- Issues to Consider Before Submitting
- Evaluating a Small Press
- Vanity Publishers in Small Press Clothing
- Misleading Terminology: Some Common Confusing or Deceptive Claims
First, a definition. A small press is a publisher that’s independently owned (i.e., not part of a bigger conglomerate, as with large publishing houses like Penguin or Random House), and has low annual sales income and profit. Traditionally, small presses also released limited numbers of books–10 or fewer a year–but digital technology has made publishing cheap, and these days many small presses have substantial publishing lists.
In recent years the number of small presses has skyrocketed, due again to the rise of digital technology. Whether they’re electronic only, print-on-demand only, or a hybrid of the two, digitally-based small presses save money up front by eliminating cash outlays for print runs and warehousing, making it much less expensive to set up a publishing business.
Smaller publishers play an important role as an alternative to the giant conglomerates. More flexible than the corporate behemoths and the bigger independents, largely free of the shareholder expectation that drives 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 markets that aren’t profitable enough for the big publishers to bother with (and occasionally, as in the case of the erotica market, show big publishers where the profit lies). They may spend more time on their books and authors, through better staff-to-book ratios or an explicit publishing mission–personalizing the publishing experience in a way the conglomerates often don’t.
Small presses may also be more open to re-publishing out-of-print books, making it possible for established writers to bring their backlists back into circulation. Just as important, they provide alternatives for writers who don’t want to go the agent route, or who’ve tried to find an agent without success. Most small presses accept submissions direct from authors. Indeed, agents often aren’t interested in working with them, since they tend to pay tiny advances or no advances at all.
Small presses fill an important role in the publishing ecosystem. But there are some things to consider before submitting to them.
- Limited exposure, availability, and sales.
Unlike larger independent publishers, small presses are likely to have limited ability to distribute and market their books. They may also have trouble obtaining professional reviews, and if they produce print editions, they may not be able to get bookstore presence. They are also much more likely expect authors to shoulder a substantial portion–or, in some cases, the entire responsibility–of marketing and promotion.
The logical corollary of all this is small sales. For really obscure, tiny publishers, sales may never rise beyond two digits.
- Lack of stability.
It’s tough to make it as a publisher. Even for well-capitalized publishers run by experienced people, the attrition rate is high. For amateur small presses, it’s astronomical. Many go out of business within the first year, sometimes without ever publishing a book (2007 was a particularly volatile year in that regard–this post from the Dear Author blog gives a partial recap). The sudden death of your publisher can create big problems for you, especially if the publisher doesn’t bother to return rights before it vanishes. It’s good policy to hold off on querying a new small press until it has demonstrated some staying power.
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 to become a publisher that anyone can do it, whether they know anything about publishing or not. All that’s required is to open an account with a digital printer such as Lightning Source or an electronic aggregator such as Smashwords, slap up a website, and put out a call for submissions.
Like the amateur literary agent, the amateur publisher is often sincerely well-intentioned, with a genuine desire to do right by its authors–but simply lacks the skills and knowledge to do the job. This can result in bad editing and design, author-unfriendly contracts, minimal marketing and distribution, and substantial delays, as the publisher’s poor planning and shoestring budget pushes it into logistical and financial trouble.
- An abundance of sharks.
Unfortunately, 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, 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.
- Lack of professional credit.
Many writers hope that publishing with a small press can be a stepping stone to bigger things. 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 an agent or a larger publisher will regard a book from an obscure small press as a genuine publishing credit–especially if the press is obviously unprofessional.
- No advances.
Advances are not typical in the small press world. Many writers and writers’ groups feel that payment of an advance is a minimum professional standard, a good-faith investment on the part of the publisher. Higher royalties, which are often presented as a way of making up for the lack of advances, don’t mean much if there are few sales.
The small press world can be a murky place. If you’re considering submitting to a small press, it’s essential that you 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 goals for publication. Below are some suggestions to help.
– Is there a fee, or do you have to buy something?
Many small presses can’t afford to pay advances, but they don’t ask for money. No matter where you encounter it in the publishing process, a fee or a requirement to purchase something (finished books, editing, or cover art, just to name a few) is a sign either of a vanity operation or of a self-publishing service. Don’t be fooled by terminology: the self-publishing services run by Author Solutions (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford) have recently started calling themselves “indie publishers.”
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 do not advertise for authors on Craigslist or in writers’ forums, or buy ads online or in print, or mass-mail authors out of the blue with invitations to submit. Here are a couple of examples of why you want to avoid publishers that spam, from Writer Beware’s blog.
- Are there any complaints about the press or its staff?
Do some research to find out. A websearch on the publisher’s name will sometimes turn up information–often on authors’ websites or in their blogs. Or contact Writer Beware. We’ll tell you if we’ve gotten any negative reports.
Don’t skip this step. Some small presses that fail under one name start up again almost immediately 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. It’s a very, very good idea to do some digging into a small press’s business background so you can be reasonably sure it doesn’t have a seamy past.
- How long has the press been in business?
As noted above, there’s a high attrition rate for new small presses. 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–their 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 press has been actively issuing books for at least a year (which may mean it has been in business for a good deal longer), and that it has a backlist of published books (not just one or two). Both of 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 things like quality, design, and how (or whether) the press is marketing its books.
Alternatively, be wary of a publisher that started up many years ago, and has published only a handful of books since then. Putting out two or three books a year is not a self-sustaining business model, and suggests that the publisher is a part-time hobby.
– What are the staff’s credentials?
Do they have publishing, editing, or marketing experience? If not, how does their experience dovetail with publishing and bookselling? Be wary of publishers that don’t provide any 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 any 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.
- What about the backlist?
Investigating a small press’s backlist can tell you many things. For instance, Amazon rankings can give you an idea of how the books are selling. (One of the better explanations of the mysteries of Amazon sales rankings is provided by publisher Morris Rosenthal.) The number of books the press is issuing each month can give you a sense of its publishing volume–tiny numbers may indicate a hobby press, while big numbers (dozens or even scores of books a month) may be a sign of an author mill.
Reviews from professional venues and blurbs from established authors suggest that the press is actively marketing its books. If the blurbs are all from the press’s own authors, on the other hand, it may not be doing much marketing at all.
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.
- If the press does print editions, what kind of printing technology does it use?
Whether a publisher employs digital technology, offset, or a combination tells you nothing about how professionally it selects, edits, designs, and produces its books. It does, however, tell you something about sales volume.
Digital or print-on-demand printing, which has a higher unit cost than offset, ceases to be cost-effective at runs of 500-1,000. A publisher’s exclusive reliance on digital technology, therefore, is a marker for small print runs–which in turn is a marker for smaller sales (since the size of the initial print run is a good predictor of a publisher’s sales expectations, and a small run suggests that the publisher isn’t anticipating any large orders). Publishers with higher average print sales tend to employ a hybrid model–offset for an initial print run, digital for re-orders–or to use offset only.
- If the press does print editions, does it accept returns?
Again, this is a sign of professionalism. Without a returns policy, the press has little chance of selling its books into stores (and you have little chance of persuading booksellers to stock them, if you choose to go door to door yourself). Beware, though–some small presses put so many restrictions on their returns policies that booksellers won’t find them attractive. If the publisher tells you it has a returns policy, be sure to ask for details.
- Are the books professionally produced and edited?
Order one or two to find out. Questionable or amateur small presses often produce shoddy, badly-designed, 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?
Digitally-printed books have a higher unit cost, and print book prices from small presses can be higher than for comparable books from larger publishers–sometimes, much higher. This can be a substantial discouragement for readers–who wants to pay $25 for a trade-size paperback? The author mills especially are offenders in this regard.
For ebooks, price is a highly contentious issue just now. Ebooks eliminate the physical costs of printing and warehousing, but there are other fixed costs–editing, design, distribution–that publishers have to recoup, and prices need to reflect that. Consumers, however, are strongly in favor of lower prices. As a result, ebook pricing is all over the map. Bigger publishers charge as much as $14.99, while smaller ones tend to stick to the $4.00 to $7.00 range. Meanwhile, growing evidence from the world of electronic self-publishing suggests that between $2.99 and $3.99 is most attractive for consumers.
Bottom line: unrealistically high prices will alienate readers. Make sure the publisher you’re considering prices its books competitively with other publishers in the market.
- What distribution is in place?
Distribution is a vital component of book publishing. The wider the exposure, the more sales there are likely to be.
If the press is an epublisher, it should sell its books not just on its own website, but through the most popular ebook platforms (Kindle, Nook, etc.), as well as distributors/aggregators such as Smashwords and Fictionwise.
If it does print, it should at a minimum have distribution through a wholesaler such as Ingram or Baker & Taylor (though be aware that this is no different from the distribution provided by a self-publishing service, and is likely to result in small sales). One way to double-check this is to make sure the books are listed on Amazon and other major online vendors.
Ideally (though unfortunately not commonly), the press will have a relationship not just with a wholesaler, but with a distributor. A distributor provides a sales force, which sells the press’s books into brick-and-mortar stores (for volume print sales, a balance of online and offline presence is essential: ecommerce accounts for a hefty share of printed book sales–nearly 44% in the USA, as of November 2012–but brick-and-mortar retailer still represent a significant sales source, around 35% in the US, and nearly 60% in the UK). 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 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, it should not be your responsibility to get your book into physical bookstores–or that pressure them to become customers by buying their own books for re-sale.
- What about the contract?
Whether because of ignorance, greed, or a combination, terrible contracts are common among small presses. Problems include life-of-copyright grants without an adequate reversion clause, demanding a transfer of copyright, claiming subsidiary rights the publisher isn’t capable of marketing, basing 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, and offering a contract that’s not negotiable.
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. 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.
See the Links section, below, for some contract terms to avoid.
- Is the press forthcoming?
Does its website name its staff and provide biographical information (so you can assess their experience)? Are your questions answered promptly, fully, and without evasion? A publisher that isn’t transparent about its business, refuses information, or scolds you for asking questions is a publisher to avoid.
Many less-than-honest vanity publishers attempt to dodge the vanity label by posing as real publishers–omitting to mention their fees on their websites or other public materials, or 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 printing–just to finance their own editing, or to commit to pre-selling a certain number of books. But whether you’re laying down 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 much (or any) money in marketing and distribution.
Here are some of the “alternative” charges you may encounter from these stealth vanity publishers (for the names and M.O’s of some stealth 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 the cost of preparing your book for printing, 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 print-on-demand technology to produce their books, it more than covers their expenses.
- A fee for some aspect of the publication process other than printing/binding. Some publishers ask you to pay for editing, or for your book cover art, or for liability insurance, or for a publicity campaign (commercial publishers provide these things as a routine part of the publication process, at their own expense). Services may cost thousands of dollars, and are often minimal and not of professional quality.
- A claim that your fee is only part of the cost, with the publisher paying 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 (thus eliminating the expense of print runs and warehousing), provide minimal editing and marketing, and use 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 minimal discount. This can be more expensive than straightforward vanity/subsidy publishing.
- A pre-sale requirement. A similar contract clause may require you to pre-sell a certain number of books prior to publication, 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–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 salesman for his 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.
- A requirement that you find “investors” to finance your book, or organizations to agree to buy it. You don’t have to front the money yourself–but if you don’t deliver the financial backing, you won’t be published.
- 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 buy 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.
Whether through ignorance or an active desire to deceive, small presses may use confused or misleading terminology to suggest that they provide more exposure 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” is a term of very recent origin. It was invented by the first of the author mills, in order to distinguish itself from the print-on-demand self-publishing services whose business model, except for the upfront fee, it otherwise followed very closely.
At the time, “traditional pubisher” had no established meaning in the real publishing industry, which by definition doesn’t include vanity and self-publishing operations. (“Commercial publisher” or “trade publisher” is more appropriate.) However, it has since come into common use, and you’ll often see a claim of “traditional” publishing on the websites of small presses. The implication is that though they’re smaller, they’re essentially just like Random House or Penguin in business practices, quality, and integrity.
In fact, all you can count on is that the publisher probably won’t ask for money on contract signing. Other components of the commercial publishing model are often missing (rigorous selectivity, standard discounts, a returns policy, competitive book pricing, effective marketing), and elements absent from the commercial model are often present (nonstandard contract terms and peculiar business practices).
Publishers that call themselves “traditional” aren’t necessarily dishonest. Many are simply inexperienced. Either way, be aware that the term tells you nothing about how the publisher selects, produces, and markets its books, or how it treats its authors.
Wholesaler vs. Distributor
Often, if you ask a small press whether it has a relationship with a distributor, it will tell you that it does. It may even claim that it has “worldwide distribution.” But most often, what that actually means is that their 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.
There are major implications to this 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 on Amazon, but in actual 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).
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 to aggressively 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, book promotion–setting up signings and readings, booking appearances, blogging, maintaining websites, writing articles, establishing social media presence, and so on–is not the same as book marketing–sending out galleys for review, producing catalogs, attending book fairs, advertising, and working with a sales force, either the publisher’s own or a distributor’s, to sell books into stores. While even successful authors with bigger publishers are expected to be pro-active with self-promotion, they are not expected to do their own marketing. The publisher takes care of that.
When small presses tell authors they must self-promote, what they often mean is that the author must handle much of the marketing as well. However, authors don’t have access to the marketing channels of the book trade, and book marketing is extremely difficult for an author to do effectively. Plus, if you are not only responsible for setting up signings and scheduling your blog tour, but for attempting to handsell your book into stores, it’s going to be tough (and expensive) for you to handle both effectively.
Any small press will expect you to actively promote your books. But this burden should be shared. As enthusiastically as you may blow your own horn, you won’t get far without your publisher’s support. 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.
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, 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 some 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.
- An informative blog post from literary agent Rachelle Gardner on sussing out legitimate publishers.
- From editor Angela James, suggestions on how to choose a digital publisher.
- From Dear Author: detailed information on what to look for in an epublisher.
- Precautions for Small Press Authors: from Writer Beware’s blog, suggestions on researching small presses, and how authors can protect themselves from problem publishers.
- Also from Writer Beware’s blog, a rundown on the lies dishonest fee-charging publishers tell to attempt to convince writers that they’re “real” publishers.
- From lawyer and writer Ellen M. Kozak, an article on spotting disreputable publishers: Writer Beware: Spotting the Publishing Scam.
- 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.
- Preditors and Editors provides lists of agents and publishers, with “not recommended” notations to indicate those that charge fees or engage in other writer abuses.
- A good spot to research the reputation of small presses: the Bewares and Background Check area of the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Check the index first, to see if the press you’re interested in has already been discussed.
- Google Groups is a searchable database of Usenet newsgroups, with message archives dating back to 1981. Writers often post questions or complaints to Usenet.
- The vital importance of reading your publishing contract–a step that many authors seem to skip.
- From Writer Beware’s blog, posts on bad contract clauses (mostly from small press contracts): temporary transfer of copyright, royalties paid on net profit, an outrageous reversion clause.
- The Passive Voice, a blog run by an intellectual property lawyer, includes a variety of contract-related posts (mostly from larger publishers’ contracts).
- From Writer Beware’s blog, the dangers of termination fees in publishing contracts.
- A comprehensive blog post on issues to be aware of in digital publishing contracts, from editor Angela James.
- A list of clauses to watch out for in epublishers’ contracts, from EPIC, an association for electronically-published authors.
- Keep Your Copyrights, a copyright information resource from Columbia University, includes a helpful section on publishing contract clauses, both good and bad.
- RX for Contracts, an article from publishing lawyer Daniel Steven.
- Attorney David Koehser offers some tips on How to Read a Publishing Agreement.
- From the Authors’ Guild: Negotiation Tips for Nine Typical Clauses.
- From the Australian Society of Authors: Contract FAQs.
- An Introduction to Publishing Contracts, from SFWA. A tutorial on publishing contract terms and their implications for authors.
- From Writer Beware’s blog, some suggestions for Getting Out of Your Book Contract (Maybe).
- Editor Angela James on the business model of epublishing.
- From the blog of successful agency BookEnds, an experienced epublisher takes A Look at Epublishing.
- Ebooks from the Publisher’s Point of View, an article by Sean McLachlan, on ebook income, readership, credibility, and other important issues.
- Author Moira Rogers explains third party royalty rates and the impact they can have on ebook authors’ income.
- Ebook to print: does it matter to you? From the Dear Author blog, interviews with a pair of successful epublishers on the importance (or not) of offering electronic books in print.
- Ebooks vs. print books: This interesting article by Lida Quillen, owner of Twlight Times Books, reports the results of a 2007 survey of epublishers that also produce print books.
- Ebook sales statistics, compiled by the International Digital Publishing Forum.
- The Book Industry Study Group conducts an ongoing survey on consumers’ attitudes toward ebook reading. Some of the recent results are discussed here.
- EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) is a professional organization for published and contracted ebook and print authors, established to provide a strong voice for epublishing. Its website includes many helpful resources for authors, including lists of epublishers, great articles on ebooks and epublishing, a model publishing contract, a publisher’s code of ethics, and a list of contract red flags.
- Canadian eAuthors is a site that features Canadian ebook authors.
Digital Print (Print-on-Demand) Publishing
- Publishing in the Future: The Potential and Reality of POD, by Sean Wallace of Prime Books, offers an excellent discussion of a variety of issues associated with independent publishers’ use of digital technology.
- From Aeonix Publishing Group: a concise discussion of the issues that factor into a publisher’s decision whether or not to use digital technology to produce its books.
- POD Books from the Publisher’s Point of View, an article by Sean McLachlan, interviews a number of independent publishers on the pros and cons of digital publishing.
- Blogs that review books published by digitally-based independent publishers, and discuss related issues: P.O.D.LINGS, None May Say, and POD Critic.
- Editor Angela James on keeping your expectations of your publisher reasonable.
- The Passive Voice, a blog run by an intellectual property lawyer, keeps tabs on the publishing industry from a legal perspective.
- The Association of American Publishers, a trade group for publishers in the USA, provides useful info, industry stats, and a list of member publishers.
- The Independent Publishers Guild, a similar organization in the UK, also lists its member publishers.
- The Independent Book Publishers’ Association (formerly Publishers Marketing Association) is a US-based group focusing on smaller presses.
- Ditto for the Small Publishers Association of North America (SPAN).
- The Complete Review provides a substantial list of independent publishers.
- NewPages.com’s List of Independent and University Publishers.
- Fictionwise’s List of Electronic Publishers.
- Another big list of epublishers from Lida Quillen.
- The International Digital Publishing Forum (formerly the Open eBook Forum) is a trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of epublishing.
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