Issues to Consider Before Submitting
Evaluating a Small Press
Hybrid Publishers
Vanity Publishers in Small Press Clothing
Misleading Terminology: Some Common Confusing or Deceptive Claims

Digital technology has transformed the world of small press publishing. Whether they’re ebook only or a mix of ebooks and print, digitally-based small presses save money by eliminating the cost of print runs and warehousing, making it far less expensive to start a publishing business than it was in the past. The host of easily-accessible digital platforms and providers makes it possible for just about anyone to become a publisher, whether or not they have relevant skills or expertise. These things have driven a huge increase in the number of small presses since the turn of the century.

Small publishers play a vital role as an alternative to giant conglomerates such as Penguin Random House. More flexible than the corporate behemoths and bigger independents, largely free of the shareholder expectations that drive the major houses in pursuit of profit, they can afford to take on authors and books that the larger houses may overlook or be unwilling to risk. They can serve niche or specialty or experimental audiences that aren’t profitable enough for the big publishers to bother with. And they’re an important alternative for writers who don’t want to go the agent-to-big-publisher route, but prefer to avoid the DIY work of self-publishing.

Still, there are some important considerations to take into account if you’re thinking of submitting to a small press.

Issues to Consider Before Submitting

– Lack of stability.

It’s tough to make it as a publisher. Even for well-capitalized presses run by experienced people, the attrition rate is high. For those run by people with limited experience and/or funds, it’s even higher. Many small presses go out of business within the first couple of years.

The sudden death of your publisher can create big problems, especially if the publisher doesn’t bother to return your rights before it vanishes. It’s good policy, therefore, to hold off on querying a small press until it has been issuing books for at least a year, and has demonstrated some staying power. (This also makes it possible for you to evaluate things like quality, sales, and marketing, and allows time for problems and complaints, if any, to surface.)

For an extended discussion of risks of signing up with a brand-new publisher, see this post from Writer Beware’s blog: New Publishers: To Query or Not to Query.

– Lack of competence.

Once upon a time, the substantial financial outlay involved in setting up a publishing company was a deterrent to dabblers. These days, it’s so cheap and easy to become a publisher that anyone can do it, whether they know anything about publishing or not.

Like the amateur literary agent, the amateur publisher may have good intentions and a genuine desire to do right by authors–but lacks the skills and knowledge to do the job right. This can lead to bad editing and/or cover art, author-unfriendly contracts, ineffective (or no) marketing, fouled-up publishing schedules, poor communication, inaccurate royalty accounting, and more. It can also push the publisher into serious financial and logistical trouble, which in turn can provoke unprofessional or even abusive behavior from the publisher and its staff as things get increasingly bad.

This may sound alarmist, but it’s unfortunately quite common. A few examples, from Writer Beware’s blog:

– An abundance of sharks.

The ease and cheapness of digital technology has also made it very easy for unscrupulous or dishonest people to become publishers. From vanity publishers masquerading as legitimate small presses (see Vanity Publishers in Small Press Clothing, below), to “author mills” that seek to turn a profit on enormous author volume and skimpy services, these companies are the Venus flytraps of the writing world, lying in wait for the inexperienced or desperate authors who are their sustenance of choice.

– Small sales and exposure.

Small presses’ limited budgets–and, often, limited expertise–may mean limited ability to distribute and market. Many small presses are not capable of brick-and-mortar distribution (still a major source of sales for print), and may do little in terms of marketing beyond maintaining a website and posting on social media. For really obscure small presses, sales may never even rise into three digits.

– Lack of professional credit.

Many writers hope that publishing with a small press can be a stepping stone to bigger things–and indeed it can be. But hundreds of such publishers exist, and new ones start up all the time–and in such a hyper-crowded marketplace, it’s difficult for one publisher to stand out from another. You can’t assume that a title from a little-known small press will be regarded as a genuine publishing credit–especially if the press isn’t capable of producing a professionally designed and edited book.

Evaluating a Small Press

The small press world can be a murky place. If you’re considering submitting to a small press, it’s vital to carefully evaluate the company ahead of time, both to assess its professionalism and to be sure that what it can do for you is in line with your own goals.

– Is there a fee, or do you have to buy something?

Many reputable small presses can’t afford to pay advances, but they don’t ask for cash, or require you to buy something (finished books, editing, cover art, just to name a few).  If you have to spend money as a condition of publication, you’re likely dealing with either a vanity publisher or a self-publishing service. Don’t be fooled by terminology: some self-publishing services style themselves “indie publishers”, and some vanity presses describe themselves as “hybrid publishers” (see the discussion of hybrid publishers, below).

Fee-charging publishers posing as “traditional” small presses can be inventive about hiding or attempting to sanitize their fees. For examples of these sneaky practices, see Vanity Publishers in Small Press Clothing, below.

– Did the press solicit or spam you?

Reputable publishers don’t advertise for authors on Craigslist, or (usually) email authors out of the blue with invitations to submit. Writer Beware’s blog provides some examples of why you want to avoid publishers that spam.

– Are there any complaints about the press or its staff?

A websearch on the publisher’s name can turn up information–in discussion groups, or on authors’ websites and blogs (see the Links section, below, for more suggestions on where to research). You can also contact Writer Beware; we’ll tell you if we’ve gotten any negative reports.

Don’t skip this step. A publisher may be calling for submissions even as complaints are blowing up on the internet, and a professional-seeming facade may disguise a long history of publicly-aired problems. These things are more common than you might think. Also, some small presses that fail under one name start up again under another; and staff who leave under questionable circumstances may start their own publishing enterprises. Here’s one example: a small press that fell apart under accusations of nonpayment and other problems, and whose owner, using a different surname, started a new company just a few months later.

– How long has the press been in business?

As noted above, there’s a high attrition rate for new small publishers. This can work out badly for you, because a publisher that liquidates or goes bankrupt can tie up your rights, or may pass them on to third parties without your permission. Sudden failure is a possibility with any small press–finances are often precarious–but if you sign with a publisher that’s just starting up, or has been in business only a few months, you are really taking a risk.

Look for evidence that the publisher has been issuing books for at least a year (two years is even better), and that it has a decent backlist of published books (not just two or three). These things suggest at least some stability, and show that the press is capable of taking books all the way through the production process; you’ll also be able to judge important factors like quality, design, and how (or whether) the press is marketing its books.

What are the staff’s credentials?

Do they have a publishing, editing, or marketing background? If not, how does their experience dovetail with publishing and bookselling? Be wary of publishers whose staff don’t have relevant work experience–and even more wary of publishers that provide no staff information on their websites.

– What’s the website like?

Is it professionally designed and easy to navigate? Is the text well-written and formatted? Do the links work? The website is the press’s business face, and should reflect a commitment to professionalism. If a press isn’t capable, or doesn’t care enough, to create an attractive website free of typos, grammatical errors, and the like, what kind of books will it produce? On the other hand, a glitzy website is not a guarantee of quality.

Also, a reputable publisher’s website will be book-focused–it will publicize its authors, and try to attract readers. A questionable publisher’s website will be service-focused–it will promote itself, and try to attract writers.

Be wary of a small press whose website contains large amounts of verbiage about how closed-minded the traditional publishing industry is, or tells scary stories about how hard it is for new writers to find publication, or touts itself as providing revolutionary opportunities for overlooked writers. It may be an author mill trolling for clients, or an amateur endeavor staffed by frustrated authors.

– How are staff paid?

Many cash-strapped small presses pay their staff not a salary or a flat fee, but a royalty on the books they work on. This saves the publisher cash upfront, since it only has to pay if it gets paid.

It’s not always so great for staff, though, who have to work on spec; and if the publisher does a poor job of production, distribution, marketing, or all three, sales may be dismal. This can become a recipe for frequent staff turnover, as editors and designers realize that their hard work isn’t going to be adequately compensated–a problem that has a direct impact on authors, if their editor or cover artist quits in the middle of the process.

– What about the backlist?

Investigating a small press’s backlist can tell you many things.

For instance, Amazon rankings can give you insight into sales volume Amazon isn’t the only retailer out there, but it owns 60% or better of the ebook market, and for most small presses, ebooks far outstrip print. Amazon rankings, therefore, can provide a general idea of well a book is selling. (Here are some attempts to explain the perennial mystery of Amazon rankings; you can find many more online.)

The number of books the press is issuing can give you a sense of its publishing volume. Tiny numbers (fewer than six or eight books a year) may indicate a hobby press, while big numbers (dozens or even scores of books a month) may be a sign of an author mill.

Are there any gaps in the press’s publishing history? A hiatus of several months or years suggests logistical or financial problems; ditto for a press that abruptly stops issuing books, regardless of how active its publishing program may have been before then. Missed publication dates are also a red flag.

Reviews from trade publications like PW and Booklist, or from high-traffic book blogs like Book Smugglers, as well as blurbs from established authors, suggest that the press is actively working to market its books. If the reviews and blurbs are all from obscure blogs or the press’s own authors, or if there are no reviews or blurbs at all, it may not be much of a marketing partner.

– Are the books professionally produced and edited?

Order a couple to find out. I can’t overemphasize how important this is. Questionable or amateur small presses often produce shoddy, poorly-formatted, error-ridden books with ugly, unprofessional-looking cover art. Error-free text and attractive covers are no guarantee that a press is reputable, of course, but their absence does suggest a lack of professional expertise, and won’t enhance your book’s appeal.

– Is the pricing reasonable?

Compare the publisher’s list prices with similar publishers, large and small, to be sure it is pricing its titles competitively. High list prices can especially be a problem if the press produces print editions, since digitally-printed books have a bigger unit cost than offset-printed books, and must be priced higher to ensure the publisher’s profit. Regardless of format, inflated prices will alienate readers.

– What distribution is in place?

Distribution is a vital component of book publishing. The wider the distribution, the more sales there are likely to be.

For ebooks, the press should distribute through the whole range of major ebook retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Kobo, iTunes, etc.), distributors/aggregators such as Smashwords.

For print, the press should at a minimum have distribution through a wholesaler such as Ingram or Gardners, so its books can be sold on the websites of major retailers like Amazon and can be ordered by brick-and-mortar bookstores. Even better is a relationship with a distributor as well as a wholesaler. A distributor provides a sales force to sell the press’s books into brick-and-mortar stores. A small press whose books are stocked in physical bookstores, even if only regionally, will likely have higher average sales figures than one whose books are only available online.

For a discussion of the important differences between wholesalers and distributors, see Misleading Terminology, below.

– What kind of marketing does the press do?

Does it produce a seasonal catalog? Send out unlimited review copies? Advertise? Attend book fairs, writers’ conferences, and/or genre conventions? These are all important components of book marketing, in many cases done long before a book is offered for sale.

Many small presses have limited budgets, and can’t afford to do much in the way of marketing. They expect their authors to play a major part. This is fine, as long as you’re up for it and the publisher is honest about it. Be wary, though, of publishers that try to turn their authors into an unpaid sales force. No matter what you may have heard, the entire burden of marketing should not fall on you; your publisher should be a partner in the marketing process, undertaking efforts of its own. Especially, a press should not require authors to pay for marketing (for instance, charging for sending out review copies) or pressure authors to become customers by buying their own books for re-sale.

Don’t take the publisher’s marketing promises at face value. Writer Beware hears all the time from authors who were promised the moon and got little or nothing. Research the publisher’s marketing efforts to make sure it’s doing what it claims.

– What about the contract?

Whether because of ignorance, greed, or a combination, terrible contracts are a common problem in the small press world. Issues include life-of-copyright grants without adequate reversion clauses, demands for copyright transfer, claiming subsidiary rights the publisher isn’t capable of exploiting, paying royalties on net profit, retaining a financial interest in the author’s work even after the contract has terminated, claiming the right to edit at will without seeking the author’s permission, tying next-book option clauses to current contract terms, imposing kill fees for early termination, tying rights reversion to purchase of overstock…the list goes on.

Contracts are a minefield for authors, who may not have the knowledge or experience to recognize bad contract terms, or to grasp their implications. Don’t just assume your contract is OK, or take the publisher’s word that its terms are standard (for these and other unwise assumptions, see my blog post:  Evaluating Publishing Contracts: Six Ways You May be Sabotaging Yourself). Get qualified advice (if you seek legal counsel, be sure the lawyer has experience with publishing and is familiar with publishing contract terms, otherwise s/he may not be able to help you). Writer Beware will also answer questions if you email us.

You should be able to do at least some negotiating. There are contract terms publishers almost never negotiate (warranties and indemnities, for instance), and small presses may be less flexible on contract negotiations than bigger houses–but there should be at least some wiggle room on things like option clauses, holding onto subsidiary rights, how many author copies you get, and more.

If a publisher flatly refuses to negotiate, be wary. This may indicate an autocratic attitude toward writers–not a good sign for the road ahead–or the publisher may be hiding the fact that it doesn’t understand its own contract (more common than you might think).

See the Links section, below, for a list of contract terms to avoid.

– Is the press forthcoming?

Does its website name its staff and provide biographical information (so you can assess their experience)? Is the submissions process clear and complete? Are your questions answered promptly, fully, and without evasion? A publisher that isn’t transparent about its business, refuses to provide information–or, worst of all, scolds you for asking questions–is a publisher to avoid.

Hybrid Publishers

When is a fee-based publisher not a vanity publisher? When it’s a hybrid publisher. Sometimes.

A growing number of pay-to-play publishers describe themselves as “hybrid publishers.” When used properly, this term indicates a publisher that straddles the divide between traditional and self-publishing: charging a fee and having a lower gatekeeping threshold than highly-selective trade publishers, but offering more value in terms of editing, design, marketing, and/or distribution than a self-publishing platform. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous vanity publishers also call themselves hybrids, in an effort to make themselves seem more respectable.

How to tell the difference? Author and editor Jane Friedman provides this advice:

  • A good hybrid will have some method of curating or selecting what projects to take on. In other words: They consider the market potential of your work and its ability to succeed. If they appear to take anyone and everyone, then you’re better off evaluating the best self-publishing service to use. Don’t kid yourself about leveling up to a hybrid. (So-called hybrids aren’t averse to playing to your ego to get your business.)
  • A great hybrid offers the potential of bricks-and-mortar distribution—whether to bookstores or other retail channels. They might not be able to promise it, but if they’re actively working with a distributor or retailer—and they have a catalog of titles for marketing purposes—that’s a good sign. A self-publishing author can easily get distribution through online retail, via Amazon and Ingram (distribution fees are zero or little for online retail), so the more the hybrid invests in marketing and distributing print editions, the more they’re offering something you may not be able to accomplish yourself.
  • A good hybrid works with you both pre-publication and post-publication. The relationship doesn’t end once the book is done. (However, you may have to pay fees to continue the relationship.)

Jane also advises that a good hybrid should “pay better royalties than a traditional publishing deal. (Fifty percent is common.)”

Don’t take the hybrid’s word for any of this. Investigate on your own.

  • Search for complaints; Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations, & Background Check forum is a good place to start. Contact Writer Beware; we may have heard something.
  • Buy a few of the hybrid’s books to get a sense of whether claims of gatekeeping are real, and production is professional.
  • Make sure that the hybrid is offering more than just a self-publishing-style suite of services, or pretending that the basic elements of digital publishing (such as “worldwide” distribution) are premium extras. What will it do for you that you can’t do for yourself?
  • Check the hybrid’s claims. Can it really get its books into brick-and-mortar stores? Does it really do the marketing it promises?
  • As yourself whether it’s worth it. Hybrids can be seriously expensive–mid- to high five figures is not uncommon–and some hybrids don’t even include everything you might want in their basic packages; you may have to pay extra for editing, for instance. That makes it even more important to determine that you’re not being rooked by a vanity publisher in disguise.

Vanity Publishers in Small Press Clothing

As writers become more aware of the pitfalls of vanity publishing, many less-than-honest pay-to-play operations are trying dodge the vanity label by omitting mention of their fees on their websites and other public materials, or by shifting their charges to areas other than printing and binding. I often hear from writers who are confused because they’ve been offered a contract by a publisher that describes itself as “traditional” or “small press,” but wants its authors to make some sort of financial commitment in order to be published.

If asked, such publishers vehemently deny that they are vanity publishers. After all, they don’t accept everyone who submits! Or they aren’t asking their authors to pay for production–just to finance their own editing, or to commit to buying or pre-selling a certain number of books.

But whether you’re shelling out cash for book production, finished books, or adjunct services, the bottom line is the same: you are paying to see your book in print. A publisher that turns its authors into customers has little incentive to get books into the hands of readers, and is not likely to invest resources in marketing and distribution.

Here are some of the “alternative” charges you may encounter from vanity publishers in disguise (for the names and M.O’s of some particularly stealthy vanity publishers, see this post from Writer Beware’s blog):

A setup fee or deposit. Publishers that require a setup fee will tell you that you’re not paying to publish–just contributing to production costs, or making a “good faith investment” in your own success. Some publishers promise to refund the fee under certain circumstances (usually carefully crafted so they’ll almost never be fulfilled).

The setup fee often isn’t large by vanity standards–a few hundred dollars–but since such publishers typically use digital technology to produce their books, it more than covers the cost of production, and probably yields a profit into the bargain.

A fee for some aspect of the publication process other than printing/formatting. Some publishers ask you to chip in for editing, or for your book cover art, or for publicity (real publishers provide these things part of the publication process, at their expense). Services may cost thousands of dollars, and are often minimal and not of professional quality.

– Fees for “extra” services over and above the basics of publication. The publisher may offer you the opportunity to pay for expedited editing, or special website placement, or inclusion in book fair catalogs, or enhanced marketing. These services are optional–so the publisher can claim it’s not making authors to pay to publish–but there’s often heavy pressure to buy them, and authors who don’t pull out their credit cards are treated like dirt.

A claim that your fee is only part of the cost, with the publisher fronting the rest. The publisher may tell you that it will spend as much or more on your book than you’re being charged, or that the services it provides–warehousing, distribution, publicity–are worth far more than your “investment.”

At best, this is an exaggeration; at worst, it’s lie. Since most vanity publishers these days use digital technology, provide little in the way of editing and marketing, and access the same wholesale distribution channels employed by self-publishing services, their production and distribution costs are minimal. Most of the time, your fee pays the whole freight, plus the publisher’s overhead and profit.

A pre-purchase requirement. Some publishers include a clause in their contracts requiring you to buy a specific quantity of finished books–from a few hundred to several thousand copies, often at a paltry discount. This can be more expensive than just paying an upfront fee.

A pre-sale requirement. A similar contract clause may require you to pre-sell a certain number of books prior to your publication date, or to “guarantee” a minimum number of sales (usually, exactly as much as is needed to enable the publisher to recoup its investment and make a profit). You don’t have to buy them yourself–you may be asked to find “investors” to commit to purchases–but if you don’t deliver the sales, the publishing deal is off.

This is an especially tricky variation on the pay-to-publish scheme, because it allows the publisher to claim that it’s not asking you for cash. But it’s not an author’s job to be a salesperson for his or her own books–that’s what the publisher is supposed to do.

A sales guarantee. If your book doesn’t sell X number of copies within X amount of time, you must agree to buy the difference. Most authors have an over-optimistic vision of the sales they can achieve, and figure they’ll never have to pay up–but vanity publishers’ nonexistent marketing and distribution ensures that they’re usually wrong.

In an especially sneaky version of this ploy, the publisher pressures authors to buy their own books for re-sale, but doesn’t allow author purchases to count toward the guarantee total–so authors are snagged twice, once during the honeymoon period (the six months or so before the first royalty statement arrives), and again at the expiration of the guarantee period.

Withheld royalties. You get no royalty income until the cost of production has been recouped. In this manifestation of vanity publishing, you don’t have to physically lay out any cash–but money that should be yours is kept by the publisher, which amounts to the same thing.

Pressure to buy your book yourself. The publisher may not contractually require you to purchase your own book–indeed, it may make a big deal of telling you that you don’t have to purchase anything. Even so, it will put you under heavy buying pressure–for instance, providing an Author Guide that extols the financial benefit of buying your own book for resale, or bombarding you with special incentives designed to spur author purchases, such as extra discounts or contests for the month’s top seller.

These are all signs of a publisher that relies on its authors as its main customer base, and therefore has little interest in selling books to the public. Unfortunately, if the publisher employs such tactics, you usually don’t find out about them until you’ve already signed the contract.

A variety of other sneaky tactics. Some examples from Writer Beware’s complaint files: requiring authors to pay for publisher-sponsored conferences or lectures or “publicity opportunities”; requiring authors to sell ads that are bound into the company’s books; hawking company stock to authors, despite the lack of an appropriate license; requiring authors to hire the publisher’s staff to perform various services. The permutations are endless.

Misleading Terminology: Some Common Confusing or Deceptive Claims

Whether through ignorance or an active desire to deceive, small presses may use confusing or misleading terminology to suggest that they provide more benefit than they actually do, or to distract authors from nonstandard business practices. Here’s how to decode some of the common terms you may encounter.

Traditional Publisher

“Traditional publisher” is a term of relatively recent origin. It was created before the turn of the century by a notorious author mill to suggest (falsely) that there was a meaningful difference between it and the self-publishing services whose business model it followed very closely.

At the time, “traditional publisher” had no real meaning, since self-publishing was embryonic and there was no need to make a distinction. However, the seismic shifts in the publishing landscape over the past decade and a half, which have transformed self-publishing from a last resort for the desperate into a viable alternative career path, have created the distinction on their own, giving meaning to a term originally invented to hoodwink naive authors.

Small presses often call themselves “traditional publishers.” The implication is that though they’re tiny, they’re essentially just like Penguin Random House or HarperCollins. But “traditional publisher” is still a very fluid label, and you can never really be sure what it denotes. You can probably count on the publisher not asking for upfront money, but other components of the true traditional publishing model (rigorous selectivity, professional editing and design, competitive pricing, effective marketing) may be missing, and elements absent from that model may present (nonstandard contract terms and business practices).

Bottom line: “traditional publisher” tells you nothing about how the publisher selects, produces, and markets its books, or how it treats its authors.

Wholesaler vs. Distributor

If you ask a small press whether it has a relationship with a distributor, it will probably tell you that it does. It may even claim that it has “worldwide distribution.” But most often, what that actually means is that its books are carried by one or more wholesalers.

Many people use the terms “distributor” and “wholesaler” interchangeably. But there are important differences (for a more in-depth discussion, see Distributor vs. Wholesaler: Getting Your Book on the Shelf, from Writer Beware’s blog):

  • Wholesalers (or wholesale distributors) provide warehousing and fulfillment services for publishers. They keep publishers’ books on hand (in either physical or virtual form, depending on the publisher’s business model) and fill orders as they come in. Examples: Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Bertram, Gardners, Brodart.
  • Distributors (sometimes called master distributors) do everything a wholesaler does–plus, they maintain sales forces to sell publishers’ books into bookstores. Distributors are also much more selective than wholesalers, carefully scrutinizing a publisher’s list before agreeing to work with it. Examples: PGW/Perseus, Independent Publishers Group, The Book Service, and Orca.

If your book is being published in print, this is a vital distinction. For volume sales of print books, there needs to be a balance of online and offline availability–your books need to be sold not just online, but in physical bookstores. Without the direct sales component supplied by a distributor’s sales force, it’s unlikely this will happen, unless you yourself can persuade a store to stock your books (which, no matter what your publisher may tell you, is not your job).

Bottom line: a small press that works only with wholesalers will sell only online. If you care about real-world shelf presence, this is something to take into account.

Available in Bookstores

Many small presses are eager to assure you that your book will be “available in bookstores.” Unless the press works with a distributor (as distinct from a wholesaler, as noted above), what this usually means is that your book can be special-ordered by a brick-and-mortar bookseller, usually on a pre-paid basis, sometimes with an extra charge to cover shipping and handling.

Unfortunately, inexperienced writers often assume that “available” means “stocked,” and expect that their books will appear on bookstore shelves. Less-than-honest small presses take advantage of this by failing to explain what “available” actually means, or by skewing their use of the word in ways that encourage authors to make unrealistic assumptions.

“Everyone Has to Self-Promote”

Operating on tiny budgets and with limited staff, small presses often don’t have the resources (or the skill) to effectively market their books. They may rely on their authors as an unpaid sales force, and justify this by claiming that “everyone,” even bestselling authors with the biggest houses, must self-promote.

This is true. However, the book promotion that authors do–setting up signings and readings, attending conferences, maintaining websites, writing articles, social media presence, and so on–is intended to be undertaken in partnership with the book marketing the publisher does–sending out review copies, producing catalogs, attending book fairs, buying print and online advertising. The author, in other words, doesn’t have to go it alone.

When small presses tell authors they must self-promote, they often do mean the author must go it alone, with the publisher’s only responsibility being to maintain a website, see that books are listed with retailers, and process royalties. Some presses won’t even provide review copies. Others require authors to agree to elaborate self-promotion schemes (and penalize authors who they perceive are not doing enough).

Any small press will expect you to actively promote your books. But the burden of promotion should be shared, and the press should never browbeat you or blame you for poor sales. It’s a very good idea to find out, before signing up with a small press, exactly what sort of marketing effort it puts behind its books–and what it expects you to do.


Researching Publishers and Checking Reputations

  • Successful novelist Piers Anthony maintains an internet publishing resource that lists and describes epublishers and small presses, and flags those that have problems or are the focus of complaints.
  • The Erotic Romance blog provides lots of information–and warnings where necessary–including publisher listings and sales figures, with a focus on epublishing.
  • The Dear Author blog covers the romance industry, and frequently provides news and updates on epublishers and epublishing.
  • Writer Beware’s Thumbs Down Publisher List: the publishers about which Writer Beware has received the greatest number of advisories and complaints over the past several years.
  • Writer Stacia Kane provides excellent tips for evaluating a small press, and contrasts the website of a reputable small press with the website of one of the most infamous of the author mills. This is an old post, but it’s still relevant.
  • E-mail Writer Beware. SFWA has assembled a large archive of documentation on publishers that engage in questionable practices. Send us the names of any publishers you’d like to know about, and we’ll summarize for you any data that’s in our files.


  • The Authors Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative takes a fresh look at the standard book contract, and highlights where change is needed.

General Resources

Links checked/Page updated: 12/13/16

Except for graphics, and where specifically indicated, all Writer Beware® contents copyright © Victoria Strauss