Contracts

There are a couple of reasons literary agents are still a go-to force in publishing–and not only because they tend to be the gatekeepers to large publishing houses. Beyond helping get you a publishing deal, agents can help you negotiate a contract once have a deal.

Of course you don’t always have to get an agent to get a book published. Neither of my books coming out this summer were sold with help of an agent. There are some good things about that, should you choose to go agent-less (namely, not having to give an agent a cut of your earnings) but then, what are you going to do about the contract? After all, a bad contract can seriously hurt you in the future.

Many people I know of suggest going to a lawyer to look over a contract. Of course you can always do that, but at least for me, I don’t find that necessary (I never have/I don’t know anyone who has personally). Of course I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, but from my personal experience, it’s possible to keep from getting into a bad situation by just fully reading your contract and having a good head on your shoulders.

As someone with experience on both sides of publishing contracts, here are a few tips I would give authors going it alone.

1) Unless you chose to work with a vanity publisher, never sign a contract that says you will pay the publisher for services. Be them editing services, start-up costs, or anything else, legitimate publishers won’t ask for you to pay to have your book published. The general rule you can keep in mind is: Money flows to the author. Not from. Publishers make their money by selling your book. Big or small, traditional publishers won’t make you pay for them to edit, layout, get a cover artist, or market your book. They also won’t require you to purchase a set number of books. There are a few “back-end” vanity publishers out there that are flying under the radar of fledgling authors by not asking for money up front but asking questions like “How many books are you planning on buying?” with the intent of putting a nonstandard clause in a contract requiring the author to buy at least 75 (if not more) copies of their book once it’s published. They don’t ask for fees, but they’re making their money by having at least that many sales and making it the author’s duty to sell those copies under the guise of “normal author promotion” Yes, authors can buy their own book (generally at a sharp discount from the publisher) but they won’t require you to buy a certain amount of copies to agree to publish you, much less write it in to your contract.

2) Don’t jump at just any contract. You’ve gotten lord knows how many rejections, and finally you’ve gotten a yes! That’s always an exciting feeling, but especially if it’s your first sale. One of the biggest mistakes you can make, however is to sign that contract and sent it straight back. As with any contract read it throughly. Maybe you’ve found a less-than-honest publisher that has some nonstandard clause in it that will hurt you later on. You won’t know if you don’t read it.

Furthermore, even if the contract is completely legitimate, you might find something you want to negotiate. Negotiating is something your agent would do normally, but if you are selling your book yourself, you are your own agent, so it’s up to you to negotiate any points in your contract you are unhappy with. You don’t want to be difficult or argumentative, but if you feel there’s something you’d like to discuss before signing bring it up. By myself, I have negotiated e-book/print releases and higher royalties. Just because you aren’t a professional agent doesn’t mean you should let a publisher do whatever they want without question.

3) Know what you want. Maybe you just want to get your book out there. It doesn’t really matter who publishes it, or how much you make. If you are happy going with an untested publisher, or are fine with only having someone produce an e-book, that’s fine. Everyone wants something different from publisher. If you aren’t happy with a contract, however, and they won’t negotiate you don’t have to settle. Know what you’re willing to take for your work, and if one offer isn’t that, you can always walk away and look for another publisher.

4) Never sign away your rights. A publisher may help you with the copyright office, but your contract should never sign over artistic rights of your book (unless you were specifically hired as a ghost writer). Publishers are contracting the right to exclusively distribute your book, not buying the copyright to it. The book will stay in your name, and once the contract period is up (generally a few years) the book is once again yours to do with what you wish. You can re-contract it with the same publisher (if they wish to as well) or you can move to someone else. They don’t own your book. Likewise, do not sign over movie rights, audiobook rights, or anything similar. If you see a clause like that, you’re likely not dealing with a legitimate publisher.

5) If something seems fishy, ask someone before signing. Never discount gut instinct when reading a contract. If something doesn’t seem right to you, it very well might not be. In that case, you can always look for some outside help. Search the publisher online. There are some great sites like Writers Beware, Preditors and Editors, and Absolute Write Water Cooler that talk about known scam publishers. Likewise, you can also often find known scam publishers by typing in the publisher’s name followed by “scam” in a search engine (e.g. Weird Contact Publishers Scam). You can also ask others who might be a little more well-versed in publishing than you are, or, of course, consult a lawyer.

As I stated before, I am not a lawyer, and so none of this is true legal device, but I am very willing to help anyone out there who has questions about something that seems a little strange in a publishing contract. Anyone who is agent-less (or just wants a second opinion) is free to contact me, I’m always happy to help.

For now, I will leave the name of some publishers that have been complied by sites such as Writers Beware and Preditors and Editors as some that might not be on the straight and narrow. Anyone thinking of working with them are strongly advised to look into their contracts/what is written online about them (I have not seen most’s contracts so I can’t speak personally):

  • AGoodBook.com
  • Algora Publishing
  • American Book Publishing
  • Archebooks Publishing
  • ASA Publishing Company
  • AuthorHouse (formerly 1st Books)
  • Black Rose Publishing
  • Black Wyrm Publishing (for more on Black Wyrm’s contract, see here).
  • BooksAmerica
  • Cambridge House Books
  • Dandelion Books
  • Dorrance Publishing Company
  • Diggory Press
  • Helm Publishing
  • Hilliard and Harris
  • Oak Tree Press
  • Park East Press (formerly Durban House and Oakley Press)
  • PD Publishing
  • PublishAmerica
  • Renaissance e-books
  • Royal Fireworks Press/Silk Label Books
  • SterlingHouse Publisher (imprints include, among others, Pemberton Mysteries, 8th Crow Books, Cambrian House Books, Blue Imp Books, Caroline House Books, Dove House Books, and PAJA Books)
  • SBPRA/Strategic Book Publishing/Eloquent Books (formerly known as The Literary Agency Group and AEG Publishing Group)
  • Tate Publishing
  • Whitmore Publishing Company
  • Zatz
  • Zeus Publications

Note: These are only a few. Always use caution when submitting.

——————————————————————————-

Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Self, Vanity, Traditional Publishing

With my second review going up today on ePublishaBook.com, I have started reading another novel for future review–one sent to me by its author. Though I haven’t nearly read enough to give a proper opinion (and I’ll save what thoughts I have on the story/the writing’s actual merit for the actual review) reading the first few pages has made me pause to think about all of the different forms of publishing out there, be it ebook, paperback, hardback, self, traditional, or even vanity.

If you’re a writer, you probably have some idea what these different things are, but if you aren’t (or you just stumbled across this page–in which case welcome) I’ll give a short rundown.

ebooks, paperbacks, and hardbacks should be pretty self-explanatory. ebooks are books in electronic format (like for Kindle, Nook, iPad, or any other digital format) paperbacks and hardbacks are print books, the only difference being their binding (and generally price).

Now, for the different types of publishing.

Traditional Publishing is generally what people think of when someone talks about “getting published.” Here, an author submits their manuscript (either by themselves or through an agent) to a publisher. If the publisher likes it, they offer the author a contract and then helps the author edit, publish, and market their book.

Self Publishing is really more a recent trend in publishing, with the internet, social media, and cheap alternatives for getting a book out there, many authors have started cutting out looking for an agent and/or publisher altogether and produce their books themselves (often through a platform such as createspace.come [a NaNoWriMo sponsor, for the record] or lulu.com).

Vanity Publishing, also called “joint” or “subsidy” publishing, is a publisher who charges the author to get their book out there, either charging them up-front, or slipping a clause into the author’s contract that stipulates they buy a certain number of books once published for “self-promotion” (If you get the question “How many copies of your book are you planning on buying” right up front from a publisher, that should be a red flag. You can read more about “back-end” vanity publishers here.)

Of the three, I fully support all but vanity publishers (if you’re going to pay money up front to publish your book–something that should never happen in traditional publishing–just self publish. It will be most likely be cheaper and I, at least, find it infinitely more respectable). Self publishing, for the most part, still has a relatively bad reputation, which I can understand with the number of unedited, semi-readable books that have made it out there without picky publishers acting as gatekeepers. Some self published novels, though, are wonderful (and I admit, a good number of the people who hire me to edit books for them are planning on self-publishing). If you are willing to act as your own publisher (edit your book, do your own cover art, etc.) I see absolutely no problem with self publishing.

There’s an odd sort of middle ground, though, when I see a book that says it’s from a publisher–not a known vanity publisher–but looks self published. As previously stated, createspace.com is a popular self publishing platform, it is also a NaNoWriMo sponsor. Though it changed its policy for last year’s NaNo Winners’ prize, in previous years it offered a free proof copy to winning participants. Since I’ve done (and won) NaNoWriMo a few times, I have a couple of these proof copies lying around for books that were never actually put up for publication (it’s sometimes nice just to have things bound, and hey, it was free). With something  like three or four proof copies of things lying around my house, I’m pretty well acquainted with how the books look. Another plus, for some self publishers, is that createspace.com has a cover-maker. You put in a picture (or chose one of theirs) put in your title and name, and there you go, you have a cover. Since I wasn’t actually publishing those proof copies I mentioned, I’ve used more than my share of these easy-to-make covers. Holding the book I got today, it looks like a createspace.com book.

Like I’ve said many times, I have no problem with self published books. I encourage both traditionally and self published authors to contact me for review. What was odd, then, is that a publisher was listed on the back cover. As my point here isn’t to besmirch an author or publisher, I won’t name any names, but already it seems suspicious. Beginning to read, there are some very simple formatting errors that even I, with my short, short stint in layout as an intern at Leucrota Press before moving to editing full-time, can pick out right away. The most condemning–the 0.5″ indent for the paragraphs. It seems much too big on smaller pages, almost always means the book was reformatted into a 6×9 standard book from a word processor (such as Word or Publisher) without changing the standard indent you use on a 8.5×11 page.

After a couple of typos, I finally check the permissions page. Final nail in the coffin. Though there is the author’s copyright, and a pretty standard “All rights reserved” paragraph, there’s no publisher listed, even though there is one on the back. Likewise, no publisher logo on the title page. Either this is someone making up their own company, or it’s a publisher that has no idea what it’s doing.

A quick google search shows that the publisher website is minimal at best, only listing this one book in its catalogue, making it the publishers one and only release going back a good few years. If they are a fledgling publisher, that’s a pretty bad business model.

Now I’m torn. I’d be fine if the author had said they had self published. I’d be fine if the book had come from a small publisher that’s just getting their footing. I have the sinking feeling that this is neither, just an author who went to the trouble of making up a business name and buying a domain to make their book look traditionally published when it isn’t.

I may be wrong, of course. As a legal procedural would have to say, I only have circumstantial evidence. But, with everything combined, that’s what it looks like. And, at least in my own personal opinion, that’s worse than either a new press or self publishing. Every small press has to start somewhere, and there are plenty of fine, or great, self published novels out there. It’s the pretense–a not very well pulled off pretense–that gets to me.

I’ll still read it, give it a fair review either way. But for anyone out there thinking of self publishing–if you’re going to self publish, do it proudly. If your story is interesting and your writing good, it will speak for itself. Should the thought have crossed your mind, there’s no reason to try to hide behind an odd, one-book publisher, much less pay for the domain name. I’ll review you either way. And, if you don’t, I personally will think more of you for it.

——————————————————————————

Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.