When writers should be suspicious
The manuscript of your novel is very precious, even though if it is published it will represent the lowest paid hourly rate you have ever earned in your life (until you write the next one).
Those 200 – 300 pages contain a world that didn’t exist until you invented it. You may have written about the street outside your front door, but it is still a new world because no one else has written about it in the way you have. And no one will.
A novel grows out of imagination, frustration and sheer bloody-minded won’t-give-up-ness.
So, with all that invested in it, you want to find it a home. You want to see it in print. But there are publishing enterprises in existence with the sole aim of exploiting that need and writers have good reason to be wary of a company they have never heard of who appear to offer a dream solution.
A few days ago I wrote about Snowbooks who are looking for horror, sci fi and fantasy fiction at the moment. My blog post has been reblogged on several other sites but one commentator was suspicious.
Why would any reputable publishing company want to cut out somebody who looks after an author’s interests? Very suspicious of this!
I presume s/he means that by accepting unsolicited manuscripts direct from the author Snowbooks are cutting out agents. Good point – although I couldn’t find anywhere on their website where it says Snowbooks wouldn’t work with an author who has an agent. There are valid reasons why a small company may prefer not to and I’ll go into that later, but a generous dollop of suspicion is good for authors. And the fact that a publishing company is apparently willing to do something that most don’t do, is enough to raise questions.
First, is the fact that Snowsbooks appeared on my blog a recommendation in itself?
No, it’s not, unless I specifically say that I have personal experience of the company and like the way they work AND you trust me.
I do my best to make sure the information I post is accurate and that the organisation is someone you’d want to do business with, but I can’t offer any guarantees. I’ve been caught out in the past (about eight years ago I mentioned a free poetry competition to a class and it turned out that everyone who entered was a winner. And hey ho! their work would be published in an anthology which only costs XXX and wouldn’t your mother like a copy too.)
When it comes to publishing companies I check out the website – does it look professional as if time and money has been spent on it? Does it contain a company history? Most important, what does its back catalogue look like and does it have links to where the book can be purchased?
Then I click on a book at random and go through to Amazon. (And if they don’t put their books in one of the biggest shop windows in the world I end it there because if they are not a scam, they can’t have much commercial sense).
What do I expect to see on Amazon?
That the book covers look pretty much as good as ones from the major publishing houses. (Snowbooks are very good.)
That nothing about the entry screams amateur.
All that takes a few minutes. But if it were my precious manuscript I would spend longer on research.
A quick Google search revealed:
Guardian article about Snowbooks winning Small Publisher of the Year award in 2006
2007 interview with the managing director on a prestigous literary website
The Bookseller article about Snowbooks being awarded £30,000 from Arts Council England to develop its data publishing software – it will be free to other small publishers.
2015 interview about Snowbooks technical innovations
I stopped there. This is a bona fide company, of that there can be no doubt. As they are small, they only publish a handful of titles a year. I imagine it is as hard to win a publishing contract from Snowbooks as it is from one of the traditional big publishers. They may not pay advances (an advance on expected earnings before the book is published. The authors doesn’t get paid again until sales have ‘earned out’ the advance) but I would expect them to pay decent royalties and be decent in other respects too.
What about agents?
The commentator on my recent post is right. Agents are there to look after the interests of writers. They don’t get paid unless their author gets paid and that means they may negotiate a better deal than an author could realise on his or her own. But it is a middle man role that some small companies would rather avoid.
Many years ago I attended a talk given by Maggie Hamand of Maia Press, an impressive small publisher (since taken over by Arcadia). Maggie is herself a published novelist and she explained why her company didn’t deal with agents. She said they got in the way and described how her agent hadn’t thought to pass on the news that a famous British actor had offered a £1000 to option her novel for a TV drama.
The deal was too small to be bothered with, her agent said, but Maggie thought that £1000 wasn’t that small and in any case she would have been thrilled if the actor had managed to turn her story into something that could be enjoyed on the small screen.
My advice is be wary but recognise that there is more than one ‘right’ way to be published. And if you’re at all concerned do your research. Your precious manuscript deserves it.
The Society of Authors have produced a number of useful guides that are free to download. Click on the links below.
I hope this post has helped, but I’d love to have your views.
Have you been published by a small indy publisher? What was the experience like?
Have you been caught out by a scam operation?
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Great post, we hear a lot about vanity publishing but ideas on how to show that a publisher is bona fide are really useful.
Thanks – I hoped it would be helpful. There’s a world of difference between small independent presses and the callous who exploit a writer’s urge for publication.
Oh yes, there are some fantastic independent presses that would be a joy and privilege to work with — some of my friends have used independent publishers for short story collections, to wonderful effect.
I should probably have been clearer in my first comment; the “vanity press” reference was in relation to the “everyone wins” poetry anthology cited in the original post. Am I right in thinking most of those seem to have died out now that self-publishing is more established, and writers more aware of the difference?
(Lastly not sure why but my normal sign-in has turned into a green brick — but it’s still me!)
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
Sound advice from Author Bridget Whelan 😀
Pingback: Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy manuscripts wanted | BRIDGET WHELAN writer
We are a small indie publisher and have been working with authors since 2004. We only work one on one and over the years have not advertised but worked on referrals only. We have never expanded and have always stuck to our original aim which was to treat authors in the way that I wanted to be treated. Unfortunately we get lumped in under Vanity Press which is an expression that I have a great dislike for. I self-published my first book 17 years ago and it received quite a bit of national publicity at the time.. it also received derogatory remarks from people who had not read the book.. because they said it was Vanity Press. There are other small publishing companies out there who are doing a great job for those people who feel that they are not technically able to format, design, convert to Ebook etc.
Our books are, as you say very precious, and as such why would we not do our due diligence when handing it over to someone to take to the next stage. My advice is to always ask your contacts on blogs, social media for their recommendations as a start point. Then research the company completely including ringing up and speaking to someone in authority with your set of questions. Do not sign any contracts without reading thoroughly and consulting with someone who has an understanding of terms and conditions. And please can we consign the expression Vanity Press to the bin.
The “vanity publishing” comment referred to the “everyone’s a winner” poetry anthology cited in the original post, where a commercial anthology accepted every single submission and published them for a fee, without any ostensible editorial filtering. As you say, this is entirely different from reputable independent publishing, or self-publication with due editorial process. With the advent of reliable self-publishing platforms, vanity publishing seems now to have largely consigned itself to the bin.
Thanks for the clarification..in my mind what they accomplished was not publishing of any kind but fraudulent business practice.
There are many, many indy presses producing extraordinary work both in fiction and non fiction. Then there are publishing services who assist self-published authors to get their work out there. I know some locally and they are clear in their litrature about what they offer. From what you say, I guess that your company would be in that group. On the other side are the cheats….
Sorry, my replies seem to have got out of order. Fraudulent business practice – exactly! We should say that more often.
Which is one of the reasons back in 2004 that we decided to begin ours.. I had five years of working with some who were less than customer focused.. Didn’t mean to storm…
You’re fine…anyway it is an emotive subject. Do you think VPs (what else can we call them?) have disappeared? I’m not so sure, although they may have changed the way they operate because of the rise & rise of self publishing.I still think there is a need to check carefully, a need to be suspicious. I know you do too from your first response – but maybe we are being too cautious….
VPs have not disappeared by any stretch, Bridget but their number is fewer now.
Just as I thought….so writers still beware!
Useful background knowledge on the reality of the publishing process, thanks Bridget.
Glad it’s useful
I’ll try to answer the 3 questions you asked.
Have you been published by a small indy publisher?
What was the experience like?
I published my first book in a series through Create Space. Without help from friends, the costs would’ve doubled. I’m not good at marketing (making friends instead of customers)..
Writing a book is easy for me (68000 words in 20 days during NaNoWriMo) but it’s the editing that’s a killer. Few people want to do the type of editing I require, but I’m not going to publish unless my books are edited.
Have you been caught out by a scam operation?
A publisher is a pipe dream for the second book in my series However, handing my heart in book form to a shyster is like handing my soul to the devil. Last year, I received a call from an Indie publishing company. I asked to receive information in the mail about their company first. That’s the last I heard from them.
Thanks for coming by. Overawed by your ability to write so much so quickly and, of course, you’re absolutely right about the importance of editing. The ‘publishing’ company who contacted you last year were touting for work. I’m sure you weren’t an ideal candidate, far too savvy….so, they still exist, lurking in the shadows.
The old saying is that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. I would add one more to that: crime.
As long as creative criminals can come up with a way to remove from you what is yours, they’re try. If they’re tired of being creative about it, they’ll become politicians. 🙂
I have some thoughts.
1] My agent is so much more than a ‘middle man’. Despite the fact that his fees are lower than most other agents, he does so much more than what he is contracted to do, and doesn’t charge for going that extra mile. He’s a friend, an advisor, a fount of knowledge, an English Literature graduans, someone to bounce ideas off, someone who encourages me when I flag. On more than one occasion he has got contract wording changed on my behalf, to my advantage. I dare say he has occasionally got things wrong, but he wouldn’t have turned down a £1000 deal like that. No Sir! He is open-handed and generous in his time even when approached by authors who aren’t actually clients…
2] Even though a publisher may be 100% legitimate and respectable, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t occasionally try to ‘pull a fast one’. Business is business.
3] I’m all for Indie publishing houses, but my experience of them is mixed. There is one that I will never deal with again, even though they are legitimate, simply because I don’t like their terms. They expect more in the way of promotion from a writer than I was able to give, and do expect that the bulk of income from the book should come from authors’ sales. On the other hand they have a high profile at literary festivals, their stable of writers is of a high quality, and they do promote as much as they can; they put my poetry collection forward for a major prize, and they gave my poems public readings at the Hay-on-Wye Festival, to give two examples.
4] If there is a problem with small Indies, it is only that they have less clout than the big houses, can’t promote as much as the bigger rivals, and they might progress your book slowly due to cash-flow problems.
5] I am wary of self-publishing. From the outset, from the moment I put the final full-stop in the manuscript of my first novel, I decided that I would rather strive for commercial publishing. It’s not a guarantee that one’s work is of a particular quality (after all, Dan Brown and E L James are published commercially, and their writing styles are execrable!). To my mind, however, it was simply part of the process – part merit, part lottery no doubt, but part of the process nevertheless. Ten years down the line, three novels published, one novel on the publisher’s desk, one two-part collection of short stories ditto, two collection of poems published, I think I was right. [One of the collection of poems was, exceptionally, part-financed by me. Eventually it went out of print, but it was republished by a second publisher.]
6] There is a lot of self-published and even vanity-published stuff out there. In a way – in a very important way – it is just another ‘business’. Paying for self-publishing or vanity publishing, you pay a business for a service and they do it for you, end of. No problem. Sometimes, books produced like that are to a high standard – the author can write, the manuscript has been edited, the cover art and paratext are professional, the finished product looks and feels good. Sometimes a book published in these ways will outsell one that has been taken up by a publishing house, and rightly so if it’s a better product. Sometimes it is the product of someone’s determination to take on the big boys at their own game, to invest time and money, and to succeed. More often, though – I’m sorry – it’s simply an easy option.
7] If something seems too good to be true, it generally is. Go into anything in publishing that is not done the tried-and-tested way with your eyes open.
Oh, by the way, I’m a ‘she’, minus the ‘/’ 🙂
Thanks Marie for giving an insight into your writing and publishing life. By the way, think I should mention for other readers of this blog that this post and all the comments relate to fiction & non-fiction. Poetry is a very different animal as your own experience of partial self-financing shows.
I do take issue when you say “paying for self-publishing or vanity publishing, you pay a business for a service and they do it for you. End of,” Vanity publishers pass themselves off as legit publishing houses, offering the innocent, the newcomer, a service they do not provide usually for a much higher price than a self-publishing platform would do it for.
Also I should point out that this post grew out of your comment that there was something suspicious about companies who operate like Snowbooks. I wanted to explore how you can tell the difference between the real and the rogue…
And you did it comprehensively and well. 🙂
It wasn’t uncommon a few years back for a publishing company to pick up unagented authors and for the author to then pick up an agent to negotiate the contract. A friend of mine published his first novel that way. For a company to accept unagented authors isn’t any reason to be suspicious. If, however, the company accepts a an unagented manuscript and then backs away if the author contracts with an agent to negotiate the contract, that would be a reason to back away from the publisher.
The good news is, you will now have an agent.
I think it can still work that way Philip. A new writer with no track record but with a contract has proved their commerical worth and a good agent is so much more than a middle man as Maria (above) points out: they are also champion, editor, critic, ally and have read your book more thoroughly than anyone else has up until that point. They invest their time and skill in the writer.
Walk away if a publishing company won’t deal with an agent? You would need a lot of convincing that the publishers have your best interests at heart…
So much common sense and balanced advice on show here. Really good. As someone who is at the stage of having sent out a debut MS to agents, I can vouch that one’s work is precious.
Agents are famously conservative and risk-averse when it comes to agreeing to represent a new author – even more so at this time of revolution in the literary world.
Having worked as an editor for published authors, and possessing an MA in Creative Writing, I’m in a strong position to recognise work that’s good enough to be published. But just because writing is good enough to make it into print is FAR from a guarantee that it ever will. For those whose writing is ‘good enough would do well to remember one vital aspect to getting that writing published – it’s called LUCK.
So thanks for this blog post, Bridget, twas a breath of good advice which is always good to read.
Thanks for joining in Peter. I think writers and actors have much in common – success in both careers often depends on being in the right place at the right time in front of the right publisher/director. But I am reminded by the old saying that the harder I work, the luckier I get…(which I should stick over my own computer screen as a constant reminder).
Good luck with your MS. Break a leg!
Sigh…I really just want a reputable agent! (No reputable agent here in Downunder is taking on clients at present.) There seem to be so many traps in the whole business.
It can be as hard to find an agent as it is a publisher….but the goalpost are shifting. If no agent in Australia is taking on new clients than maybe it means taking control by taking advantage of new technology (print on demand, ebooks etc etc)…getting your work out there by any means possible. I’ve heard about writers banding together and running a small co-operative publishing enterprise…I don’t know if that could be the answer for you but it might be an answer for some people.
Hello — Emma from Snowbooks here. It’s been great to read this, and your other post. I don’t have much to add, not least because it’d look like I was saying “yes, yes, we’re great!” rather disingenuously — so I’ll leave it at a heartfelt “thanks”, with my email address if anyone wanted to get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hi Emma – thanks for coming by. Everyone note Emma’s email address! If not now, then sometime in the future it’s a contact that might you might find really useful…
This is just a thought, but maybe now Emma is here, she could be invited to explain to us on this thread, Snowbooks’ thinking behind their current policy of dealing direct with an author, rather than going via an agent. Also how would they feel if, once they had offered a contract, an author brought in an agent to check it out? Would they consider amendments, or would it be a case of ‘take it or leave it’? I would be genuinely interested to know.
Thank you for an excellent post!
Watch out for competition scams. Not just the poetry or story kind that publish every contestant, as mentioned, and then try to sell you anthologies. I was briefly thrilled to be declared winner of a novel contest with the first prize publication by an independent press. I found them on the ‘editors and Predators’ and ‘writer beware’ sites, and found in the small print that I would have to pay for editing and promotion after the first year.
Thanks for a very useful post.
Thank you for the warning, Barbara. What a cheap, nasty trick.