How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #4

“You know, my uncle Olaf submitted his book to ______________. He says they’re not like other publishers; they read -all- the manuscripts sent in to them. His was published in only two months, too. You should try them!”

I’ve actually been told this, by a well-meaning neighbor who was. no doubt, sorry for me because I had to keep waiting forever for the whole publication process to pan out. (I still have no book in my hands.)

Notice that I said well-meant. It was. This neighbor and I are on friendly terms. We played bunco together. What this was symptomatic of is that she suspected I didn’t know my options. That I hadn’t done all the homework, and that her uncle Olaf had trumped me on that score.

The truth is that I was quite familiar with Uncle Olaf’s publisher. When I was treasurer of OWFI, we wrangled about this publisher a lot, trying to determine what the organization’s stance was regarding its ‘legitimacy’ as a book publisher.

I’ve also known someone who published his book through Publisher T. He hadn’t done his homework. He’d sent it to them because someone he knew at work had a cousin who worked for the publisher. Turns out his publisher was a subsidy press, charging him for editing, cover design, and creating a book trailer. He’d already purchased a hundred copies of his book, too. But hey, it was going to be out in only a few months.

I bought a copy of that book because I try to support my friends. The cover smeared when I brushed my fingers over it. I would not have been satisfied with the editor’s work.

But there are plenty of publishing options out there, and they have different uses.

So a short primer on book publishers below, with links:

1) Self-publishing
Difficulty Level = 3
There’s a great article at Writer Beware that discusses the merits and pitfalls of self-publishing. This is hotly contested, BTW. Writers who self-publish -can- make good money, although history shows that the vast majority who go this route don’t.

Personally, I HAVE used this method. Among my ebooks, I have only 1 that’s sold really well. My others haven’t. Since they’re mostly reprints (work that has been published elsewhere before), and I put them up on-line primarily to make them -available-, I don’t spend a ton of time promoting. But I want to point out that there are definite uses for this method.

The main difficulty here for some authors is learning all the formatting. And designing covers. And editing. You can pay others to do these for you, but that cuts into your pocketbook.

And if you don’t have your story-telling skills and editing skills together…then readers will ding you mercilessly in the reviews. Something to keep in mind.

2) Small Press Publishing
Difficulty Level = 8
Why do I think 8? Because a small press editor is still an editor who reads the manuscripts to determine quality and ‘fit’ to their imprint.

Note: I HAVE published novellas with small presses. I loved my editors, and I respect those presses with whom I’ve worked. Small presses can be awesome.

OTOH, I was given the cards of a couple of other small presses at cons. I didn’t submit to either of those. I didn’t know their reputations, so I balked. I lucked out, because now neither exists. This is one of the problems for small presses. They don’t always make it and can collapse, taking your rights with them if you’re not careful.Writer Beware has a good list of what to look for in a Small Press, which people should read before going that route.

((BE WARNED: There are presses out there that call themselves Small Presses, but ARE NOT. They are vanity or subsidy presses. In fact, many of them specifically say on their websites that they are not vanity presses….but I suspect that if they feel a need to say that, it’s because someone thinks they are.))

3) Major Press Publishing
Difficulty Level = 10, possibly higher

I’m also being published via a Big 6 (5? 4?) publisher. I got this contract because my agent is full of awesome. And I tried to land an agent for a few years. And I had to rewrite. And rewrite. And edit and edit and edit. And it’s going to be well over two years from landing the agent to seeing an actual book. Sometimes this takes even longer.

Yes, there are people out there who land contracts without agents. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t have been able to do so. Nor would I have had the knowledge or clout to negotiate improvements to the boiler-plate contract like my agent did.

A large part of the difficulty level on this is its level of rejection. You have to endure a LOT of that along the way. Rejection by agents. Rejection by publishers. Rejection of books after you land a publisher. It’s not all glamour. In fact, there’s very little glamour these days.

But they have promotional advantages over other publishers. So that’s something to keep in mind, and the reason that I chose to pursue this road. Because they can bring me more readers, and that’s what I want.

And then there’s
4) Vanity/Subsidy Publishing.
Difficulty Level = -10

Yes, NEGATIVE 10 because they want to publish your manuscript. And they can edit it for you for a small fee. And they can design a cover for you for a small fee. And they can….well, whatever…for a small fee. See the pattern? This is what my friend used, and I think he’s still in the red.

These are the publishers who don’t follow Yog’s Law: All money flows toward the writer. Writer Beware has good discussion of this here as well as a list of publishers they have questions about here (scroll down).

Now, I HAVE NOT used one of these. I’m a believer in Yog’s Law.

However, I will say that I can perfectly understand why some people might chose this route. Not because they’ve not done their homework, but because they would prefer to pay someone to handle the publication process for them. If they’re primarily interested in actually holding a book in their hands and aren’t worried about the money involved, this can be a valid option. Also, if they don’t have the time to wait or are writing about a tiny niche interest (family cookbook?), this can be a valid way to go….just not for me.

ETA: In a discussion elsewhere I mention that one of the easiest ways to tell a small press from a subsidy press is to look at how many authors they have. Subsidy presses make their money from selling services and books to the authors, so they want to have as many authors as possible. If you see hundreds of writers on their author list, then they’re probably a subsidy press.

The issue here is that most people writers talk to don’t know the difference between a book published by a POD publisher and Random House. To most, a book is a book is a book. That’s Shakespeare, right?

When a writer goes to a con, though, they’re among people who DO know the difference. People who have (one hopes) done their homework. And there are a lot of old prejudices about these types of publications…so #1s may think that #3s are snobs or #3s may think they’re better than #2s….and everyone sneers at #4s. (This is being batted around in one of my RWA groups (via email)).

But that’s a topic for another day…

3 thoughts on “How (Not) to Talk to a Writer #4

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