Saturday, September 29, 2007

Professionalism in Publishing

As authors, every time we submit a story we take a risk. That risk is tenfold when you don’t have an agent, because all the homework is on our shoulders. We’re forced to research each publishing house before we become involved with them; not doing so will undoubtedly result in poor handling of your manuscript, or nonpayment of royalties. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the rotten apples from the good ones. *everyone nods in agreement* All of us have been forced to eat a worm or two over our writing career. Some of you have already been through at least one horrible fiasco. Some of you have had the misfortune of becoming involved in multiple bad experiences—through no fault of your own. So, today I want to talk a little bit about something I find very disturbing, lack of integrity.

The definition of integrity: Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.

I’m seeing more and more publishers forgetting that this is a business involving real people, not machines. We work hard to create a story worthy of reading. Most of us spend hours and hours at the computer, day after day, just to get a rough draft. Laundry takes a backseat. Our kids are sometimes forced to play outside while we attempt to think over a particular scene. Lots of sacrifices are made. Therefore, when a publisher doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain it’s like a big slap in the face. We’re forced to adhere to their guidelines or don’t even bother to submit, right? So why is it okay for their personal lives to interfere when it comes time for them to hold up their end of the bargain?

I’m not talking about breach of contract. I’m talking about honesty. Once upon a time, deals were made based solely on shaking a man’s hand. We trusted them to keep their word. But with some publishers all you hear are excuses, sometimes nothing at all. Emails are ignored. How does this make us feel? Frustrated. Angry that we kept strict to our moral code, but the publisher thinks its okay for them to make the rules up as they go along.

No, it’s not okay. We’re not machines! We’re human beings, working hard to create a wonderful tale filled with love and emotion and believable characters. A tale they’re going to profit from, I might add. The least they can do is honor their end of the handshake.

What do I look for in a publisher before I submit?
1. Primarily, check out their website.
2. Buy a book and do your own little critique. Is the story edited well, or are there many things that were missed?
3. Is the cover art well done or something your kid could have colored?
4. How many authors do they have on the payroll?
5. When was the company established and by whom? Most times, you can Google the woman/man behind the name and find information about them. This is a good way to learn more about this person’s company.
6. Ask your fellow authors a few pertinent questions--privately. If they’re unhappy with their publisher, most likely they’ll let you know. This is also a good way to find out who the good guys are.
7. Lastly, check out the Piers Anthony and Predators and Editors sites for any negative feedback.

Now for a list of things publishers do that put them on my no-no list (this list came from a member of my yahoo group, The Romance Bistro After Dark):
1. Publisher doesn't answer emails. Cannot be reached by phone or reg. mail. Basically falls off the face of the earth for an extended length of time.
2. Publisher does not pay on time.
3. Publisher pays but checks are short-changed (I'll pay you the rest later. or Ooops, my mistake. I'll send you the rest soon.), unsigned (Ooops, my mistake. I'll send you another one.), or bounce (It's the bank's fault).
4. Website is not updated for new releases. New releases are pushed back or postponed.
5. Editors are not paid. Cover artists are not paid. Other employees are not paid, and publisher does not answer their inquiries.
6. Fictionwise and ARe sales are not commiserate with author's spreadsheet. (Clue: The new release has 8 ratings, which means AT LEAST 8 people bought the book, but when paid, author is stated "No Sales". or Author's book is sitting at # 1 or # 2 for publisher, but author is stated single-digit sales.)
7. Google search discovers another website and publishing company under publisher's name.
8. Google search discovers author's books for sale on eBay and overseas Amazon sites that authors were not aware of.

***Now I’d love to hear from readers, writers, editors, anyone in the industry who has more insight into this. Or, if you’d like to share your own horror story, we’re here to listen. After all, the Romance Rules tagline is: a bunch of romance authors ranting about writing!


CJ England said...

A wonderful accurate post. Thanks Anne. Integrity is something all should strive for...not ignore.

CJ England

Dara Edmondson said...

Good rant, Anne. I did fall victim to a publisher that treated its authors poorly, didn;t answer emails in a timely manner and eventually went under. Thankfully, I'd bailed months before the demise. It's tough to get good info on a publisher, but I'd recommend Piers Anthony's site, which lists complaints against e-publishers -

Anne Rainey said...


Yes, you're so right. Whether in publishing or not!

Dara, thank goodness you got out when you did! :-)

Tess MacKall said...

Presently I am involved in just such a debacle. Fortunately I have been able to cancel a contract with a novel not yet published. However I still have a novella with this publisher and I have been struggling with whether or not to take my rights back. The excuses given for the botched handling of my work are for me at least, totally unacceptable. When the communication lines shut down I stood up and asked basically....Why? and Where are you? Some rocks have been thrown at me by some authors who believed it was unprofessional of me to ask questions in a public forum. It was our author group and where else would I ask for answers and warn my fellow authors if not there? It's not like the publisher was available. I didn't lie about anything I said either. A breach of contract had taken place. Line by line it had been breached. Blatantly so. And as I found out as a result of my "public" post, I wasn't the only one with questions or who was having a problem. With all that said, the latest email from the publisher ended with some very scolding statements alluding to my unprofessional behavior. Don't make me laugh is all I can say to that. Your post mentions excuses from publishers. I think I hit the mother lode with this one.
Every single problem has been met with the excuse that it was someone else's responsibility. Not true. And we all know that don't we? So why are authors so afraid? Because we receive veiled threats to be blackballed in the publishing industry as difficult to work with. I'm sorry, but I'm not difficult. Treat me honestly. Work as hard for me as I do you. And I will give you my all. My very best! As for how do we protect ourselves? How do we weed out the good from the bad before we submit our work? We do exactly as said in your post, but there is more we can do. I honestly believe that if a publisher is solid and is owned by someone of integrity they should post with an agency outside their own site a credit report. That agency could be EPIC. While that idea may be far fetched in the minds of some, I think it's a good idea. Too many publishers have gone under and caused too much harm to so many great authors. This is a business after all. We may write fiction, but we don't live it. Someone sent me an email today that reminded me of my childhood and the things we used to do such as playing outside all day and no one was worried about where we were or that we were still out after dark. Reminded me that a handshake was as good as a signed contract any day. Times have changed for us all. But the meaning of the word integrity has never changed, just people.

Debra Moore said...

I haven't had any problems with my epublisher, so I wanted to put in a good word for them: if you're looking for a great epublisher, I'd recommend Cobblestone Press. They are about 1-1/2 years old now, so pretty new, but every communication and every interaction has been professional and quickly handled from where I've been sitting.

Sometimes it's helpful to hear about good experiences so you not only know where NOT to go, but know some places you CAN go to submit work. Cobblestone is a great place TO GO!

Other writer buddies of mine also recommended I mention Changeling Press and Samhain. (These are all epublishers.)

Anytime I hear something about publishers, I usually blog about do other writers. Check out writer and agent blogs as often as you can pick up good info there, too.

Debra Moore writing as Moira Reid

Shannon said...

Excellent posts!

Another problem, that I've seen two sides of, is how family-like vs how professional a small publisher becomes. This can be a delicate balance. Some overly distant publishers truly believe they are simply being professional. Whereas a publisher might become too tight, fostering an environment that allows staff to become too personal an experience which will inevitably lead to someone feeling on the outside or even being treated badly because of emotions running high.

Finding a publisher that is balanced in the middle can be tough. We all want someone who runs a quality business and is professional in dealing, but we also want the publisher to care about us and our books. The search might be similar to the three little bears story. This house is too small and clich-ie or this house is too big and will never even know I exist.

How do we cope in the search? I recommend the Goldilocks method. Do your research, ask questions and then when you are ready, send one story. If accepted use that one story to taste the company before sending any more to them. (A bit more advice - use a story outside of any series if you can as your test story just in case things go badly you won't lose a series) Usually within a few months you will know if it is a go or not.

The third e-publisher I submitted to and was contracted to was Cobblestone Press. In them I found the balance I needed. Your oatmeal tasting may lead you elsewhere. Good luck!


Anne Rainey said...


I will never understand the 'jumping all over you' notion authors feel the need to do when you speak out on an AUTHOR forum. It's there for that very reason. Readers aren't privy to the discussion, therefore you were not being unprofessional. Something similar happened on another author forum I'm on (not with me) and I thought at the time it seemed a little too 'brown-nosey' of those authors to be so quick to defend and jump all over the person asking questions.

Thanks for the recs. I am currently published with Samhain and have had zero problems with them to date. Cobblestone Press have gorgeous cover art and I've recently considered submtting something to them.

another good mention about Cobblestone. Man, you guys have me wanting to submit to them! LOL

Kris Eton said...

Another satisfied Cobblestone author here...I was only published one other time with a now-failed publisher (*cough* Triskelion *cough*). The difference between the two is like night and day.

Cobblestone respects its authors, goes out of its way to give them a great contract (even though they don't have to), gives you fantastic editing & beautiful covers, and just became RWA certified!

I can't say enough good things about them. I really believe Cobblestone is going to be the next big epub on the block, and I'm very proud to be a part of that.