Writers: Are You Ready To Sign With An Independent Publisher? Read This First #WritingCommunity

Please welcome review team member Terry Tyler, with some important thoughts on Independent Publishers

Please note: I am aware that there are plenty of good independent publishers around, who work hard for their authors and maintain good standards. The purpose of this article is to warn writers to do their research, and find them. It’s a warning not to fall prey to either the blatant conmen, or the inept.

Ten years ago, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing was launched.  Since then, thousands of scammers and cowboys have emerged from the murky corners of the internet to make a quick quid out of the millions of writers who’ve been tapping away at the keys for years, and are delighted that they can finally get their work in front of the reading public without a contract from a traditional publisher. These scammers include: proofreaders who don’t know how to punctuate, editors who don’t recognise a badly constructed sentence, promotional services who don’t achieve any sales, and hordes and hordes of new, independent publishers who have recognised the money to be made from cheap-to-produce, cheap-to-buy Kindle books.

Did you know that anyone can set themselves up as a publisher? It doesn’t cost much, and there is no official body to whom you must prove your ability to prepare a novel for publication. There are thousands of indie publishers around these days, and most writers can find one to suit their work if they really want to. Over the last few years, though, I’ve heard the same stories, over and over. Unpaid royalties (please see H A Callum’s story, further down this article). Bad quality paperbacks. Book tour disappointments. Epic distribution fails. Worst of all, though, I’ve seen with my own eyes the low standard of editing and proofreading in some books published by small presses that have been submitted for this blog for our review team.

Recently I read one that had errors on every page. I felt so angry on behalf of the author, who had written a basically decent book. Yet the publishers’ website looks great, with avatars of smiling professionals who claim to know their stuff. It’s relatively easy to produce a great website. Producing a great book takes a little more expertise. And money.

Writers:  Do Your Research.

Don’t sign any contract until you’ve looked at a good selection of the books already published by the company, especially those with bad reviews. If the proofreading and editing is not up to scratch, don’t go there. Too many writers are so thrilled that someone wants to publish their work that they look no further than the realisation of their ‘published author’ fantasies.

Which brings me onto: the vanity publishers.

Before Amazon KDP, before the internet was littered with independent publishers, writers had three choices: aim for the dizzy heights of traditional publishing (the ‘Big Five’ and their offshoots), use a vanity publisher, or just keep writing for its own sake. Some who were desperate to see themselves in print would pay for a vanity press to turn their work into books they could hold in their hand, give as gifts, or try to flog at car boot sales. They knew what they were doing. There was no pretence about it.

Now, though, the vanity press has reinvented itself. Companies have smart websites, and give themselves descriptions like ‘hybrid publisher’, or say they are ‘bridging the gap between self and traditional publishing’. They insist that quality comes first, and make claims about their expert editors and proofreaders. They give the impression that they won’t accept just any submission that falls into their email inbox.

This is not necessarily true.

Many vanity publishers (for this is what they are) will accept pretty much any work, as long as you pay them. The clue is in the name: they will tell you how excited they are about working with you on your fabulous manuscript; they flatter you, tell you what a talented writer you are. They know what you want to hear. Of course they are excited about working with you. You’re about to hand over several thousand pounds. Then there’s their cut of the proceeds from books sold.  Yes, from the book that YOU have paid to get published. Not that you’re likely to sell very many.  Most vanity presses do nothing to promote your work. Why should they? They’ve already made their profit. From you. Recently, I and some other members of the team looked at a book published by one of these outfits. It contained numerous errors, and the content was not of a standard fit for the minimum 3* review rating required by Rosie for her blog. Heartbreakingly, the writer had written a dedication to the publishers in the book, thanking them for believing in her work.

A while back I received a message on Twitter asking me to review a book published by the most well-known of these vanity publishing scammers.  It had errors in the blurb, one of which described the heroine as being ‘adverse’ to something, rather than ‘averse’. Didn’t say much for the standard of the book itself!

Do Your Research.  If you are asked to pay for the privilege (or ‘contribute towards the cost’) of being published, it’s a vanity press. End of story.  If you don’t mind this, if you know what you’re doing and you just want someone else to do the work for you, and have print copies of your book, fine.  Do your homework, get recommendations, seek out one of the better ones, because, like with independent publishers, there are decent vanity presses, too.  But don’t just believe claims on websites. And don’t make the mistake of thinking you are being offered a real publishing deal.

 

If you self-publish, you can choose your own editors and proofreaders.  Of all the books I read for review, those that are self-published are often the best presented. Perhaps this is because they have shopped around and found the best people for the job.  If you want recommendations, ask me, or Rosie, or any writer you know who self-publishes and produces great books.

Now I’d like to bring you a summarised version of the story of H A (Heath) Callum, who, along with a few others, has been let down by a small press.

Heath’s publisher made many promises at the outset, either contractually or in writing via email.  Here is a list of what actually happened.

  • As launch day for his debut novel approached, the publisher would disappear for weeks at a time.  This meant that Heath did not have good time to get ARCs out to reviewers, and the debut was a hurried affair.
  • Heath had to facilitate his own launch and promotion, despite the original promises.  All sales and reviews were obtained by Heath himself.
  • It took over a month for the publisher to correctly list the genre of the book with vendors, which meant that it could not be found in searches.  Heath discovered how important this is when the problem was rectified, and the sales started coming in.
  • The publisher left for a European holiday (Heath is in the US) when royalties were due, having advised that funds for royalties were currently unavailable.  At this point, Heath got together with other writers in this publisher’s ‘stable’, and found that their experiences were all the same.
  • On the publisher’s return, the royalties for the second quarter were paid late, and with no statement, so the writers had no idea if the amounts were correct.
  • This was followed by another vanishing act, and the third quarter royalties were late, too.
  • Emails, voicemails and social media messages went unanswered.
  • Heath and his fellow authors then filed a petition, to recoup their losses and make others aware of the situation.

Heath and his friends felt it was important to warn and protect other writers, which is why he has chosen to speak out about this, and was happy to have his story told here; these are his words, written up by me as per the details he gave me.  He chose to submit to a small, new independent in good faith, because he liked the idea of a collaborative effort, with writers and publisher growing alongside each other.  Alas, that ideal was never met.

This is what I mean when I say that anyone can set themselves up as a publisher, with a flashy website and promises of professionalism.  Sadly, these days, you can’t believe everything you read.  Do Your Research.  Talk to other writers on the label.  Google the company, to see if anyone has made complaints about them.  Take a look at the books they’ve published.  BEFORE you end up in a situation like Heath’s.

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79 thoughts on “Writers: Are You Ready To Sign With An Independent Publisher? Read This First #WritingCommunity

    • Thanks, Olga ~ I tend to feel compelled to write a post like this when I’ve come across a few injustices! It just amazes me that people will hand over cash or sign contracts without doing research – you wouldn’t do that in any other area of life. I hope posts like these can save even a few people from making the sort of mistakes that can put them off the whole writing thing forever.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great advice, Terry. Mind if I add something? Some independent presses demand ALL your rights, even if they never intend to use them. And some, try to lock you into your genre. If, say, you write mysteries, you can NEVER write another mystery without sending it to them. If they refuse, you still aren’t free to shop it elsewhere. Any career-long terms should be avoided at all costs.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Crikey! Thanks for your added input, Sue. As I said to Olga, above, if this post can just save a few people from making awful mistakes, our work is done! The trouble is that too many writers long to be able to bandy about the words ‘my publisher’, and are still under the impression that ‘self-published’ means ‘failed’, not that it’s a choice made by many because we want to have control over our work. I have never submitted to an independent publisher, and never will.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Writers: Are You Ready To Sign With An Independent Publisher? Read This First #AmWriting — Rosie Amber | Wadadli Pen

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  4. A must read post. I’m currently quite confused about the new ‘hybrid’ publishers and what exactly this means. Sounds like vanity publishing to me but I have been informed it’s not. It makes me wary as a blogger as while I want to support authors I don’t want to support these companies. I’m also confused about the new crowd funding publishers too. It doesn’t take much to confuse me! 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • ‘hybrid’ publishing has been known to be connected to distribution of books – again the author pays upfront.

      Crowdfunding is where authors ask the public to pledge money to fund publishing a book, perhaps for exclusive access to the final book. If they use a recognised site, for instance, kickstarter, a percentage of the fee will be taken by the site. It might work well for authors who already have a large fan base.

      One article, I read from the Guardian 2015, said a popular author raised the $135000 for a proposed 250 page book in a day. Impressive figures which will probably lure more users.

      Liked by 3 people

    • If you’re submitting to a company and they say, okay, we’ll publish your manuscript, but you’ve got to pay for it to be edited, proofread, etc it’s vanity publishing, whatever other name you want to give it. If you paint an apple with gold paint and call it a ‘golden tree fruit’, it’s still an apple. Some of these companies charge the earth, too, much more than it would cost to just pay for your own editor, proofreader and cover. AND they take a cut of your royalties! I’ve looked at some of these companies, and however they dress it up, it all boils down to one thing: you’re paying for your own book to be published, but you don’t own the rights to it. And you have no control over how good the editing and proofreading is, whereas if you self-pub, you can shop around, take recommendations. That one I mentioned in the article, where the woman had dedicated her book to them – it was shocking, really basic stuff like not starting a new person’s dialogue on a new paragraph, and it needed a serious redraft and rethink.

      I don’t know anything about crowd funding publishers, but I wouldn’t touch anything that relies on crowd funding with a barge pole.

      Liked by 3 people

      • It’s so cheeky! I have looked at some of these services out of curiosity and they charge thousands just for editing and proofreading. There is a publishing company (not going to name it on here) that relies on the author crowdfunding. I haven’t fully looked into it. I find myself in a difficult place with authors who have gone through these services and request reviews as I want to support the authors but not necessarily the company behind them, if that makes sense?

        Liked by 2 people

      • It does make sense, when we review and see errors which could / should have been fixed before publication, we usually point these out. The more reviewers who do this, they will be helping authors in the long-run.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Abbie, in reply to your second comment, the more we spread the word about this sort of thing, the more people we can stop wasting their money. You’re right, vanity publishing (or whatever they want to call it) costs thousands, whereas you can get yourself a really good proofreader and editor for around a grand. And covers get cheaper all the time. Most little-known authors say they make their money out of ebooks and find paperbacks hard to sell, anyway; it’s why I haven’t bothered with them yet. I met up with about 25 writers a year ago, and a lot of us sat down talking about this – they ALL said that trying to sell paperbacks is a thankless task for little-known/small press writers.

        One thing new writers need to do, too, is to realise that the book is not finished when they write ‘the end’, and that they need to redraft and redraft, over and over, not just bung it out to a publisher. If self-publishing, it can save on editing costs if the book is near to being of a publishable standard. I don’t actually use one, but do it all myself, although proofreading is a different matter; we all need one of them!

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  5. Excellent post! So glad I tripped over it! For those who haven’t discovered the wisdom of Jane Friedman, she’s worth the time (her website is so stuffed with helpful info, you will find yourself sucked into a time warp). Something she’s done that I haven’t seen anywhere else is to compile an amazing visual graph of what she calls The Key Book Publishing Paths, and she’s updated and changed it over the years. Here’s a link to her 2017 version: https://www.janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/

    You can get to the rest of her website from here, too — she has articles on hybrid publishing, for example, among other variations of the things you’ve touched on here, Terry.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thanks for this cautionary tale. I have been traditionally published, self-published, and am presently *actually* hybrid published (some works published traditionally and some myself). My work with a small publisher was not terrible … until she a) tried to grow her business too fast, b) hired someone as an editor who stunk on ice (sorry to say), and c) had a personal family tragedy that caused her to put the majority of the business in the hands of the aforementioned editor for an extended period of time. In my case, important promotional tie-ins were missed entirely … by *months.* Far too many lost opportunities resulted. I had retained eBook rights, and was not at all sorry when paperback rights reverted to me. Not too shockingly, she ultimately went out of business.

    There really is no right or wrong way, as someone else pointed out. Always, though check Writer Beware or similar (pred-ed.com is working on updating all of their listings). You can save yourself a lot of the heartbreak that others have experienced by doing so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Sharon, and I sympathise most sincerely. I hear more tales like this about small publishers than I do good ones. Aside from the biggies, like Bloodhound, who know how to promote, and Bookouture and a couple of others who are properly selective about what they take, I’ve only heard bad things about them. I’ve never seen the point of handing over 50% of my royalties (or whatever) for a few paperbacks, with all the risks involved.

      Hope you find the best way for you. And yes, thanks so much for bringing up Writer Beware!! We didn’t think we ought to name the companies here, but I know she does.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. This is so good and so informative, Rosie and Terry, and I endorse everything you say. Terry, you and your lovely sister are a credit to this – often very strange, but mostly terribly exciting – profession we find ourselves in!!

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    • Thanks, Kate! I think the trouble is that some appear to be bona fide, but aren’t. For instance, the one that published the book with the errors on every page is quite a big one, and one with whom I see lots of perfectly good writers sign. But I think the key there is to get the work edited and proofread BEFORE you give it to them, because they don’t know how. It’s not just the book I mentioned. I since heard of another who used to be with them, quote: ‘I think they just throw the books at someone in the office and say ‘see if you can see any mistakes in that”. I started to read another book from them for the team that should have been chucked back at first edit, or possibly rejected – the main character was a 20+ year old in the present day who had the language and attitudes of someone living in the 1960s. I don’t think the author actually knew the people she was writing about, or what younger people talk and know about today. The writing itself was fine, but the content made it undreadable.

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      • Hi Terry, I’m not sure who the particular publisher is but if they’re shoddy in any way Absolute Write will have picked up on them I’m sure! They will name the publishers or somebody will start a thread and ask if anyone has had any dealings with such-and-such a publisher. Often the publishers themselves will come on and defend their company. If nobody’s started a thread it’s always a good idea to start one yourself and see the experience of others. AW have been on the scene for a long time, possibly twenty years? Maybe not quite that long but they were one of the first online whistle blowers as I recall. I may be wrong about this but I think Victoria Strauss who did the whistle-blowing on vanity publishers around the same time may have set it up. I think she has been (still is?) a regular contributor. (I would have to leave this page to check).

        Yes, I totally agree about authenticity, I am pretty good at spotting out-of-date phrases or eg records or TV programmes that wouldn’t have been spoken/played/aired in the 60s! I can forgive something for being a few years out of date but whole decades? TV programmes sometimes do it too and it really irks me! Chances are if it irks me it irks others too although surprisingly some people don’t seem to be bothered!

        I have also read books that were supposed to be edited and proofread and I pick up errors all over the place. Yes, a few will get through and I do feel for indies (being one myself now) who can’t afford editorial services so it’s criminal to take their money and then not do a thorough job. In a way I’m lucky to have had a trad publisher and small presses in the past, all of whom did thorough edits but it was a joint effort. So the latest edits would come back and then I would go through them yet again with a fine toothcomb until all the errors had gone or near as damn it. That just doesn’t seem to happen now!

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      • Thanks, Kate, that’s good to hear, and Victoria Strauss is a marvel, I’ve tweeted her pieces often! I think the problem just comes down to the one I identified in the article – that anyone can set up a publishing company, and often do so without any expertise at all. I’ve wondered in the past if some books published by indie publishers have actually been read, or if the people publishing ever read books; if they did, surely they would see that they’re publishing stuff that just isn’t good. Or perhaps they don’t care; for many, it is all about the marketing. The one I mentioned that had an error on every page (and not just one), actually sells very well, has a great cover, is of that gangland/grip lit genre that is so hot right now, and has tons of reviews saying how brilliant it is. I’d love to know where they all came from…. it does, however, have a few like mine that complain about all the errors. I suspect only our reviews were genuine.

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  8. I recently wrote and published my first art book in October. I ran into a few of these companies. One actually said it was an awesome book….but..ahem, I hadn’t sent them anything yet. Red flags and spider sense went off.

    I used Amazon to publish. I had friends look at my book and give me feedback and then went live.

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  10. Excellent post, Terry and Rosie. There are definitely scammers out there, but like you said, also some honest small house publishers. I’m fortunate to be with one of them. I had a friend who’s a successful, traditionally published author, look at my contract before signing (I had no experience in this area) and she said by industry standards, it was more generous that others she’d seen, and strictly professional. They are not a vanity press – no money whatsoever up front. I also have a few friends who are with reputable indie publishers. Although few and far between, they do exist.

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  11. Reblogged this on The PBS Blog and commented:
    Yes. Yes. and Yes! I was just working on a guest article covering this same subject. Please, authors, do your research. Don’t let the perceived prestige of “being signed” get you scammed! Times have changed and there’s a lot you can do yourself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • WELL SAID! And there is no prestige in ‘being signed’ anymore, because indie publishers are ten a penny and, to be frank, many are not that picky. One writer who had her book rejected by two members of our review team, and a 3* from the other, was subsequently signed by one who claims great things…. do send me a link to the article when it’s out!

      As for those who believe that they’re being offered a real publishing deal when they sign with a vanity press, I give up. I suspect they also allow diddycoys to tarmac their driveways.

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  12. Can I add another bit of advice? Check out the credentials of the editors and publisher. A few years back I saw an indie publisher getting defensive about his company in a forum, so I went to the web site and checked out the creds. Turns out about five people worked there (not a bad thing, in and of itself; small can work) — NONE of them had any publishing experience. They were all Web folks — had experience in web design, primarily (some with back-end programming experience), so it was clearly a startup formed by some Web-heads who thought they’d make some money in the world of online publishing.

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    • Terrific advice, Ellen, thanks. I think many of these indie publishers are ‘Web-heads who think, etc’ – love that phrase, I am nicking it for a tweet, so double thank you! That’s why self-pub are often the best presented – because we can choose professionals who come recommended. And as I said to Kate, above, I believe that some of them don’t actually read books, or have any idea what constitues a publishable novel.

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  14. Excellent points! Thanks to Terry for writing this up and Rosie for sharing it–and to poor Heath as well, for sharing some hard-earned experience.
    It’s so true, though. Being signed with just any small publisher doesn’t mean anything. With some it might be a good thing, and with others it might just mean that the author didn’t do their work. I had one friend’s work, which was by no means ready to be seen a publisher at all, be ‘signed’ with a smaller publisher and then sent out without ANY real editing.
    What’s sad to me is when some people will write-off all self-published work, and only look at work that’s been signed with a publisher. The truth is, there are huge variations in quality to be found in both worlds. Being signed doesn’t make it professional, and being self-published doesn’t make it amateur. The quality of the work is in the work itself, not in the labels attached to it.

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    • Chauncey, thank you, you have it in a nutshell! And those debut authors who write mediocre books but think they must be ‘better’ than established self-pub writers because they have ‘been signed’…don’t get me started!!!!

      Too many books chucked out into the world by small publishers read like 1st or 2nd drafts. Because the ‘publishers’ don’t actually know anything about their industry. Alas, we have a long way to go before the reading public and book bloggers realise that ‘published’ is no longer an indication of quality – and self-pub doesn’t mean substandard. With luck, posts like this and comments like yours should help. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. So many small publishers are going to the wall ..I’m constantly seeing posts from disappointed writers who believed their fortunes were about to be made. As for Chauncey’s comment: spot on. I use Amazon Createspace as my publishing platform, but my own imprint, Little G Books appears on the spine. The books are double edited, I use a professional cover designer….and bookshops like Waterstones won’t touch them. I’ve experienced such rudeness from managers. And yet many mainstream publishers use Lightening Source, a POD company……snobbery exists at all levels…it should be on quality not publisher…we all know there is a lot of ‘celeb’ tat piled up on those best-seller tables

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    • The problem is that writers don’t research the industry. Too many of them just want to be told that their dream has come true, and that they are marvellous, talented writers. Someone tells them this, they sign, and think they’ve ‘arrived’. No matter that the publisher might be just two people working online who don’t even understand the basics of how to edit a novel for publication.

      You know the paperbacks in shops thing doesn’t concern me as I don’t have them, but I can see how frustrating that must be. But even the most modest book blogger can be snooty about self-published books, versus those that have been signed by some one man band who has set himself up as a publisher!

      Too many writers don’t even understand that if a ‘publisher’ asks you for money, they’re no different from those photographers who used to ‘talent spot’ girls in the street and tell them they could be models, and make them pay hundreds for some portfolio of shots!

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  16. Important article, Terry and Rosie. Writers can so easily be taken for a ride. But as you point out in the preamble, not all small independent publishers are out to exploit you and I’m happy with mine. I wrote an article on the Writers and Artists Website about things to take care of if going down this route
    https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/921/preparing-for-submission/what-does-a-publisher-do/
    As for the mistake in the blurb, very offputting, but I did see that recently from one of the bigger publishers 😦 It might have been using the correct form of principal/principle.

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    • Yeah, but this was only one of a few errors in it, Anne! I ‘kindly’ pointed them out to the author. She didn’t reply. Probably gutted that she had spent thousands on getting a book published by people who can’t spell! And only yesterday someone said to me ‘I found out to my cost that ‘hybrid’ means ‘vanity’…

      So pleased for you that you have found a good one! I don’t think many are necessarily out to exploit, just that they don’t understand how to publish a book, or that you have to pay out for professional proofreaders and editors. Ellen’s comments, above, are interesting. Thanks for adding the link – it’s all useful info!

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