six authors on backlist and three of them have bad things to say about them.

Take a look at their finished products. Go on Amazon and read a sample of their books. Get a feel for the editing by utilizing that peek inside function. Does it look cleanly edited? How’s the formatting? Is the cover to your standards? To traditional commercial standards? How many of their authors have hit lists? What lists? If you’re super serious order one of their books in print. See what kind of quality it is.

And sometimes gossip goes a long way. Like what I said above about those spurned authors, if a lot of people have similar stories about a single publisher, there may be more to that, especially when there’s talk of lack of professional behavior. That’s a big one. Being professional. This is a professional relationship and a professional business. You have to be a professional. I’ve heard horror stories of people at indies forming cliques and attacking authors that say a single thing bad about them, going so far as to hold their rights to their work hostage and manipulating listings so the book disappears on places like Amazon. Authors not getting paid is another huge issue because these indies don’t have the publishing accounting knowledge on staff so they’re winging it. Or are being purposely shady. You don’t want a publisher who attacks customers in public forums or bites back at former authors on Twitter. That’s not indicative of professional behavior or people with the professional maturity to comport themselves like adults in the business world. Move on if that’s what you’re seeing.

Another thing to run away from: no editing. A publisher that requires their authors to edit their book themselves is not a publisher. This is something they need to offer as part of the contract. If, as the author, you need to outsource your editing at your own expense, you really need to re-evaluate what that publisher is really doing for you that you can’t do yourself. Chances are you’ll need to do your own marketing too (not uncommon, even with the big guys, budgets may vary, though). So . . . what’s left? Why are you not self-publishing again?

At the end of the day this is your product with your name on it. Even though you only provided the written content and probably had no control over cover design or book construction, this is your product. You will be forced to own it, for good or bad. Nothing you say or do will be able to separate you from the book. That’s why you need to take such care in vetting with whom you work. If you have doubts that the product the publisher is going to put out is not going to be up to your standards, don’t work with them. It’s that simple. You won’t be able to wash your hands of it if your book looks like it was put together by Helen Keller while she was asleep and you had these misgivings going in. You’re not obligated to sign a contract you don’t want to sign. You have every right to walk away from an offer if something is just not sitting right with you. It’s hard. Oh I know, it’s hard. But this is your baby. You’re not going to give your baby to any old person, right? You want to make sure the people handling your baby will handle it in a way that suits you, that you’re okay with.

As for contracts, have a lawyer read it. Please. Those things are convoluted with language that isn’t for the layperson. It’s also not going to be in your best interest. I’m not saying it’s set up to screw you, but this is one of many reasons why having an agent is really beneficial. That’s what they do: review contracts. They know what to work for and they’ll work to get you the best deal possible. When you’re alone, you’re alone. So have someone that will dissect that thing for you, preferably someone with actual industry experience.

Ultimately the decision is about you. You have to do what’s best for you. Everyone has different standards. But keep that in mind. EVERYONE HAS DIFFERENT STANDARDS. If you decide to publish with a publisher that has a history of poor quality products and your product ends up being poor quality and people are leaving reviews speaking to that, you have no one to blame but yourself. You chose that publisher despite all the glaring issues you found. What did you expect? That yours would be different? Why?

Most people, when they buy a book, expect it to be edited to some degree. Most people can’t name parts of speech and I’m sure they won’t notice a misplaced comma or two. But if the editing is really bad even the most oblivious to grammar will notice and they’ll make sure you know they know about it. I have seen plenty of reviews on Amazon for indie and self-published books that don’t live up to editing standards. People notice these things. You’re underestimating them if you think they won’t or won’t care and if that’s genuinely how you feel, why are you publishing? What’s the point if you don’t care about releasing a good book? Especially publishing. If you’re looking to make a quick buck off of dopes there are a billion other ways to do it that are infinitely more profitable than publishing.

Thing is, for some ungodly reason people think publishing (and writing) is something anyone can do. How hard can it be? Uh, way harder than you think.

It’s your product. It’s your baby. You’re going to have to own it. Be smart about whose hands you put it in. Because the product is going to reflect on you. Throwing a tanty and taking your toys and going home is not going to help your cause. Flame wars and social media blocks are not going to help your cause. You’re just going to get filed under Authors Behaving Badly on people’s Goodreads shelves and never get read again. And people do that. When a person puts themselves out there like that, it’s really hard to take it back and it’s really hard to separate the person from the story. And if the person proves themselves to be a shitbag, why am I going to read a shitbag’s book? Why should anyone?

As an author you’re putting yourself out into the world and people aren’t always going to like it. Suck it up and move on. Keep writing. Don’t read the reviews. Just keep writing. Keep improving. Keep making your product the best it can be. Take pride in your product. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need to rationalize the shitty parts of it. Make sure that when all is said and done you can be proud of the whole thing, not just the one little piece because everything else is falling apart. Do right by your name. Research, educate yourself, always be improving. Never stop. Never accept anything less than the best for you.

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