Tag Archives: traditional publishing

Writers Beware (Part 2)

In part 1 I talked about a situation where a writer had her book published, only to realise too late that the company was not a traditional publishing company, they were just posing as one. They played on the writer’s dream of being published to make money off her. As a result she ended up with a book that was poorly edited, unavailable in bookstores and locked into a contract so she can’t publish it with anyone else. It was left to her to market the book herself, meaning it was bought by family and friends, but no one else. Even if she worked up the courage to approach a bookstore herself, they probably wouldn’t stock it because a) it’s overpriced for a book by a first time author, b) the publishing company won’t accept refunds if the book doesn’t sell and c) the book is so poorly edited, people probably won’t buy it anyway (no matter how good the story is).

How can you avoid this situation?

You have to be savvy.

Google is your friend.

This is a good idea to do for any publisher. Google the publisher, skip past all the links for the publisher’s own website and see what other people have to say. You will quickly find out if the publisher is a reputable one and whether other writers have had good or bad experiences with them.

Get involved in writers’ circles/writers’ forums/writers on Twitter.

We writers can be isolated people, but the net has made it easy to connect with fellow writers. There are writers at all stages of the writing journey, and some of them are a great wealth of information. You will soon hear the dos and don’ts of the publishing and writing world when you’re connected to others who have been there before you. Some great people to follow on Twitter (because they always have their ear to the ground and post great links): Elizabeth S Craig and Jane Friedman.

Follow Agent/Publisher blogs or follow them on Twitter.

There are some fantastic literary agent and publisher blogs around and they’re worth following. They offer a wealth of knowledge on the ins and outs of the publishing industry. For example, Nathan Bransford’s blog is packed full of great information on both writing and the publishing industry.

Read contracts carefully.

This is an important one. Know what you are signing before you sign it. This is where having a literary agent represent you can be of great benefit because they know exactly what to look for in a publishing contract and can negotiate terms with the publisher for you. Literary agents cost nothing, unlike lawyers, but you need to query them with your manuscript the same way you would with a publisher. It’s better to query agents first, before publishers, if possible. But if your manuscript has already been accepted by a publisher, you can still query agents and mention in your query letter that a publisher has already acquired it. Otherwise, you can get a lawyer/solicitor to look over the contract for you, but it will cost money and often they don’t have as much knowledge about the specifics of publishing contracts.

What can I do to get the attention of a genuine publisher?

The most important thing to do is to keep improving your craft. The second most important thing is to become knowledgeable about the industry.

Keep Writing.

The best way to improve is to keep writing. I can’t remember who said it, but it has been said that to be a good writer, you must first write one million bad words. Quite often the first novel you write won’t ever be published. It’s sad, but true. But every word is contributing to you becoming a better writer. And one day you’ll look back on that first novel and think, ‘I can’t believe how bad it was! Why did I ever think it would get published?’

Join a critique group/Get a critique partner

Remember my story in part 1 about the author not letting anyone see their work before sending it out to publishers? He/she thought it was the smart thing to do, but there is benefit in letting others see your work before you send it out – the biggest benefit being a better novel. At some stage you need to get over your fear that other writers are out to steal your ideas. The good thing about critique groups and critique partners is you have to trust each other. You won’t steal their ideas and they won’t steal yours. Once you find a critique partner you feel comfortable with, the next hurdle is to be able to take their critique. This is a hard one. You will feel hurt. You will feel indignant (what does she mean my character is flat!). But once you get over that, you may find she’s right. Once you learn to accept your novel is not perfect and there’s room for improvement, you will be on your way to having a polished novel.

Use writing resources available to you

As I mentioned, following agent/ publisher blogs and being involved with other writers on forums/Twitter are great ways to stay informed. There are a lot of great writing resources out there, and fellow writers are only too happy to share, and so are agents and publishers. There are some great writer blogs out there too. A good place to start is Barry Lyga’s blog, he has a plethora of topics for helping to improve all areas of your writing. Check out some writing books too, like Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

Research the industry

Did you know if you live in the US or you intend to get your book published in the US it is a good idea to first seek a literary agent? (A good literary agent won’t charge you fees, they make their money when the book sells.) In some other countries, such as Australia, literary agents are less common and a lot of publishers are still happy to accept unsolicited (eg: unagented) submissions. Do you know which agent/publisher is most suitable for your book? You don’t want to waste time sending a fantasy novel to someone who only takes on non-fiction work. Do you know if the publisher/agent you are querying has a good reputation? ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Follow guidelines

Publishers and agents have guidelines for a reason, so follow them. Some publishers/agents will reject your work without even reading it if you haven’t followed guidelines.

And because someone asked…

In my comments on part 1, someone asked about how to know if a literary agent is genuine. The points I’ve made about publishing companies can equally be applied to agents. Use google, research before you query, follow writers/agents on Twitter, join writing forums (many have sections on agents/the publishing industry). And if an agent wants you to pay fees to represent you, then he/she is probably not a genuine literary agent.

Writers Beware (Part 1)

Imagine this scenario…

You’ve been dreaming of being a published author your whole life, or maybe it’s a recent dream. You get a brilliant idea for a novel. Chapter by chapter you write it down until you pen the last word. You feel great! You just finished writing your first novel. You read over it a few times, fix up the plot holes and double-check the spelling until you’re completely happy with it (you can hardly wait to start writing the sequel). So far you have shown your work to no one (because you don’t want anyone to plagiarise your brilliant idea – it’s the smart thing to do).

Then comes the scary part. You finally work up the courage to send your baby out to a few publishers and cross your fingers they will like it. You hope your story will be accepted and all your blood, sweat and tears will be validated. (Sound familiar so far?)

A letter comes in the mail, sooner than you expected. You hold your breath. What if it’s a rejection? You slowly tear open the envelope. Your story has been accepted! It’s going to be published! You can hardly believe it, all your dreams are coming true.

You sign the contract, barely skimming it (you can barely understand all the legal mumbo jumbo, but you can’t afford a lawyer to look over it. Publishers are all reputable companies, so it should be fairly standard you think). You share the news with everyone.

Finally the day comes when you hold your book in your hand. You persuade all your friends and family to buy a copy and they do. You ask them what they think and they all tell you it’s wonderful. Then one brave friend (probably a writer type) tells you the truth:

“It’s a great premise, but I have to ask, was your editor asleep on the job?” (She probably says it more nicely than this.) She goes on to point out all the spelling and grammar mistakes your editor should have picked up on. But that’s ok, you’ve seen published books with mistakes, although maybe not quite this many.

Another friend asks, “When will it be in bookstores?” To which you can’t reply. Why isn’t your book in bookstores? Why is the publisher asking you to purchase the books for your friends and family to buy?

Too late you realise something is not right. In your excitement to get published you jumped in head first.

This is a true story…

Unfortunately this story is true for some aspiring authors, in fact just recently I heard of a writer who fell into this trap (it’s what prompted me to write this post). We can all relate to wanting to get published so badly, so much so that some writers are taken in by companies posing as traditional publishers. The truth of the matter is, there is no easy path to publication, and I know a lot of aspiring writers won’t want to hear this. Getting published is hard! Even the best of the best writers got rejected several times before selling a bestseller (ever heard of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King? They both got rejected at first.) If you send in your first ever manuscript, without ever having had anyone else look at it and you get accepted straight away, there’s a good possibility it really is too good to be true.

How do I know if my publisher is genuine?

A traditional publisher (think publishers like Penguin and Scholastic) will not charge you anything, they will pay you. They will not ask you to buy copies of your own book. They will market your book to bookstores and arrange author events. They will use a professional editor.

There are some companies out there who claim to be traditional publishers, but are really vanity publishers in disguise (a vanity publisher is a company who will publish your book, but expects you to pay certain costs or buy copies of the book yourself so you can sell them). These companies take advantage of aspiring authors by acting like a traditional publisher, so the writer thinks all her dreams are coming true, only to reveal their true selves when it is too late and the contract has already been signed. You can spot these companies by comparing them to a traditional publisher. If they charge you anything, including buying your own books, they are not a traditional publisher. If they do not do any marketing/if they are not placing your book in bookstores, they are not a traditional publisher. If they speed through the editing process to get the book published super-quick, they are not a traditional publisher.

There is nothing wrong with using a vanity publisher, if that is what you want (it’s a choice you make, the same way if you decide to self-publish). Some vanity publishers are quite reputable. But be aware of what you are signing up for (including rights). Also be aware that vanity publishing has a stigma attached to it in the writing world. If in future you do query an agent or publisher, you may not want to mention you’ve previously published through a vanity publisher.

To be continued…

Part 2 – how you can avoid these companies posing as traditional publishers and how to improve your chances of landing a genuine publisher.

Were you aware companies like this existed? Have you ever been duped by one of these companies or know someone who has? Share your story below.