My PA, Mariah Wilson, has been sending me various links to publishers I could submit All Shattered Ones to while AEC has its hands full with The Stars Trilogy. I have not looked at these links, but I have found publishers outside of the ones she recommended to me. Now while AbsoluteWrite isn’t the most welcoming of places for writers, it is your go-to guide for any start-up publishing houses, publishing houses that have been around for a few years, literary agents writers have not heard of, and contracts that writers aren’t sure of signing. There is also Preditors and Editors. There are probably millions of blog posts written about what I’m going to talk about, but, time and time again, newbie writers fall prey to houses that shortchange their books, never send out royalties, never answer e-mails of their clients, and charge fees to break a contract. The contract seems all nice and pretty at first, but then the publisher will do things not in the contract, and if you try to get out of said contract, fees are thrown at you, and the owner will threaten to sue you. So, in order to be as sensitive as possible about this topic, I am going to make up a publishing house for you, and I will be the owner of it. Let’s call it Banana Moon Press, because I am a ridiculous human being.
Let’s first start with behaviors to look out for in the staff of this fantastic publishing company that can do no wrong. I have just opened up Banana Moon Press to submissions. I have put it on Duotrope, Poets and Writers, and Publisher’s Weekly. I am the publisher and editor, Mariah is another editor, Sally is the PR, and Julie is the social media PR. We all have backgrounds in publishing of some sort. Our website looks great, and pretend that the logo actually looks good, because I am really trying to set up something strong here. I don’t know how a banana and a moon can look good together, but make do with it. Continuing on. Bearded Salami, which is his username, goes on to AbsoluteWrite and inquires about this new press. Users say it looks legitimate but tells him to wait to see how it does.
Another person, Freezing Doormat, comes in to say she’s been accepted, but wants to get the green light on the contract. The green light is given, but the AW people still warn her to wait, but she wants to go with BMP anyway. This is where things start to take a turn for the worst, and I am going to try to write this in the best way I possibly can based on a combination of ACTUAL stories that have happened, but using my made-up press. Freezing Doormat’s manuscript has been published and is out in the world. However, the e-book is 99 cents, and the print book is 25 dollars. These are net royalties, which many small presses do, because if they were to go with gross royalties, neither party would be making that much money. So let’s say the split is 50/50, and these books are up on all book-distributing sites.
The print book is selling nothing because of its Publish America high price. Freezing Doormat e-mails her publisher about changing the prices, as a clause in her contract stated both publisher and writer would agree on a set price. She never hears back about the price change. The publisher suddenly folds in the month it opened, and Freezing Doormat’s book goes out of print. She asks for the copyright back, but BMP is charging her an exorbitant amount of money for her to get it back since BMP is non-profit, and they want the money back they spent to make the book. She tries to sue, but nothing gets done, because BMP has more power than her, and she can’t afford a lawyer.
BMP press then opens up under a new name called Bite My Apple Press. Freezing Doormat looks up her book and suddenly discovers it has been published under Bite My Apple Press, and when she looks up BMA, she realizes that BMP has opened up another name, but it is essentially the same press. However, the new owner is Brenda, who is secretly me. Instead of my pic, there is a photo stock pic of another woman. The rest of the staff’s names have been changed as well, and they also have photo stock images, unbeknownst to Freezing Doormat. Freezing Doormat looks at the books published, and they are new ones with new authors with complete profiles and everything. However, when Freezing Doormat looks at the books, she finds the books are still 99 cents, but the print books are now 6 dollars. Freezing Doormat has no idea what’s going on, so she retreats to AW to report her experience, creating a new thread called Bite My Apple, formerly Banana Moon Press.
Freezing Doormat reports everything that has gone on, and all the authors, Eat My Chair, Slap My Cat, and Ditch That Dress, begin to delve into Bite My Apple. The e-books are in fact short stories (about 40 pages), and the books are anthologies, so no one is really making any money. They also discover that they can’t look inside the books to discover whether or not any editing has been done (the covers are awful, by the way). Ever more suspicious, the authors delve even deeper, CIA style, and find out that the author images are stock images, but the bios are ridiculously legitimate; however, there are typos on the website and the site’s blog, and even in the contract.
The authors continuously talk about Bite My Apple, and as I am looking up my press to see what people are saying about it, I discover this thread. As I’m reading through, I become extremely irate and tell everyone that Freezing Doormat is lying, that she did get her copyright back, and that she wanted to re-publish under BMA. Freezing Doormat is denying all accusations, so the thread is shut down, because I start throwing cuss words in all directions, trying to convince everyone that Freezing Doormat is lying, all my authors are legitimate, and all their books are real.
Freezing Doormat finds this wonderful little site called Whitman’s Stories, a blog dedicated to unearthing lies amongst the publishing world, and reports her story to the owner of this blog. So the owner simply writes a blog post on what Freezing Doormat has said. I find the story, and I start commenting that Freezing Doormat is a liar. All of my authors come in and back me up, saying that Freezing Doormat is an idiot, that they have had nothing but wonderful experiences with me. Then my staff comes in and starts backing me up. The entire thread turns into a crap storm of BMA supporters, drowning out the voice of Freezing Doormat and the owner, who is simply saying she reported what Freezing Doormat said. The owner eventually shuts the comments off.
Whitman then writes another blog post, exposing Bite My Apple for what it really is. She delved into the comments and discovered that all the supporters and staff of BMA had the same IP addresses, leading to the conclusion that I, Brenda, was taking on many guises to support my company. Freezing Doormat reports this back to AW, and I start slinging cuss words again, crying that I’m going to sue everyone and sick my lawyers on people who slander me because all of what they report is not true. I then say my staff and authors are VERY close, so anyone within a certain area can have the same IP address. No one’s buying it, of course. However, I still continue on with the press and still bring on “authors” (and I can’t even tell if the press’s authors that I’m basing my press off are real).
- Unfortunately, everything can look legitimate in a house, but then stuff outside of the contract begins to happen, and authors become very helpless in situations like this. Unless they have dollars and can afford lawyers, there is almost nothing they can do about situations like the one I created above. So my only advice to you is that even if the contract looks legitimate, seek out transparency. Talk with the publisher about the contract, even if it’s nice and pretty. Meet all staff members. Get to know the authors, look up their books, and read sample pages to see if the editing is solid (and covers, too). Look up the publisher on AbsoluteWrite and see how the publisher is responding to the feedback being given about the house. If the publisher is being polite and respectful and considering all criticism, then you know this will be a publisher who has no qualms about transparency, and will not screw you over in terms of copyright, royalties, and everything that was stated in the contract.
WHATEVER IS STATED IN THE CONTRACT, THE PUBLISHER HAS AN OBLIGATION TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH WHAT HAS BEEN WRITTEN. IF THE PUBLISHER DOESN’T, GET OUT IMMEDIATELY, EVEN IF THAT MEANS YOUR BOOK HAS BEEN SCREWED OVER. IF YOU HAVE A LAWYER OR ATTORNEY, JUMP ON THAT BANDWAGON IMMEDIATELY.
Now, let’s assume BMA’s contract has changed. Here’s just a quick list of what to look out for in contract clauses. I’ve written about this before, but it begs repeating in the hopes that newbie writers find a post like this, and will not fall prey to presses like Bite My Apple or Banana Moon Press.
- No-compete clauses. This means you can’t self-publish another book. This also means you can’t publish with any other house with a book that is similar to the book that house is publishing. This is very vague in itself, because that publisher doesn’t want your book competing with another of your books some other house is publishing.
- If there is a print book, make sure the contract offers a certain amount of free copies as giveaway items to receive good exposure, especially on Goodreads. If not, either back away from the contract, or try to negotiate. Also make sure you get a discount should you decide to get more books for whatever. The distributor usually offers a discount, and sometimes the publisher will split the cost, 50/50, to give you an even better deal.
- Marketing. The publisher should be doing this, along with your efforts. If you are okay that they are not able to fully market your book due to cost, you need to be prepared on how you’re going to do it yourself. Some people are okay with this because they’re market savvy, but can’t afford to self-publish.
- Royalties. Make sure these are good, especially on net profit. I wouldn’t go with anything less than 50%. There is actually a good article here on net profits for those skeptical about them. Apparently net profits raise red flags, but I can tell you from my experience, I WANT net profits from a small press.
- The promise of editing on a partnership basis. Sometimes presses will take on authors and contract their self-published books. They don’t even bother to read the books, because they have good reviews, and publish those books immediately, and the author gets less for their books than what they would have gotten self-published. The press takes a slice, even though the press did no work whatsoever on that book. If a press published it immediately, then there was no editing on their part done, and no marketing done to ensure your book does better than it did self-published. Usually, the book does worse. Look for the money you’re making from the sales, not necessarily the number of sales themselves. Even if you self-published the book, even if you had it professionally edited and decide to send that book off to a small press, that small press has an obligation to read your work to make sure whether or not it needs to be edited–in many cases, it does, because all editors have different tastes.
- Also, this is not a contract thing, but beware of indie houses that publish too many books in a month. This means they are spending little time editing the book, little time marketing it, and little time interacting with you. This also means that if you are accepted by that company, your book could be published within a month. You don’t want that.
I can’t think of any other clauses to look out for, but you can look these up yourself. Don’t fully trust AW, because they’ll tell you net profits raise red flags, among a few other things that raise red flags that really don’t. Again, in my last post, you can’t compare a traditional contract with an indie contract. Still, AW is a useful resource, and as long as the owner of the small press is behaving respectfully, don’t fear signing on with that press. There are going to be blips and bumps in the inception of a new press, but hopefully your first books published with them will become a strong backlist.
Overall, I hope you will never submit to Bite My Apple, formally known as Banana Moon Press. Hopefully I’ve touched on a lot of things, especially behaviors to look out for in the staff of a publishing company, big or small. Make sure you do your research, know your rights, and make sure your press is treating you and your book with the respect it deserves.
Next article, I’m going to finally talk about why it’ll probably take longer for the third book to come out than the second book in The Stars Trilogy.