Sunday, September 8, 2013

Choosing a Publisher and Working With Them: What I Look For and What I Don't

The fact that yet another m/m romance publisher has bitten the dust, very publicly, reminded me of this article I wrote several months ago about choosing a publisher and publishing bad behavior.

So at this point having worked with several publishers I would like talk about what I look for in a publisher and some behavior I can't stand. This is the process I go through when choosing a new publisher to work with and also some behavior I've experienced from publishers which have made be question working with them again or flat out made me decide not to. 

Things I look for in a publisher:

-Diversity: This is actually really important to me. I am ten times more likely to publish with a press that is actively looking for a full range of LGBTQ romance and erotica. At the very least I want the m/m romance publisher I sign with to have considered the possibility of trans* characters. A m/m romance or erotica publisher who doesn't seem aware of the other letters in LGBTQ asides from the G is probably not going to be somewhere I want to work.

-Quality and Attractiveness: I read books produced by a publisher before I sign with them. Mostly I want to make sure that the publisher produces stuff I could see myself spending money on. It might sound like a no brainer but if I have a "why the hell was this published?" or a "did an editor even look over this?" moment while reading something from the publisher I might want to look more deeply into that publisher before signing on. The editing process is extremely important to me and I need proof that I'm going to be working with an editor who is going to push me hard to make my story better. I also love attractive and amazing cover art, and formatting that looks professional. Two huge term offs for me, as a reader, are covers that I could make with ten minutes and a paint program, and sloppy formatting. Attractiveness also goes for the publishers website and store. I tend to favor publishers with attractive websites and easy to use stores. A good website says to me that they care enough about their business to want to look their very best for authors and readers.

-F/SF Presence: easily the biggest subgenre within romance is contemporary which is fine but not what I like to write. I usually always check to make sure a publisher has put out at least some fantasy and science fiction before I even consider them. If that is what they primarily do, then so much the better.

-Reputation: does the press have a reputation? Is that reputation a good one? Are the authors who have worked with them happy? Does their name carry weight (for the right reasons) within the genre?  These are all questions I ask before considering any press. I tend to shy away from presses which don't seem to be known, mostly because I don't have a strong enough readership of my own to be able to draw people to an unknown press. The publisher needs to be able to forward my career as a new author, they therefor need to have the genre name and connections to get my name out there. If the press has a bad reputation I discount them out of hand. Some presses have mixed reputations with some good stuff and some drama. In these cases I consider carefully and compare the cons against other things they be able to might offer me.

-Money: I love writing. I wrote for free and just for myself for years and years and years. Right now though when it comes to my professional career as a writer getting paid is pretty important to me. For the last few months in fact the money I've made from writing is the money I used to buy food, train tickets, and other necessary things. So how much a press can afford to pay me is something I consider carefully. Can the press offer an advance? What percent of profits goes to me? How much is their one time anthology payments? When do I get paid for an anthology (when I sign the contract? When the  anthology is published?) What is their royalty schedule like? Since I live paycheck to paycheck I take all these things into account.

-Contracts: I've worked in law firms, I have studied law. I also personally know what it feels like to be taken advantage of while not having the legal protection to retaliate. Plus authors have something of a reputation for being easy marks. We are often too eager to sign our rights away and too slow to take legal steps against people who don't respect what rights we do have. So having my work under full legal protection at all times is extremely important to me. I want the contract I sign to be fair, to be written with my rights, as well as the publisher's rights, in mind, to fully protect me and my intellectual property in case of something going wrong. It is a huge red flag to me if a contract is written with obviously the single goal of protecting the publisher, instead of the author, in times of crisis. 

Now for some things I've run into publishers doing that I can not stand. Some of this is straight up illegal some of it is just rude. All of it is pretty much the kiss of death as far as I'm concerned: 

-Not Respecting the Contract: this might seem like a no brainer but, like I said above, I take the contract I sign as an author for each of the works that go on to be published very seriously. The contract protects me and my intellectual property, it allows me an out if things get bad. Not only do I only want to publish with presses that have fair and honest contracts but I only want to be associated with presses that respect those contracts. Publishers, there is no excuse for not upholding a contract once you've signed it. If something hideously horrible happens and you are in breach not only will I take proper legal action but I will also expect lots of apologizing and groveling to go down because of it. Do not offer me a contract you do not intent to uphold to the letter. I will not work with a press that does not respect the contract I have signed with them.

- Chronic Tardiness: Generally in my life, especially in my work, I try to respect deadlines. If I can't make a deadline I try, if at all possible, to contact the people involved ahead of time and make it clear that a. I can't make the deadline and b. when exactly I will be able to get the work done. In all my writing transactions I try to be responsive and prompt getting back to people, even if it is to say I got the email and I'm working on it. Thus I expect the same from publishers. It is as far as I'm concerned a sign of disrespect to leave me hanging for weeks or even months on end. Give me a timeline so I know when things will happen, or you will get multiple testy emails from me wondering what the hold up is. If a publisher can't make a deadline I expect to know before hand, if a date gets moved or changed I need to know about it before the fact. Also if publisher need to reschedule that's one thing, that happens to everyone. If a publisher need to reschedule a date, or push something back, over and over again that's a bad sign to me. Leaving me hanging is a good way for me never to work with a publisher again.

-Lack of Respect in Professional Transactions: I try to keep the tone of my interactions with publishers, artists, and editors professionally respectful. I expect the same in return. I want to work with publishers who at least seem like they respect my intelligence, who treat me like a professional, and who is willing to apologize when they've missed a deadline or messed up.  I do not enjoy being ignored, talked down to or brushed off. If a publisher does this, much like with timeliness, I may never work with them again.

I would love to hear from other authors about what they look for in publishers and what behavior they've experienced, if any, that has made them think twice about submitting again. For those of you on the publishing side of things, any thoughts?

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