Are publishers the enemy?

More than ever, you can say that publishing a book is easy. You need to write it and find a publisher that makes a proposal. The problem is… the said proposal.

As a writer, you would expect them to work with you as a team. However, the reality may be slightly different, and often publishers seem like the enemy.

Do publishers respect you and your work?

What writers sometimes fail to understand is that publishers are not artists and are not doing their job for the sake of art and beauty. Instead, a publisher is a business whose goal is to make money.

I know you don’t truly like it, but you must keep this in mind when negotiating with a publisher. Unfortunately, sometimes you are so desperate to put your work out there that you miss the red flags. So let’s go through them.

When to take a step back

If it is true that all publishers had the ultimate goal of making money, it is also true that they aren’t all the same. Some are more committed to their writers, while others are really your enemy.

I’ve been there. I had terrible experiences with publishers, so I’m writing down some red flags that you should be paying attention to.

They take money from you to publish

They don’t invest in anything except, perhaps, their time negotiating with the printing company. You pay for everything, and you don’t even realize it. This is the most common mistake. You are paying, and they still want you to buy a considerable amount of your own books. Run for your life.

This kind of publisher will not do anything for you or your book. It will be gaining dust somewhere because they already had their profit.

You should always avoid publishers that ask you for money to publish. This is especially valid if they grant you fast and easy success.

20 years contract

Take a step back if the publisher offers a contract where you are stuck with them for many years. Unless you’re already a successful writer, this is unlikely to be good.

You can end up tied to them for years, and they simply ignore you and your work. You must be sure they are really on your side and working with you and for you before such a big commitment.

They have a star author, and it’s not you.

Of course, you’ll not be the star when you start working. And, of course, they’ll have a star author, that, and let’s speak frankly, is who makes most of their money. This is natural and expected. The problem begins when they ignore other authors and don’t make a single effort to sell their books.

They already have their share of money and don’t bet too high on your book. So it will probably end up on some shelf, and if you want to do anything at all, you must do it at your responsibility and… at your own expense.

When was the last time you heard about them?

This was a huge mistake I made with my first book. I was so eager to publish and to have an opportunity that I accepted the first yes. As you imagine, it was from a tiny publisher I knew nothing about.

They had a website, a single bookstore on the opposite side of the country, and they wouldn’t provide anything except (they said) publicity on their website. Oh, and let’s not forget that they were specialized in poetry (I learned this way too late.), and I wrote a novel… Are you predicting the result yet?

Yes, it was terrible. Everything was treated by mail. I paid a lot. The books had hard covers but very low quality. I had to find a place for the launch and take care of everything myself. It was a disaster, and I don’t think I sold any book to anyone except family and friends. But hey! We learn from experience, right?

So, learn from mine, and investigate the publisher and their market (or its absence) before you say yes.

They are silent about the commercial opportunities they intend to explore

Will they launch an e-book? What kind of marketing plan do they have? Do they have any? If they don’t give you this information, it is a red flag, and you should advance cautiously. Yet, please, do a favor to yourself and ask!

They are evaluating you, just like you are evaluating them. They are expecting you to show interest, so ask. You may want to rethink your options if there is no answer or if it is too vague.

Make sure they are constantly evolving and adapting to the market. Some publishers are not ignoring you and your work. They simply don’t do enough to make a difference. You deserve (and need) more than that.

It is NOT all bad

While many publishers are bad news for your book, they aren’t always your enemy. Here are some signs they are indeed invested in helping you:

  • they provide you with an advance;
  • they invest in quality marketers, designers, and editors for your book;
  • they work with a good PR, or at least have a plan to try to get you a Book Tour, appearance in shows, or any other activity that can give it a push;
  • they have more than one successful book or author (if they only have one, they will invest in that person, not you);
  • they are open to discussing impactful things such as the cover or title (and yes, your readers will judge the book by its cover, so it better be good).

Publishers: the writer’s stress at work

Publishers and editors can be a source of distress and anguish. Yet, unless you feel brave enough to do all the publishing procedures yourself, you need them.

The best course of action is to acknowledge the red flags. Be aware of the best practices and never sign a contract without discussing it exhaustively. A good publisher is the dream. You need to learn how to differentiate them.