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.

Writing tips