Publisher Pitfalls

Tuesday Topic: Publisher Pitfalls

Getting a publisher may not be in your best interest after all


Every author I know thinks of having their book snagged up by a publisher, at least in the back of their mind. The validation alone makes it a passing desire at the very least. But is getting published truly the best thing for you? Like everything else in writing (and life, for the most part), the answer is it depends. Especially when it comes to marketing your novel, being published may be a good or a bad thing.


But what about less obvious rights?

When you work with a publisher, it becomes their baby. Some questions need to be asked before you sign the contract, and not just about rights and royalties.

Will you have input into the final cover?

I hate to break it to you, but the cover is one of the single biggest factors in the success or failure of most books. Does it mesh well with other books in Amazon’s Top 20 for your genre? Does it convey the theme of the novel? Is it eye-catching in both full-size and thumbnail views? Publishers get covers wrong often enough that this is a real consideration to worry about.

Do you write the blurb?

After the cover, the description is vital to getting people to buy the book. If the publisher provides the back matter but doesn’t understand your novel intimately, they may not get it right. Or, they may provide one that beats anything you could write. You never know.

They may have you write it, but with the option of changing it however they wish. Will they mess up a great blurb you wrote? Do they ask for your input? Can you veto or walk away if there can be no agreement between you on this?

Market Matters

With a publisher, you will likely have little ability to market your book through paid means. You can still promote on your social media platforms, of course (and should!). But paid marketing efforts are key to many authors’ success, and if you’ve spent days and weeks studying the various options, you may know as much or more than they do.

Will they share their marketing plan with you? Will they allow you to have input in the form of suggestions–or might they coordinate with you on the overall plan and its execution? Some won’t even share their marketing plan, much less allow you to suggest things. Others might allow you to coordinate with them during their marketing plan creation.

You won’t know until you ask, and once you sign the contract, it’s too late. Put it in writing! At the very least, if they share their marketing plan and calendar with you, you’ll be able to coordinate your own social media efforts around it.

But what if their plan is to put your debut novel on pre-order, and you’ve decided pre-orders are contrary to your best interests. Because that’s why you’re with a publisher, right? Your best interests, not theirs?

Then there is your email list. That’s yours, not theirs, so they may not support your efforts to grow your list. But smart publishers realize that growing your list helps sales, which makes them money. It also makes you money, not just for book 1, but every book thereafter as well–including books you’ll publish through them. A publisher worth using will help your efforts here, not hinder them.

The ultimate question is…

Are they your partner or your master? In the old days, the only real option was to take a publisher’s predatory boilerplate contract or not get published. Many of those contracts specified that the author could not market the book. Not even by putting their own free novella out within the same universe (IP) as the novel.

Hint: Make sure you own your IP! Don’t sign that away without very careful consideration.

If a publisher is going to limit your ability to market or promote your book, consider walking away. Personally, I’ll walk away just for not letting me have input into where paid marketing goes and when.

WHY? The days when bestseller lists excluded self-published novels are long gone. If a publisher won’t let me do what’s best for me and my novel, then I’d be better off publishing it myself. I’m not signing up with a publisher to feed my ego, but to make more money for ME and to get wider distribution. If your marketing plan is better than theirs, then they’re doing what’s best for them, not you.

Summary: If your prospective publisher isn’t going to be your partner, then walk away.

Writing a book can be just for you, a personal creative endeavor worth doing no matter what else you do with it. Publishing your book is a business. Treat it like one, and make the best business decision for your books… and for you.


2 thoughts on “Publisher Pitfalls

  1. Jeremy Menefee says:

    There are many things to consider before signing on with a publisher, the most important of which are the rights you assign to them in the contract.

    I’ve seen a small publisher (I won’t mention the name) who puts together anthologies once a year, and the publisher’s boilerplate predatory contract gives him ALL RIGHTS to your story, in EVERY FORMAT, and in EVERY MARKET. In other words, he owned the stories for the duration of the contract, and you can’t make an audiobook from it even though he isn’t going to.

    Guess how long that publisher’s ownership of your story lasts? FOREVER. He owns the rights IN PERPETUITY. And he gets the copyright–that lasts for decades after you die. Yes, he owns your heir’s rights to your work.

    And for this ridiculous sacrifice on the part of the authors, they get included in a print and e-book anthology, in one language. They may not republish it, ever. They may not make an audiobook, even though the publisher won’t be. They even have to buy their own copy of the book. They pay a huge markup over cost on the books they buy for themselves or to sell themselves, but even though the publisher profits from those books, they don’t apply toward earning out. That’s the point at which royalties kick in after the publisher’s alleged expenses are paid off–for which they have to take his word on it. The authors aren’t even told how many units must sell to earn out. How’s that for a fair contract?

    That is a contract no writer should ever consider signing unless they’re early in their career and just want to see their name in print for the validation. It can be a fine personal decision, but that garbage contract is a bad business decision.

  2. nicholeqw1023 says:

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve been going back and forth between self and traditional publishing for a couple months now. I still haven’t decided.

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