How to Recognize a Bad Publisher (part 1)

You’ve been on the market and querying publishers for a while now and have accumulated enough rejection letters that you’re starting to think outside the box. Big names don’t seem to want to notice you so you’re beginning to consider small publishers, luck of the draw Twitter pitches, and maybe a sketchy offer from some person with a blog. It’s an easy spiral to fall into and can lead you down some dangerous roads.

I can say this because I’ve been there and experienced the risks and downfalls first hand, along with several authors. I’ve learned some lessons the hard way and want to share with you six signs to look out for so you can avoid making the same mistakes.

Some of them may seem like no-brainers or sound too unprofessional to exist. But crazy enough, every one of these points are based upon things I encountered and ignored when I made desperate moves to be in the publishing world. Early in my editing career, I spent some time working for a young upstart company. It was ran poorly and met its inevitable end, which was not pretty.

Therefore, I want to share what I witnessed and alert you to watch out for these warning signs as you explore the nooks and crannies of the internet to find your book a publishing home.

Sign #1- Won’t buy your book, or asks for money

While it is obvious that you should never be paying your publisher to fulfill their own promises to you, many authors sell themselves short and stop expecting advanced pay. While an advance is not standard for every single publisher, it should be something you feel you deserve and something you’ll likely find missing with small/upstart publishers.

Your novel is a one of a kind extension of your creative mind. It is 100% uniquely yours. No properly structured publisher should be asking for rights to that without offering compensation.

This is basic labor and wage logic. It is all too easy after repeat rejections to become desperate enough to hand your manuscript to just about anyone.

But remember: the publisher wants to make money too. And if they are not willing to invest in rights to your book and its success, how much can you really expect to profit from the deal? Not to mention, a company that can’t afford to invest in your creativity is not going to be able to afford other needs you will have either, which brings me to my next warning-

Sign #2- Doesn’t have an active marketing game

A publisher must have a game plan and concrete budget for the promotion of you and your book. Take a look at their website and social media and consider the following-

Can you see advertisements and reviews for their current authors?

A good marketing team should have a ready group of early readers to flood the book with reviews. If you’re having trouble finding reader testimonies, then chances are that the book isn’t being widely read or properly marketed.

Do you like the presentations and fun deals they are blasting to draw in a fan base?

The more interactive and fun the marketing is, the more it will draw in an engaged crowd. And let’s be honest, sometimes that takes incentive. A small publisher without funds to offer free giveaways or shopping deals isn’t as likely to catch mass attention across their media.

Do they have constant followers?

Check out the comment sections on their media and see if you can find recurring names. A comment section with few visitors but same names usually indicates they’re just insiders trying to bolster appearances, such as company members, family, paid reviewers. A healthy comment section is going to have a wide variety of followers that interact enthusiastically with the media and each other.

Spend some time following the numbers as well. Watch to see if the follower count goes up routinely. A follower count that remains the same for a long period of time is a sure sign that interest is not growing.

Bottom line, there is no point in handing out a book when there are no hands to receive it. “Build it and they will come” does not work here. Readers have to become aware that your book exists and the only way that will happen is if your publisher is telling them about it.

A small publisher will by nature have a small voice. If spoken correctly, it can echo across the globe. But if spoken poorly, it will only echo into a void.

Sign #3- Doesn’t ask to read your manuscript

This may seem laughable but was common practice at the aforementioned startup company I worked for. The goal was to shift focus away from the traditional script read and place priority upon the author’s enthusiasm for the story, via video pitches and interviews. While the attempt to be different is an admirable one, there are several reasons this is hurtful to all parties-

Mainly, the publisher has no idea how you write.

It may sound like an interest in you over the manuscript provides an opportunity to get to know you better. Yes, maybe as a person. But not as a writer. Instantly making friends feels good but you’re not there to socialize. You’re there to make books.

This could ultimately mean more work for you.

A startup publisher has a very small staff team and may try to meet needs by assigning tasks to the authors. At our startup, we had all manuscripts peer read by the other signed authors. The goal was something we took pride in- that we all worked together to shape the story into its best version. Who better to help you write a story than a fellow writer?

Looking back, however, this resulted in the authors ultimately being the main editors but not getting the credit to show for it. And to make it worse, this distribution of effort meant some manuscripts were not even read by the official company editors before the company was finally closed. There’s simply no excuse for that.

Good recipe for failure when the editor doesn’t know the scope of your editing needs.

The relationship between an author and an editor is a unique bond that shares a brain over the best interest for your story. An editor or agent that takes on your story without knowing your writing has no reason to believe your relationship will turn out to be a good one. This could set you both up for clashing ideas, poor communication, and all around headache.

You don’t want to settle for this. While it hurts and downright SUCKS to have your manuscript rejected many times over, it is the result of an editor or agent saying, “This isn’t a good fit here, this isn’t what is best for this book.” It may not sound like good news, but it’s the best thing for you and your book in the long run.

I know your instinct is to take that personally and feel like you’re not good enough. But remember-

an editor or agent that recognizes you are not a good match for them is actually doing you a favor because many times a rejection is a saving grace that keeps you out of a situation that would have ended in regret.

Final takeaway-

If you’re going to sign a legally binding contract with someone for your story, sign it with someone who actually knows your talent and is eager to partner with you.

And most importantly, someone who doesn’t make the mistakes listed above.

Oh wait! I promised SIX signs and this is only three. Check out PART TWO to hear what I have to say about poor cover design, genre range, and limitations of eBook.

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