Choosing an Epublisher


Now that my first article has convinced you of the joys of epublishing, your next step is choosing an epublisher. The fact is, there are no guarantees that you’ll get the right publisher, or that the publisher will be a good fit for you or you for them, no matter how much research you do. But doing some research beforehand can cut out a lot of the risk.

The main thing, to start, is make sure you’re looking at publishers that publish what you’re writing. Sounds silly, I know, but you wouldn’t believe how many submissions publishers (and agents) get that don’t fit their guidelines—something that simply looking at the submissions page would usually tell an aspiring author. So first things first, read the submissions page.

Then visit their About Us page. Do the principals in the company have experience in publishing and business? Are they authors starting a company to publish their own work (to some, this isn’t an issue) and is it predominantly their work on the website—this can be tricky to know if the authors take on various pen names, however. Is there a physical address for the company where you could potentially reach them (and track them down if they absconded with your royalties)? You might want to research whether it’s an incorporated company or a sole proprietorship—does everything hinge on the health and mental well-being of one person?—and who the true owners are. We’re not done with the company’s website yet, but let’s detour for a minute.

My next suggestion might be another obvious one: Google them. Well, any search engine will do, but you get the picture. Type in different variations of the company name, of the editors’ names, the publisher’s name and other key operators in the company. You have a couple of goals here: to see what kind of web presence they have—this is important in a company whose majority of business is done online. Do they have a web presence and is it negative or positive? Are they promoting their company? What are people saying about the employees and the company? And when you Google the company, do they come up in review sites, contest judging, conferences, or others? Are they out there and do people know who they are—and think mostly favorably about them? You don’t want to submit to a company no one’s heard of because, well, you don’t want to be responsible for bringing all the customers to the book.

While you’re Googling, you might pick out the name of several books you know the company publishes and Google those. What are you looking for? Retail outlets. Where is the book for sale and is it easy to find via search engine? You don’t want readers to have a hard time getting hold of your book, and the wider the distribution net, the more opportunities for authors to hit a wider audience online. Are the books available at any of the larger online bookstores: Amazon, Fictionwise, All Romance Ebooks, Books on Board, Diesel Books, Mobipocket and other online vendors?

From Google, hit some of the blogs and websites that discuss epublishers: Absolute Write, Dear Author, Karen Knows Best, Piers Anthony, Erotic Romance Epublishers Comparison site (EREC) and Preditors and Editors. These places feature reports from authors both anonymous and not, about different companies and their experiences with them.

Now that you’ve done some basic research into the company’s structure, personnel, distribution and reputation, get to know the company the second best way to actually being an author—be a customer. Just as important as how a company treats you as an author is how a company treats its customers. You know, the people who will buy your book and be essentially responsible for you getting your paycheck. Most epublishers both publish and sell their books on their website, and revenue from selling books themselves is often the bulk of the income.

When on the website, start from the beginning. How pleasing is the site to the eye? Does it draw you in, make you want to browse? Or make you want to click away as quickly as possible? Look at how easy or difficult the site is to navigate. Does the publisher make it easy to browse books in a variety of ways—by title, author, genre, length or some other means? Think about how professional the site looks—are there glaring typos, formatting problems or slow server. Would you want to come back to purchase and buy books?

Spend some time browsing the books. Is the cover art well done and would it sway you to want to find out more about the book(s)? If it doesn’t, why would it one of your readers? Look to see if the publisher provides blurbs and excerpts for the books. How about information on upcoming titles? Read those to see if they have typos and errors.

Go on and become a real customer. Purchase a book or two. I think this is one of the most important—and often overlooked—steps. It truly shocks me how often I hear authors say they’ve never read books published by their publisher—or don’t like what their publisher is producing. If you don’t respect a publisher for the book choices they’ve made, why would you want to sell your hard work to them? Even worse, why sell it to a publisher about whom you have no real knowledge of the quality of their product?

As you become a customer, think about these things: How easy or difficult the ordering process was, whether the publisher offers various methods of secure payment, how long it takes your book to be delivered—is it instant or does it take days? Email customer service and ask a question about the website, your download or upcoming books. Hopefully there wasn’t a problem with your order, but these things do happen on the internet, so it wouldn’t be reason to dismiss the publisher. If there was a problem, or if you’ve emailed customer service to ask a question, track how long it takes them to respond. Remember, epublishers are businesses, small businesses, and just because the company is online 24 hours a day/7 days a week, it doesn’t mean the employees are. Give a reasonable timeframe for response, depending on the urgency of your question—24 to 72 business hours seems reasonable for most things, the shorter time being for more urgent matters—like the company got your money but you didn’t get your books.

Once you receive your downloads, read them—so make sure you buy something you want to read. If the publisher doesn’t have anything you want to read, it’s time to move on. Remember, you’re trying to experience this like your potential readership would. If you don’t want to be a customer, others will probably feel the same. Things to notice about the book: did the blurb and cover represent the book well? Was the book formatted in a way that was easy to read and pleasing to the eye? Did the book seem well-edited or was it filled with errors, typos, consistency errors and plot holes? Remember, no book is perfect, but neither should it be so noticeable that it intrudes on your reading experience.

Among all this, while you’re checking out the company and the website, pay attention to who some of the company’s authors are. Are there names you recognize or is it authors who are unfamiliar to you? Now is a good time to choose a few authors to email. Not just well-known or high-selling authors, but the authors who might not seem as well-known. Choose from both ends of the spectrum to see if the authors report similar experiences, or if there’s a disparity. Also, keeping in mind that things change, be sure to talk to authors with not just past experience, but recent experience as well. Most authors tell me that they’re happy to answer questions about their experience with a publisher, especially in today’s climate of unstable publishers. As well as authors with the company, you might also ask people you know what they’ve heard (just remember, you’re dealing with hearsay and rumors at that point).

Some things you can ask: Does the company pay on time and do authors receive royalty statements showing sales and where they were made. What are sales numbers like? In house, are the chief operators and editors accessible if there’s a problem with edits, royalties, cover art, etc. This doesn’t mean bending over backward to meet the author’s every whim and wish, but instead dealing professionally with reasonable requests or providing answers for questions, concerns and complaints. Are the company executives professional?

Ask about promotion, and find out whether the company participates in marketing and promotion—though this is something you can also tell from your online research—or if the author is expected to do all marketing and promotion.

Find out if the company is supportive of the author writing for other publishers, if they allow authors to write in different genres, if there’s a certain amount of sex required, or if there are themes, storylines and genres that are taboo at the publisher.

Last, but definitely not least, inquire about the editing process. Is there a process at all or are you expected to turn in your book as clean as possible? Is there more than one person looking at it, what types of edits (copy edits, content edits, etc) are the books given and are the edits a partnership or did the author feel they lost control of their book and their voice to the editor?

By now, you’re probably thinking that this has been a lot of work and in reality, good research of companies is work. But as an author, you’re a small business. Certainly you wouldn’t enter into a business partnership with another business without first researching them and being familiar with their business practices and neither should you do this as an author signing with a publisher. Remember, once you sign a contract, you’re bound to them until that contract expires. Protect yourself and your business by doing the best research possible.

Next month: YMMV (Your mileage may vary).

Angela James
August 2008

“Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Epublishing” © 2008 Angela James. All rights reserved.

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