So you’ve written a book—not a story that crapped out after four thousand words, but an actual novel. And you think this book might be the one. Whether you use beta readers or go with your own gut, all the signs are right; this thing might actually sell some copies. You’ve decided to go with a publisher rather than putting it out yourself (and the joys of “putting it out yourself” are something I might go into in a future column). Now the question becomes: which publisher?
Because—just in case you’ve had your head in the sand during your book’s gestation—there are an awful lot of them. Even if you’re going with one of the electronic publishers (which, if your book is erotica, you most probably will), you’ve got an amazing number of choices. This month, I want to throw out a few helpful precepts, garnered through way too many years of my own mistakes, on how to go about shopping for a publisher.
First of all, just in case you have had your head in the sand for the past year, and are interested in an overview of the contenders, you’ve got a number of options. Google is not the least of these. A simple search on the words erotica publisher novel guidelines will get you started. If you’d rather look at more specific information right away, check out the Erotica Readers and Writers Association, specifically the Authors Resources page, and, for that matter, the ones at this site (on the right-hand sidebar below Roundtable Posts. Updated Calls for Submissions coming soon! —ed.). Both contain lists of erotica markets, with links to the publisher’s sites. If you’re willing to spend a little money ($5.00 a month, or a discounted rate of $4.17 for committing to a year up front), I’ve found membership at Duotrope to be both affordable and very useful, not just for erotica, but for pinpointing opportunities in a wide variety of other genres, from steampunk to Bizarro. They also collate response times reported by members, to give you a better idea if your manuscript will meet with a quick answer or a slow death.
Of course, the first thing you’ll be looking for are publishers who put out the kinds of books you’ve written and want to go on writing, but this will also be an opportunity for you to look into areas you might not have thought of before. You might also find markets for material you thought was terminally unsalable, so take the time to really look around.
Alright, now you’ve assembled a shortlist of possible publishers. It’s time to look over their websites and their wares. You can judge a book by its cover, and you can often judge a publisher by their books. Do the covers jump out at you, and make you wonder what kind of story they represent? Or are they muddy, indistinct messes that just make you go, “Meh?” Would you buy their books? Because if you pick them and actually make a sale, your book will be right there among all the others you’re looking at now.
How about the website? Is the ad copy well-written…or at least competently written? Misspellings, tangled syntax and clichéd phrases on a publisher’s site are a red flag; remember, these people will be representing your work. If you’ve landed in a site full of clip-art covers and bad writing, it’s time to move on. If you Google a publisher and nothing comes up but a Facebook page or a Smashwords profile, then what I just said goes double.
If they’ve posted a sample contract (some do, some don’t), read it carefully, making note of things like royalty rates, and how you would go about pulling your book from their catalogue if they (perish the thought) turn out to be a shady operation.
Speaking of shade, reputation is another big factor to consider. Google the publisher—sometimes adding words like “complaints” or “problems” to their name will bring up some very interesting results. If a publisher treats its writers badly, there will be blog entries—usually a lot of blog entries from a wide variety of writers—about it, as well as mentions on sites like Predators and Editors (another one for your web-browser’s Favorites list). You have to take some of this with a large grain of salt, because a single writer who feels she’s been stiffed on her royalties can 1) be awfully loud and 2) recruit a handful of friends to help boost their signal out of nothing more than personal loyalty, and it’s true to say that sometimes “problems” with a publisher are simply the result of misunderstandings.
Some writers make a point of ignoring new publishers (which seem to crop up every week) until they’ve been in business at least a few years. This is generally sound advice; several years in business means the publisher is not just successful, but also has a certain stick-to-it-iveness. But you have to be a little careful here as well; recently, several publishers who had been around for a while and built up solid track records in that time suddenly went belly-up, literally overnight. Obviously, if you’re good at reading warning signs, these are businesses to avoid. Many publishers are iffy about taking previously-published books when the publisher dies; there’s always self-publishing, but that should be an option, not something you’re forced into to get an older manuscript back into print (probably with a less-than-glorious cover).
So now you’ve narrowed your list down and you’re pretty sure you know which publisher you want to submit to. What happens now? Come back in a month and we’ll talk.