Open Letter from a Writer to New Publishers

Posted by Richard White for Writer Beware

Dear New Publisher:

You may have noticed people discussing your company on various web sites. Normally, this would be a good thing, I mean, free publicity, right? But, when you go to these sites, they may be discussing your company in unflattering terms and asking all kinds of questions about your ability to get books into bookstores.

“But, wait. They can’t say that about my baby.”

Actually, yes they can. See, just as every writer does not “deserve” to be published, not every person who dreams of being a publisher deserves to hang out a shingle and call themselves such.

Publishing is a unique critter. Even so, one thing it has in common with other businesses is you need experience. Period. This cannot be overstated. If you have no experience in the industry (and being an unpublished or even a published author does not equate to publishing experience), what are you offering your authors?

Sorry, good intentions are not enough.

And if you’ve never worked in the industry, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Any publisher thinking about starting up must be able to answer the following questions:

  • What’s your experience in publishing?
  • If you don’t have any experience, do you have partners who have publishing experience, people who can guide you over the shoals of a start-up publishing business?
  • Have you ever run a company before in any capacity?
  • What’s your business plan?
  • Have you secured sufficient funding to get this business off the ground
  • Do you have realistic goals (starting small, focusing on your strengths, adding new lines only after you get established, not taking on too many authors)
  • What’s your target market? Bookstores? E-books only?
  • What’s your plan for getting books into bookstores?
  • Do you have your distributors lined up before you open up for submissions?
  • Do you know the difference between a distributor and a wholesaler?
  • Who’re your editors?
  • How much experience do they have editing novels or non-fiction?
  • How many authors do you expect to publish a year?
  • Who’s handling publicity for your company?
  • Have you established a realistic time line to release ARCs to readers/reviewers/etc. before the book is ready to sell?
  • What reviewers will you be sending preview copies of the book to?
  • Do you have a web site oriented to attracting readers and selling books and not just there to lure in new authors?
  • Who’re your sales reps? How many do you have?
  • Do you intend to use your authors as an unpaid sales force?
  • Who’re the artists you have lined up to do covers?
  • Are you paying advances?
  • How are royalties calculated? Cover price? Net?
  • Can people see a copy of the contract to compare it against other standard publishing contracts?
  • Is your contract author-friendly, or at least author-neutral?

If you’re not ready to answer these questions, not only are you going to lose a lot of money and time, but you’re going to cost your authors a lot of money, time and possibly cost your authors their book. You’re also going to pop up on writing web sites, but it’ll be because people are trying to figure out who you are, why they should trust you with their work, and what you’re offering that they couldn’t do on their own.

New publishers should be ready to PROVE they’re ready to go from the moment they make themselves available for any author to submit to them. They should be able to stand up to any scrutiny and have answers for questions that are going to be asked.

And I say these things not only as a member of Writer Beware, but simply as a writer. Writers want publishers to succeed. We don’t want them to fail because it’s not fun to watch something come crashing down around the creator’s ears. It’s also not fun to watch what happens to authors who, time and again, get caught in a start-up that wasn’t really ready to take that first step and wind up losing their book in the carnage.

What we want is for all new publishers to be certain they’re ready to go.

BUT, my primary concern is always for the authors. New publishers don’t have the right to experiment with other author’s books. I’ve seen too many new publishers crash and burn and authors lose their books because contracts couldn’t or wouldn’t be released before the company just disappeared.

None of these publishers set out to do this. But by reading the lists of failed publishers on the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Check forum, there is a unifying theme to them all. Inexperience. Sure, you could be THE one. Or, you could be one of the other 99 who disappear in less than a year.

So, yes, new publishers MUST earn our trust.

Do your homework. Be ready before you ever ask for the first book. Do not learn as you go.