If you’re a writer, chances are, like me, you’ve dreamed of being published ever since you penned the first word. At times, this desire can even cloud judgment. There are many sad stories of hopeful writers, perhaps even very good ones, who became the victim of bad publishers or agents.
Recently, I got offered a contract for a book I wrote. One which I am very passionate about, believe it has a ton of potential, and very much want to hurry up and get out there on the market.
But I rejected the offer.
I won’t name names, but the publisher was marketed as a small house independent publisher. When I got a response requesting the full—at the time, it was the first full request for this book—I leapt with excitement. I had edited the full novel immensely already (you should always have a polished and complete MS before even thinking of submitting), so I formatted it according to their preferences and sent it off, excited and anxious (even nauseous) all at once.
A month later I received a contract offer (a quick response for the publishing world). My excitement and my ego soared… until I read through the offer… which said that they loved my book, but as they were a small publisher and I was a risky new author, they would like me to cover some of the up front costs, to the amount of $3000.
If this didn’t raise a red flag for you, it should have.
This is a sketchy practice by sketchy businesses known as vanity publishers. Vanity publishers essentially publish for people publishing their father’s journals, and for sucker authors whose wisdom was clouded by the lure of publication as soon as possible.
Word for the wise: if any publisher asks anything from you monetarily, RUN away.
Do not even think of signing anything. Publishers, small or large press, are supposed to cover all costs, whether editing or jacket design or marketing or printing. It is a show of good faith, and it means that they don’t make money unless you are making money. In essence, the book has to sell in order for the house to make money, which means they will put in the work to make your book the best it can be.
Immediately, I knew this contract was a bad idea. But there was that part of me that considered it, even for a moment. I wanted to see my book in print so badly, I actually thought about shelling out three grand, as if the hundreds of hours of wage-less toil weren’t already enough good faith from my end. My judgment was momentarily clouded.
Some hints as you query your book I would share:
- DO YOUR RESEARCH!
I know a novel idea (pardon the pun). Actually look into the agents and houses you are submitting to. Find out what books they have published (not only so you know whether they would be interested in your novel at all, but so you know whether they will be a good fit for you and your book at all).
Find out what their sales records are, look them up on Amazon or Goodreads.
What is their marketing strategy?
What do their royalty structures look like?
Make sure they are reputable. Check sites like Absolute Write, in their Writer’s Beware section to find things like this out.
- DON’T BE HASTY
As the sage, Treebeard, would say.
Don’t jump immediately at the first agent or publisher who will read your MS. Give yourself time for the clouds of desire to dissipate so you can be wise and make an informed decision. Be cautious, and don’t sign away your precious MS over to a shark because the lust for publication is so strong.
- LEARN TO SAY NO
I said no to this offer. It pained me a little to say no, no matter how wise I knew it was. Only writers who have sacrificed countless hours for a project that could never go beyond their desk printer can relate to this.
But be able to say no.
Don’t be seduced by the wolves out there. They prey on writers with clouded judgment.
- KEEP AT IT
Eventually, if your writing is good, your work will be found by the right agent or small press, and when that time comes they will put in the work to make your book all it can be. Don’t cheat yourself by jumping the gun. Be willing to wait.
Keep polishing your MS and your Query letter if you’re not getting requests. Move on to a new project for a while.
I wish you all the best as your write and submit. Make sure you take time to polish, and probably write another draft or two.
–But when you submit, be wise!
*I would love to hear from you if this was helpful to you, or if I can be of further help!*
*Please leave a comment about your own experiences!*
*If you’d like to check out the first few chapters of my novel, The Lingering Shadow, go here.*