Once upon a time, a few select companies had a stranglehold on the publishing business. Not so anymore. In the past few years, in particular, it seems new hybrid and small press publishers are popping up all over the place. We know, because we’re one of those.
One of the things we must do constantly, of course, is keep our finger on the pulse of the industry. What are the new industry expectations? Have new opportunities for distribution and sales come into the fore? What is our competition doing, and is our list of competitors growing?
Naturally, this leads us to examine other publishers out there, not just make sure that we’re in stride with the rest of the industry, but to make sure we’re offering a great alternative to talented authors, editors, artists, and the entire support team.
What have we discovered? Quite simply, authors are presented with a whole new array of options, and that’s a good thing. However, those authors must now wade through the morass, and it’s not always pretty. For example, I recently visited a publisher’s website and was shocked, and more than a little dismayed, by much of what I saw.
First, their website was simply horrendous. No other way to say it. Second, their simple “About” page, which consisted of a single paragraph, was laden with grammar and spelling errors, and poor construction. (Talk about a red flag!) Third, it was extremely difficult to find all their titles. Fourth, I finally figured out (I think) that they have 12 titles, 11 of which are by a single author. I could easily list a fifth, sixth, and seventh, but suffice to say that what I saw was less than inspiring.
It occurred to me that the publishing business is becoming much like the author business, and the editor business, and then the cover artist business, and so on. Hey, it’s the internet age, so just hang up a shingle and claim to be whatever you want… like a publisher. Now, before you say it, I know: we too had to start somewhere. Everyone does.
But really, dear author, you must exercise more caution and diligence in your search for a publisher than ever before. The gatekeepers (never mind that they were self-anointed) are gone, and the new environment is a free-wheeling, anything goes, often concerning puddle of confusion. Self-publishing is always an option, of course, but if you’re looking for a new publisher, a company that gives you a better chance of actual acceptance and exposure, you can do a few simple things to ensure that you’re making a good choice.
- First of all, what kind of public face do they offer? Is their website clean, professional, attractive, functional and informative? Are they engaged on social media? Do their online activities instill in you confidence and excitement?
- What sort of catalog have they published? Does it appear to be focused on just one or two authors, or do they truly offer a broad spectrum of authors and products? Everyone has to start somewhere, of course, but if they have reached the point where they have multiple books out over a couple years or more, and they STILL have only one or two or three authors, this should be a red flag – probably just self-publishing by another name, when you get right down to it.
- Speaking of their catalog, how strong is it? Do they offer books across multiple genres, or are they a genre-specific publisher? (This may be a plus or a minus, depending on your genre and needs.) How good are those books they’ve published? Do they have professional covers that don’t all look the same? Are the stories (always sample their work before submitting) strong and edited to at least “near” perfection (no such thing as perfect)?
- Are they willing to offer referrals from their existing pool of authors? (Take this with a grain of sand, since existing authors may not be willing to say bad things about their publisher, even if warranted. However, if they’re clearly enthusiastic, that will tell you something.) If so, will they let you talk to the author of YOUR choosing, versus someone they hand select?
- Do they have a strong team of support for services such as cover art, illustrations, editing, beta reading, translations, and more?
- Do they produce and distribute books in multiple formats and across multiple channels?
When co-founder D.T. Conklin and I first started looking into publishers, we found no one that we truly liked, based on what we felt were the new opportunities for authors in this evolving industry. We thus set about, point by point, to lay out what we wanted – as authors – in a publisher. Because we couldn’t find THAT publisher, we formed Evolved Publishing to be THAT publisher.
Are we perfect, providing the absolute best of everything? Nah. Some offerings necessarily require other limits, so some compromise is required, some prioritizing. Are we going to make you, dear author, an overnight success? Probably not. Can we even guarantee that you will be a success? Ever? Nope. No publisher can do that.
However, we think we’ve struck on a pretty good business model, one which gives authors some advantages they won’t get on their own as a self-publisher, and some they won’t even get from the Big 5. Of course, the Big 5 also have some things to offer that we don’t, such as immediate and broad print distribution. That doesn’t mean you’ll sell any books, but it’s there. And of course, getting your foot in the door, and your book to the public, is a daunting process that can take many years.
So every author must weigh the options carefully, perhaps with a good old-fashioned Ben Franklin list – you know, with the positives in one column and the negatives in another? Just be sure to compare apples to apples, and make sure none of those apples are laden with worms.