By Lise Horton
Too many of our members have been personally impacted by publisher difficulties. Ellora’s Cave. Torquere Press, Samhain (which has experienced a rebirth), and Secret Cravings (which closure seems to have avoided major bumps, though I have no personal knowledge). But they are merely the most recent examples, and were preceded over the last several years by Triskelion, Crescent Moon Press, Dorchester Publishing, Aspen Press and the subsequent operation started by stranded Aspen personnel, Musa.
The abrupt closing of All Romance E-books has once again fomented that bitter backlash that has arisen in the past when a publisher has sunk into chaos and shut its doors. ARe’s demise may have been without warning, but with publishers, both for the submitting author, as well as the author established with a particular house, there are ways to be vigilant and hopefully avoid a bad situation before it starts, or gets worse.
Of course, there will be times when a shutdown will catch everyone unawares, and if you are a contracted or published author with a house, you can perhaps be attuned to certain issues that can signal a problem and you can extricate yourself early in the process to avoid being tied up in legal issues or bankruptcy.
So you want to submit. How do you vet a publisher?
First, go to the source. Check every nook and cranny of the publisher’s website. Is it professional looking? One house that engendered criticism had numerous typos, grammatical errors and punctuation problems, and representative samples of authors’ work showed bad writing and bad editing.
How much information is given about the principals? Their industry experience or credentials? (Too many turn out to be a couple of friends who self-published and then decided to become “publishers” with no real expertise, and sometimes merely a desire to make an easier buck.)
What details are included for submitting authors? It’s vital you know what is TYPICAL in order to spot an aberration, such as the claim I saw on one site that no marketing would be expected of an author because they needed to immerse themselves in their art, and not deal with such trivial realities (the actual language was even more florid).
Do they include the most important details, such as formats they publish in and basic royalty rates? Response times on submissions?
Delve deeper. Pick a representative sample of the house’s titles. Check out reviews on Amazon. Are there substantive complaints about bad editing, problematic formatting, lousy cover art and writing skill in the books? (Every book gets a couple of bad reviews, but be wary if a lot of the house titles get a lot of bad reviews.) If you can afford to, even buy a couple of titles and vet them.
Reach out to a few authors for references for the house.
And check out author sites like Writer Beware, Absolute Water Cooler, Preditors & Editors and Dear Author for consistent complaints and discussions about a house (a caveat being you’ll always find a couple of grumpy folk in the best of places). And keep abreast of your RWA email blasts and news because they keep on top of bad situations too, like ARe, and previously Ellora’s Cave.
Give yourself a research window. Follow the publisher on social media. Do they promote authors? Do they have a blog, newsletter, author contributions? How do they comport themselves? Recall Tina Engler/Jaid Black’s on-line meltdowns and threats, at the very worst of the EC scandal, yet they were still soliciting submissions and people were still submitting! That behavior should be a major red flag.
If everything passes the sniff test and you submit and are offered a contract, undertake phase 2 of your vetting (you’re not committed until you sign that contract). NOTE: Do not be so eager to be published, no matter what, that you ignore concerns about any aspect of this process! And talk to your RWA friends! They’ve seen it all!
Your best option would be to consult a publishing lawyer (or literary agent) if you’re given a contract. NOT your Uncle Dick, the personal injury guy. Publishing is industry specific and not knowing industry standards means they might not spot an egregious clause, or realize a vital provision is missing.
The entire contract is important, but a few areas are key when a house might be in trouble.
Reversion of rights. Know how you can request your rights back; under what circumstances (e.g., breach of contract terms such as scheduled payment of royalties or royalty statements).
If the publisher can assign the rights to a third party (typical), what are the terms and restrictions? Do you lose additional rights, do the royalties or reversion terms change?
Does the contract address bankruptcy (it is a quagmire, no matter what, but if they don’t even MENTION the potential situation, that should make you very wary)?
As for basic provisions, if they’re muddy, or missing, or vastly different than standard, ask for clarification. This is a business transaction and you need to embrace your power as a party to a legal contract. Don’t be cowed. And keep accurate records of email correspondence on these topics, because any promises made (such as “good faith negotiation”) can be your legal ace in the hole.
Bottom line. You have to eventually make a choice. If the stars align, it may be a publishing match made in heaven. But if something goes wrong, from bad luck at a good house, to nefarious doings at a bad one, you should gird your loins, handle what needs doing and then move on. Hard to do. Painful, frustrating, maddening.
Then write your next book, find a new publisher, and get back on your author horse.♥
Lise Horton in published in erotica and erotic romance, including her Golden Flogger-nominated 2015 BDSM erotic romance, HOLD TIGHT, and she presented her workshop on sensory description, A Feast for the Senses, at the 2016 BDSM Writers Conference. She returns in 2017 as Chapter Secretary and at her day job is in her 26th year as legal assistant at an entertainment law firm dealing with publishing. Lise writes smoldering, intense romance replete with laughter, and kink. Visit her at www.LiseHorton.com