Traditional publishing can come with risks. I was going to write a post about the different things to look out for before jumping into a publishing contract. The main thing comes down to questioning everything though. Sometimes you need to be asking the publisher questions you may have. Other times you need to be looking for certain information yourself.
It’s a common rite of passage for most authors to receive tons of rejections before finally being accepted. It’s easy to mistake that first acceptance for a sign you’ve finally made it, but that is usually just the beginning. You’ve worked hard on your book and that is your time, which is worth just as much as anyone else’s. Don’t be dragged into the common belief that it’s just writing and it’s not like proper work. It may not be sixty hours a week carrying up to 15kg in a warehouse, but as enjoyable as writing can be, it is work. You don’t want to just throw all your hard work away.
I’m not suggesting you treat your new potential publisher like they are lying about everything. I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt until I see something to make me think otherwise. It’s okay to look into their history before signing a contract though. Have there been any previous problems? Why? And if you see a term you don’t understand at first, look it up. That’s what Google is for. If you have friends with different areas of expertise who can help you understand something, ask for their help. It you don’t know anyone who can help, there are usually places where you can get free advice. Again, use Google to search for this help.
Another useful thing to know is how many other authors are signed with them? If it’s a small number, that means more chance of them giving your book the attention it deserves. If it’s high and the publishing experience resembles an author production line, then it will be difficult, if not impossible for the publisher to ensure that every book is properly formatted, edited and marketed in the way it needs to be to stand any chance of success.
The next thing to do to is check out other books published by your potential publisher. This doesn’t have to involve spending money. Amazon allows a free sample to be read on many of the books. What you’re looking for here are any errors or formatting issues. That could suggest that your book will be badly edited in the same way.
A question you can ask, is if you sign on the dotted line, will you be sent a proof copy to look through? In this digital age, a word document may be the fastest way to look through and approve your edits. However, if you haven’t seen a print version, you won’t know how it actually looks in print, or if there are errors in the blurb for example. The chances are, if a potential reader picks up a book, flicks through it and spots one of these errors somewhere, they won’t care how good the story is and will leave without buying your book. If they purchase the book online and find the errors after receiving it, they will probably remember you (not the publisher) for the wrong reasons.
Ask about Marketing: you usually have to do some, most or all. It’s rare you don’t have to do any at all. However, you want to make sure your book is going to be widely available before you start spending time and money on marketing, or you try to gain exposure by entering the book for awards. You can only market something or win an award if it’s readily available. So, you need to ensure the book isn’t going to become unavailable in any format for an extensive period of time. The more difficult it is to get hold of, the more likely your potential readers will buy someone else’s book instead.
Assuming your book is marketed, easily available to buy, published without errors etc; how can you be sure about the sales figures? The short answer is, you can’t. The tracking sites that I’ve found only track certain sources and some charge for this service. I think you can lessen the risk of being ripped off by following my earlier advice to research the publisher beforehand.
This article isn’t designed to put anyone off traditional publishing; just to make people aware of the things that can go wrong if you jump in blindly. Please feel free to add your own advice in the comments.