Writers are warned to beware of “bad” publishers. But how are we supposed to know if a publisher is good or bad?
It’s taken me a long time to learn how to spot the good from bad, so I thought I’d share. Note that my research is focused on publishers of novels rather than poetry, screenplays, etc, which might be very different.
Before we get into that, we need to define what is meant by “good” and “bad.” For purposes of this post:
A good publisher will sell your work to a good number of readers.
What counts as “a good number” will depend on your genre and the form of writing, among much else, so let’s say that means “many orders of magnitude more than you could sell on your own.”
Bad publishers fall into two categories:
Some bad publishers are scammers, who will extract money from you and not sell your book.
Some bad publishers have good intentions but won’t be able to sell your book any better than you could on your own.
Good publishers sell your books in good quantities to readers.
So, how do you tell if a publisher is good or bad?
Authors on the whole are a neurotic, anxious bunch. Okay, most aren’t quite as bad as me, but nearly all of us fret. A lot.
Maybe it’s because we’ve trained ourselves to scrutinise our words and the impressions they make, and that extends into over-scrutinising everything. Maybe it’s because publishing is like war – 5% terror and 95% waiting – and in those periods of waiting we inevitably overanalyse and catastrophise everything. Maybe it’s Ebola. I don’t know.
Whatever the reason, one of the consequence is that most of us suffer from author envy at some point. Maybe at every point. When you’re unagented, you’re jealous of authors with agents. When you’re agented, you’re jealous of authors with publishing deals. When you get a deal, you’re jealous of authors with bigger deals. When you get a big deal, you’re jealous of authors with… better hair, or something. Those coiffured bastards.
I’ve decided to work on my author brand. I don’t really know what that is, but neither does anybody else who works in marketing, so I’m not letting it bother me. I’ve been in this industry long enough to know all I need is some Blue Sky Thinking and I will be able to grab that Low Hanging Fruit for a Quick Win!
Step one of my author brand is coming up with a brand identity. Again, nobody really knows what that means, so I’ve decided it means two things:
An Anna Kaling look.
An Anna Kaling tag line.
I’ve already got a great look going on personally…
I say, “That’s not bad” when I think something is great, and, “That’s quite good” when I think it’s awful.
I have an opinion on whether you should put the milk in first or last when making tea.
Yes, I’m British.
I write for all romance lovers, and have readers from the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia among others, but I aim my books at the US market for many reasons – it’s the home of romance, my agent is in the US, it’s a bigger market than the UK, and I get extra brownie points for writing things like, “Bloody hell!”
It has its benefits, but also its drawbacks. In particular:
Authors are a hindrance to anti-terror efforts all over the world.
Why? Because of this:
Due to our Google searches, authors must make up a good 70% of anti-terror watch lists. And while we’re being investigated for searching Does Quicklime Really Dissolve Corpses Quickly?, the real terrorists and criminals are getting away with it.
By the way, when your colleagues are discussing TV shows, don’t jump in with, “Actually, that’s not accurate. It takes several minutes of continuous inhalation for chloroform to render a victim unconscious. And also, strangling somebody is nowhere near as easy as TV makes it look.” You’ll suddenly find that nobody wants to work on 1:1 projects with you.
In my file alone, there are search records including:
I haven’t given birth but I’m pretty sure it can’t be as painful as writing a query for literary agents.
Trying to condense 100,000 words into 250 is hard enough, but you know what doesn’t help? The pressure. The well-meaning advice articles kindly explaining that agents don’t buy toilet paper because they print and use the 10,000 awful queries they get a week–but not before they’ve posted them on their Secret Agent Groups and laughed at you and your pathetic dreams of being a writer.
The worst thing of all? The pressure is completely unnecessary. Queries don’t have to be perfect. They have one job: to make the agent want to read your pages. A typo isn’t going to spoil that (psst, here’s a secret; agents make typos too). Not perfectly explaining all of your sub-plots is not going to spoil that. Sending it just after the agent realises she’s bought a decaff coffee instead of a regular isn’t… actually, it might. Agents really do take coffee seriously.
But, really, QUERIES DO NOT HAVE TO BE PERFECT.
To prove it, I’m sharing my less-than-perfect query; the one that landed me my fabulous agents, Amanda and Michelle, with Amanda’s comments on why it did its job. (Psst: If you want to query Amanda, check out that link.)
UPDATE: When I wrote this, Amanda was at Inklings Literary Agency. She’s now at BookEnds Literary, and I went with her, of course. Please check BookEnds for her latest submission guidelines and don’t rely on this post!
Everybody knows the most time consuming part of querying: stalking agents online to find out everything from their favourite movie to their mum’s shoe size and then realising you can’t put any of that in your query anyway because then they’ll know you’re a freaky Stalker McStalkerson.
This process of stalking is so much easier when the agent obliges with a social media presence.
To aid and assist agent-seeking authors in this quest, I bribed my agent extraordinaire Amanda Jain (with Mr Kiplings Fondant Fancies) to answer your questions about querying.
Amanda has worked at Inklings since 2014 and is actively looking for new clients. A profile and details of what she’s looking for can be found on the Inklings website and her Twitter.
I can attest that she has a wicked sense of humour, is wonderfully editorial, loves Oxford commas, and isn’t fazed by dealing with neurotic authors (um… a friend told me that last bit… totally not me.)
Speaking of authors being a strange bunch, your first question to Amanda was:
I tried flash fiction for the first time, limited to 450 words with the prompt ‘workplace drama.’ I came up with this quick and dirty tale.
By the way, it’s not wish fulfillment. I like most of my colleagues. Even the one who sniffs all day. Even the one who uses my mug. MY mug, with Wonderwoman on it. Even the one who puts the tea bags in the general waste bin even though the composting bin is right next to it and everyone knows a polar bear dies each time someone doesn’t recycle properly.
I’ve reached that stage of editing, with novel #2, where I’m past the fuzzy warmth of false confidence and social lubrication and into I’m-going-to-vomit territory. (I’m not entire sure the tequila analogy works there…)
I’m now tinkering with individual sentences and words and probably making them worse, or just as good, instead of better.
This means it’s time to start novel #3. I thought I’d explain my process here–with the caveat that it’s MY process and will NOT work for everyone–for planning a romance novel.
I can hear the collective gasp. Writers reading this are already disagreeing with me. Do I care?
Maybe a bit because I’m just a cucumber with anxiety and I desperately want everyone to like me please like me don’t click off my blog I swear I’m going to make some good points please please please read on.