An author makes two different kinds of sales with each book. First is the initial sale to the publisher. Then, each subsequent sale of the completed, published book counts as the second kind of sale. The research an author does will impact both of these types of sales.
First, let’s look at the obvious effect of poor research and some ways to gain information on a prospective publisher.
Every so often word of a publisher going under hits the blogosphere, and authors wonder when, if and where it happen next. Some publishers go quietly. Some go with large implosions that seem to last for weeks and spew much vitriol across the internet. No matter how it happens it sucks for the authors, and those of us who have seen it happen or been through it feel for them.
Yet authors can protect themselves, and I am still surprised that some choose not to. Of course, no matter how diligent the research things can happen. Nothing is a perfect safeguard. Yet, a bit of legwork before the submissions process can save a lot of stress down the road.
The first step in researching publishers should always be checking sites like Absolute Write, Preditors and Editors, HiPiers (Piers Anthony’s site), EREC, and other watchdogs. Because it is possible for false reports to be filed, each step in the research process should be taken in conjunction with the others. This means if one site shows a problem, but everything else checks out, and the problem appears to be isolated, an author may choose to go forward. For some authors, even one report is one too many, and I confess that I fall into that camp as well.
Next a targeted web search should be completed. Researching the publisher’s name is one thing; however, the smart author is looking for specific items. Looking for the publisher’s name in quotes plus the word problems or issues will showcase those specific blogs or articles. Additional credence needs to be given to those mentions in high visibility places like Publisher’s Weekly, Locus, Dear Author, or other large industry blogs or magazines. Again, a single author’s problem may be something very specific to that publisher-author relationship or it may herald a bigger issue. Sometimes it is difficult to tell and authors will need to use their own judgment.
Asking for references, reading books, and even a perusal of the publisher’s website and social media platforms are all great next steps to take.
Why am I saying that authors should do this for smart sales?
Because let’s face it, many of us put a lot of time into our books. We write our first drafts, edit, polish, and tweak some more before we send the book off to a publisher. We’re signing contracts for as few as a couple of years or as many as seven. That’s a long time to be stuck in a bad relationship. And no, it doesn’t have to be a bad relationship; that’s why authors need to research publishers. A bit more forethought and a slower rush to get published will help save authors from a lot of difficulties and give them a solid foundation upon which to build their careers.
This covers the first sale—the initial sale to the publisher. But what about the second and hopefully multiple sales of books through vendors. Researching publishers for those kinds of sales means looking at four different things.
First, price point. If the publisher prices themselves out of the market, then sales will be impacted—no matter how big the name. If you, as the author, look at the price of your book and feel that it’s too high, then that will impact how you promote the book. Your emotions and energy around a high-priced book will hamper your marketing efforts just as much as they can help. Conversely, a publisher with blanket policies about reducing the price of the book or which price books artificially low may net you, the author, less money. Neither situation is a good one.
Second, genre fit. Does the genre and tone of your book fit in with the rest of the publisher’s catalog? A book that’s too erotic, or not erotic enough, will not stand out in a publisher’s catalog. A publisher that’s known for all genres may be good for your book, but even then the book may be lost in a large catalog if it’s not a good match.
Third, what does the publisher do for the author. Does the publisher provide support and education? Is there assistance and guidance, especially for newer authors. Or, is it a situation where once your book is published, it’s like pushing a baby bird out of the nest. You either fly, or fall, on your own efforts. Can you even talk to the publisher’s staff and does there seem to be any interest in your career beyond books? This goes to tone as well. The publisher that berates an author for low sales is not a smart sale, because the author will have to deal with this attitude for the entire length of a suddenly too-long contract.
Last, what promotion does the publisher do. Yes, this is last. Why? Because honestly with most publishers these days the bulk of the promotion falls to the author. The publisher can help, and should have a good resource for an in-house newsletter and social media. But any author looking to the publisher to do the entirety of the marketing won’t be making a smart sale, regardless of where she or he publishes. Instead, look at how a publisher’s effort can augment yours.
By taking a new approach to publisher research, hopefully you will be looking at the smart sales as the two-fold process that they are. Selling your book to the publisher isn’t the only sale that book will make. And each reader’s sale needs to be a smart one, reaching the right readers at the right price. Smart research will ensure that happens.