© ENC Press 2018. Tipping sacred cows since 2003                      The covers of the books you receive may differ very slightly from those pictured here.
A while ago, there was a big to-do about a class action suit filed by dissatisfied authors against PublishAmerica. Indeed, PublishAmerica had a controversial reputation of a vanity press masquerading as a “traditional royalty-paying publisher” to lure unsuspecting authors, and, indeed, some of its authors’ contentions, as presented on numerous writers’ message boards and websites, were more than legitimate. However, a close look at many of the authors’ complaints yields a sometimes disturbing lack of knowledge and understanding of what publishing entails and what a publisher can and cannot guarantee. And, it seems, these misconceptions are not exclusive to PublishAmerica authors. As a small independent publisher with decades of experience in Big Publishing, I’m naturally concerned about unrealistic expectations that aspiring authors appear to have — concerned both because these authors are cruising for a bruising and because most small publishers don’t deserve the acrimony that frequently ensues when authors sign contracts without doing their due diligence. Since 2012, the U.S. publishing industry has shrunk down to “The Big Five” publishing houses, which, between them and all their imprints, release several hundred thousand titles a year. Even as the number of titles they acquire and publish each year steadily dwindles, the overall number of books continues to grow, thanks to small publishers and self-publishing authors. In the meantime, the number of streaming services rises, and all of them produce engaging long-form originals for binge- watching, many of which have taken up the spare time people used to spend reading similar stories in book form. Every new book now competes for the entertainment time and money not only with other books but with other media. Bookstores buy books from publishers at 50-55% discount off the cover price. Because the space on brick-and-mortar bookshelves is finite, an average book gets its chance in stores for a few weeks, and if it doesn’t start flying off the shelves, its covers are torn off and it returns, destroyed, to the publisher for a full refund and pulping, soon after which the book goes out of print as a dud and another contender takes its place. You could argue that most books now come from Amazon, and its storage space is infinite, but even Amazon has been opening brick-and-mortar stores. For big publishers, it’s a numbers game. They are prepared to give a thousand books a sporting chance and write them off when they fail, as long as they have at least one bestseller that year, which will pay for all the wasted expense of producing and printing and shipping and pulping those failures. Also, sometimes, a book nobody saw coming suddenly makes a splash. That happens about as often as hitting a jackpot. Meanwhile, the system is so rigged that the bookseller never stands to lose money, but the publisher either loses a lot on a book that doesn’t sell, or makes very little per copy. And booksellers don’t have to work with any publisher that balks at the exorbitant discounts or refuses to accept returns. Big publishers can afford it; primarily, because they are owned by media conglomerates that earn enough profits from their other holdings to be able to subsidize traditionally unprofitable publishing industry. This is summed up in the old joke still popular in Big Publishing: “Q. How do you make a small fortune in publishing? A. Start with a large one.” Small independent publishers that publish books out of love of books, rather than out of a deranged notion that publishing is a way to get rich quick, cannot always afford to throw their titles into this meat grinder, unless they are seriously independently wealthy and need a hefty tax write-off. Unfortunately, it seems that many aspiring authors in search of a publisher base their expectations on the successes of the few bestsellers that make it big, because they never hear about the tens of thousands of other books, most of them published by big publishing houses, which get into and out of print without anybody noticing. Any author owes it to themselves to try every route available to get their book published by one of the big players. Only after they have exhausted all the avenues into the big presses, should they consider alternative publishing. And when they do, they should expect results alternative to what they would be had they gotten published by a major publishing house —and had their book turned out to be the next Fifty Shades of Grey. Small, alternative publishers come in, basically, two categories: the ones that do things the way big publishers do, only on a smaller scale; and the ones that do things their own way, disregarding general industry practices and trying to foster new ones. The advantage of going with the first kind is that your book is likely to be sent out to the usual book reviewers and posted on Amazon. Will your book actually get reviewed in major book-reviewing venues and stocked by national chains, such as are left? Given the sheer numbers of competing titles, not impossible, but improbable. The disadvantage is that these publishers are likely to have the same requirement as the big publishers do: your book should impress them as the next big thing, to make them hope that if they take a gamble, it will pay off. The standard definition of the next big thing, of course, is something very similar to something that’s already selling well. They’re hoping for the next Lee Child or the next J. K. Rowling, not the first you. The advantage of going with the second kind is that your book will not be rejected just because they don’t see how they’re going to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. If they like it, they’ll publish it. They are more likely to appreciate something original and unprecedented. The disadvantage, of course, is that they are frequently boutique publishers and tend to rely on their online sales and, sometimes, book fairs, so the author had better be prepared to market their own book, which is pretty much mandatory even if they win the lottery of signing up with a big publisher. With these caveats, and based on what I’ve seen and heard of small-press authors’ common complaints, I’d like to offer a few suggestions that an aspiring author might want to consider before even reading — much less signing — a small publisher’s contract. Publisher’s Website Start here. The majority of queries we used to get at ENC Press made it clear that authors, in a hurry to pitch to as many publishers as possible, didn’t do their research. Big mistake. First of all, if a small press doesn’t have a website, don’t even bother approaching it. The Internet is one of the best and cheapest tools available to a publisher, and if they don’t have the wherewithal to use it, how likely are they to have the wherewithal to do a decent job publishing your book? An effective small publisher’s website should provide the following information: The kind of books the publisher is looking for — please take this very seriously; if the publisher is looking for murder mysteries, do not waste their and your own time by pitching them your collection of humorous observations about goldfish. Submissions guidelines — follow them closely; it’s the first test of your compatibility with the publisher/editor. The publisher’s self-perception (usually found on the About page) — are you on the same page morally, intellectually, philosophically? The publisher’s/editor’s credentials — who are these people and what, besides unbridled enthusiasm, qualifies them to edit and produce your book? The catalogue — what kinds of books do they publish? Hardcovers? Trade paperbacks? Both? Are the prices reasonable? (Compare their price for a, say, 200-page trade paperback with the prices of a few 200-page trade paperbacks published by major publishers; a small press’s price shouldn’t be much higher.) Do the covers look attractive? Do the book summaries give you a good idea of the content of the books? Consider buying a book from them, to see how efficient their customer service is and how well the book is edited, produced, and designed. Publisher’s Books Say you have found a small press that, judging from its website, might be interested in your book. Say you bought a book from them. Now, what are you looking for? Did the book arrive quickly? Does it have an appealing cover? Does its layout look attractive? Is its overall visual quality comparable to that of big-publishers’ books, or does it have a decidedly amateurish look to it? Is it full of typos? Do you like the content? Does the content read as though it’s been edited, or just printed out and thrown between the covers? Was it worth the money? Publisher’s Promises Let’s say you liked what you’ve read on the publisher’s website, you bought and liked one of their books, you pitched your book to them, they asked to see the complete manuscript, and, several months later, you got an acceptance letter. Does it read like a cut-and-paste form letter they send everybody, or is it personal, personable, addresses you and your book specifically, and makes you feel like you’ve established a personal rapport with the publisher/editor, which you both will enjoy? Does it sound like the publisher/editor thought your work was absolutely perfect and needed not a single change, or does it contain at least one or two thoughtful suggestions of how you could better accomplish what you’ve set out to accomplish with your book? (Hint: if they don’t have a single suggestion, they don’t know how to read and edit a book. There’s no book in the world a good editor can’t improve even slightly.) Does it sound like they are trying too hard to sell themselves to you? If it does, however flattering it might seem, that’s a warning sign: they shouldn’t fuss to entice you. Even a very small publisher always has a bigger pool of interested authors than you do of interested publishers. Do they honestly mention upfront what they do and don’t do, or do they promise you the moon? Do they mention advances and royalties? Small, alternative publishers typically may not be able to afford advances, but they compensate for it by much higher royalties; big publishers offer advances and sliding-scale royalties that rarely exceed 12.5%. If a small publisher offers no advance (a symbolic advance of $1 is not an advance), and only 10–12.5% royalties, that’s not a good deal. Do they ask you for money? Run. If a company calls itself “a publishing house” or “a press” yet charges authors money for producing their book, it’s dishonest. The very essence of being a publisher is investing resources into publishing books. Publisher’s Contract Show it to an intellectual-property lawyer who has seen a publishing agreement before. Not a divorce or personal-injury lawyer, just because she’s your second cousin and won’t charge you — an intellectual-property lawyer who has experience with publishing contracts. If you care about what happens to your work, don’t balk at the fee. It’ll be worth it. Before you do, read it yourself and mark any questions you might have — for both the publisher and the lawyer. Think about the following: Does anything in the contract contradict what you’ve read on the publisher’s website? If so, don’t be shy, ask the publisher about the discrepancy. Does it say whose job it is to register the copyright with the Library of Congress? Many publishers do it as a courtesy perk for the author, many others, especially smaller ones that don’t have editorial assistants for this sort of thing, don’t, and ask the author to do it. If, with this publisher, it’s your job, do it before the contract is signed. (As long as you have the receipt postmarked before the contract is signed, it’s fine.) Does the contract have an expiration date? I.e., are the rights going to revert to you automatically after a predetermined period of time, no matter what? As appealing as that may sound, that’s a red flag. It’s become something of a misguided fashion among small independent publishers to sign five- or seven-year contracts, but a standard publishing contract, written by a competent intellectual-property attorney, expires when the publisher chooses to put your book out of print, and under no other circumstances. The author doesn’t get to terminate it. The publisher doesn’t lease your book — unless they are not planning to enhance its value much between the time they accept your original manuscript and the time they release it in book form. And if they are not planning to seriously enhance the value of your work with editing, designing, laying out, creating a cover, and printing it — which is the publisher’s primary job — then that’s very bad news. Publisher/Author Relationship Since by signing the contract you are signing away the rights to your work until the publisher decides to let it go out of print and return the rights to you, or the publisher goes out of business, consider very carefully what you are getting into, because you are entering a serious, legal, long-term relationship. It’s only human, especially after all the rejections from the big-publishing agents and editors, to get excited that somebody found your work worthy of publishing, but don’t let the excitement cloud your judgment. If something about the personal rapport you have with this publisher nags at you, walk away. If the publisher honestly tells you upfront how they work, and what they will and won’t do for you, and it doesn’t sit right with you but you’re just so happy about being offered a contract you can’t help yourself, walk away. Don’t sign the contract and then nag them, after your book is out and you don’t see the desired retail figures, to change the way they run their business just to please you. Don’t assume you know more about the economics of publishing than your publisher does, and that they haven’t done their research before making business decisions. And don’t throw tantrums, demanding to be let out of your contract, just because you belatedly regretted your decision to sign up with this publisher. You are not likely to be let out, and it will ruin the personal relationship between you and your publisher, which is the foundation of small publishing. It may be better for you in the long run to contain your thrill at having your book accepted, turn the contract down, and continue looking for another publisher, with whom you’ll be more comfortable on a personal level, and/or whose approach is more in tune with what you think a publisher’s role should be. If everything else fails, you can self-publish and market your own book as you please, but at least you won’t assign the rights to your work to someone who won’t, in your opinion, do it justice. Conclusion In any eventuality, patience is important. Do your homework, do your due diligence, keep looking for the right publisher for you, and always keep thinking about ways in which you can promote and market your book. Whether you get it published by a professional publisher big or small, or decide to self-publish and take control of your own book’s quality and fate, nobody will market it for you if you don’t lead the effort. Publishers have limited marketing resources and tend to help those authors who help themselves. Retail sales of your book are unlikely to make you a lot of money, but there is always hope that someone will option or buy the rights to produce a movie or, even more likely, a long-form TV show. Remember those actively proliferating streaming services. They need content. Having your book in print and available is key to being discovered, even if you start small. Olga Gardner Galvin Publisher ENC Press
A few lessons learned from publishing in America* * #unsolicitedadvice #justmyopinion #TLDR
Covers may  vary slightly from the ones pictured on the website.
© ENC Press 2018. Tipping sacred cows since 2003                     
A while ago, there was a big to-do about a class action suit filed by dissatisfied authors against PublishAmerica. Indeed, PublishAmerica had a controversial reputation of a vanity press masquerading as a “traditional royalty-paying publisher” to lure unsuspecting authors, and, indeed, some of its authors’ contentions, as presented on numerous writers’ message boards and websites, were more than legitimate. However, a close look at many of the authors’ complaints yields a sometimes disturbing lack of knowledge and understanding of what publishing entails and what a publisher can and cannot guarantee. And, it seems, these misconceptions are not exclusive to PublishAmerica authors. As a small independent publisher with decades of experience in Big Publishing, I’m naturally concerned about unrealistic expectations that aspiring authors appear to have — concerned both because these authors are cruising for a bruising and because most small publishers don’t deserve the acrimony that frequently ensues when authors sign contracts without doing their due diligence. Since 2012, the U.S. publishing industry has shrunk down to “The Big Five” publishing houses, which, between them and all their imprints, release several hundred thousand titles a year. Even as the number of titles they acquire and publish each year steadily dwindles, the overall number of books continues to grow, thanks to small publishers and self-publishing authors. In the meantime, the number of streaming services rises, and all of them produce engaging long-form originals for binge-watching, many of which have taken up the spare time people used to spend reading similar stories in book form. Every new book now competes for the entertainment time and money not only with other books but with other media. Bookstores buy books from publishers at 50-55% discount off the cover price. Because the space on brick-and-mortar bookshelves is finite, an average book gets its chance in stores for a few weeks, and if it doesn’t start flying off the shelves, its covers are torn off and it returns, destroyed, to the publisher for a full refund and pulping, soon after which the book goes out of print as a dud and another contender takes its place. You could argue that most books now come from Amazon, and its storage space is infinite, but even Amazon has been opening brick-and-mortar stores. For big publishers, it’s a numbers game. They are prepared to give a thousand books a sporting chance and write them off when they fail, as long as they have at least one bestseller that year, which will pay for all the wasted expense of producing and printing and shipping and pulping those failures. Also, sometimes, a book nobody saw coming suddenly makes a splash. That happens about as often as hitting a jackpot. Meanwhile, the system is so rigged that the bookseller never stands to lose money, but the publisher either loses a lot on a book that doesn’t sell, or makes very little per copy. And booksellers don’t have to work with any publisher that balks at the exorbitant discounts or refuses to accept returns. Big publishers can afford it; primarily, because they are owned by media conglomerates that earn enough profits from their other holdings to be able to subsidize traditionally unprofitable publishing industry. This is summed up in the old joke still popular in Big Publishing: “Q. How do you make a small fortune in publishing? A. Start with a large one.” Small independent publishers that publish books out of love of books, rather than out of a deranged notion that publishing is a way to get rich quick, cannot always afford to throw their titles into this meat grinder, unless they are seriously independently wealthy and need a hefty tax write-off. Unfortunately, it seems that many aspiring authors in search of a publisher base their expectations on the successes of the few bestsellers that make it big, because they never hear about the tens of thousands of other books, most of them published by big publishing houses, which get into and out of print without anybody noticing. Any author owes it to themselves to try every route available to get their book published by one of the big players. Only after they have exhausted all the avenues into the big presses, should they consider alternative publishing. And when they do, they should expect results alternative to what they would be had they gotten published by a major publishing house —and had their book turned out to be the next Fifty Shades of Grey. Small, alternative publishers come in, basically, two categories: the ones that do things the way big publishers do, only on a smaller scale; and the ones that do things their own way, disregarding general industry practices and trying to foster new ones. The advantage of going with the first kind is that your book is likely to be sent out to the usual book reviewers and posted on Amazon. Will your book actually get reviewed in major book- reviewing venues and stocked by national chains, such as are left? Given the sheer numbers of competing titles, not impossible, but improbable. The disadvantage is that these publishers are likely to have the same requirement as the big publishers do: your book should impress them as the next big thing, to make them hope that if they take a gamble, it will pay off. The standard definition of the next big thing, of course, is something very similar to something that’s already selling well. They’re hoping for the next Lee Child or the next J. K. Rowling, not the first you. The advantage of going with the second kind is that your book will not be rejected just because they don’t see how they’re going to sell hundreds of thousands of copies. If they like it, they’ll publish it. They are more likely to appreciate something original and unprecedented. The disadvantage, of course, is that they are frequently boutique publishers and tend to rely on their online sales and, sometimes, book fairs, so the author had better be prepared to market their own book, which is pretty much mandatory even if they win the lottery of signing up with a big publisher. With these caveats, and based on what I’ve seen and heard of small-press authors’ common complaints, I’d like to offer a few suggestions that an aspiring author might want to consider before even reading — much less signing — a small publisher’s contract. Publisher’s Website Start here. The majority of queries we used to get at ENC Press made it clear that authors, in a hurry to pitch to as many publishers as possible, didn’t do their research. Big mistake. First of all, if a small press doesn’t have a website, don’t even bother approaching it. The Internet is one of the best and cheapest tools available to a publisher, and if they don’t have the wherewithal to use it, how likely are they to have the wherewithal to do a decent job publishing your book? An effective small publisher’s website should provide the following information: The kind of books the publisher is looking for — please take this very seriously; if the publisher is looking for murder mysteries, do not waste their and your own time by pitching them your collection of humorous observations about goldfish. Submissions guidelines — follow them closely; it’s the first test of your compatibility with the publisher/editor. The publisher’s self-perception (usually found on the About page) — are you on the same page morally, intellectually, philosophically? The publisher’s/editor’s credentials — who are these people and what, besides unbridled enthusiasm, qualifies them to edit and produce your book? The catalogue — what kinds of books do they publish? Hardcovers? Trade paperbacks? Both? Are the prices reasonable? (Compare their price for a, say, 200-page trade paperback with the prices of a few 200-page trade paperbacks published by major publishers; a small press’s price shouldn’t be much higher.) Do the covers look attractive? Do the book summaries give you a good idea of the content of the books? Consider buying a book from them, to see how efficient their customer service is and how well the book is edited, produced, and designed. Publisher’s Books Say you have found a small press that, judging from its website, might be interested in your book. Say you bought a book from them. Now, what are you looking for? Did the book arrive quickly? Does it have an appealing cover? Does its layout look attractive? Is its overall visual quality comparable to that of big- publishers’ books, or does it have a decidedly amateurish look to it? Is it full of typos? Do you like the content? Does the content read as though it’s been edited, or just printed out and thrown between the covers? Was it worth the money? Publisher’s Promises Let’s say you liked what you’ve read on the publisher’s website, you bought and liked one of their books, you pitched your book to them, they asked to see the complete manuscript, and, several months later, you got an acceptance letter. Does it read like a cut-and-paste form letter they send everybody, or is it personal, personable, addresses you and your book specifically, and makes you feel like you’ve established a personal rapport with the publisher/editor, which you both will enjoy? Does it sound like the publisher/editor thought your work was absolutely perfect and needed not a single change, or does it contain at least one or two thoughtful suggestions of how you could better accomplish what you’ve set out to accomplish with your book? (Hint: if they don’t have a single suggestion, they don’t know how to read and edit a book. There’s no book in the world a good editor can’t improve even slightly.) Does it sound like they are trying too hard to sell themselves to you? If it does, however flattering it might seem, that’s a warning sign: they shouldn’t fuss to entice you. Even a very small publisher always has a bigger pool of interested authors than you do of interested publishers. Do they honestly mention upfront what they do and don’t do, or do they promise you the moon? Do they mention advances and royalties? Small, alternative publishers typically may not be able to afford advances, but they compensate for it by much higher royalties; big publishers offer advances and sliding-scale royalties that rarely exceed 12.5%. If a small publisher offers no advance (a symbolic advance of $1 is not an advance), and only 10–12.5% royalties, that’s not a good deal. Do they ask you for money? Run. If a company calls itself “a publishing house” or “a press” yet charges authors money for producing their book, it’s dishonest. The very essence of being a publisher is investing resources into publishing books. Publisher’s Contract Show it to an intellectual-property lawyer who has seen a publishing agreement before. Not a divorce or personal-injury lawyer, just because she’s your second cousin and won’t charge you — an intellectual-property lawyer who has experience with publishing contracts. If you care about what happens to your work, don’t balk at the fee. It’ll be worth it. Before you do, read it yourself and mark any questions you might have — for both the publisher and the lawyer. Think about the following: Does anything in the contract contradict what you’ve read on the publisher’s website? If so, don’t be shy, ask the publisher about the discrepancy. Does it say whose job it is to register the copyright with the Library of Congress? Many publishers do it as a courtesy perk for the author, many others, especially smaller ones that don’t have editorial assistants for this sort of thing, don’t, and ask the author to do it. If, with this publisher, it’s your job, do it before the contract is signed. (As long as you have the receipt postmarked before the contract is signed, it’s fine.) Does the contract have an expiration date? I.e., are the rights going to revert to you automatically after a predetermined period of time, no matter what? As appealing as that may sound, that’s a red flag. It’s become something of a misguided fashion among small independent publishers to sign five- or seven-year contracts, but a standard publishing contract, written by a competent intellectual-property attorney, expires when the publisher chooses to put your book out of print, and under no other circumstances. The author doesn’t get to terminate it. The publisher doesn’t lease your book — unless they are not planning to enhance its value much between the time they accept your original manuscript and the time they release it in book form. And if they are not planning to seriously enhance the value of your work with editing, designing, laying out, creating a cover, and printing it — which is the publisher’s primary job — then that’s very bad news. Publisher/Author Relationship Since by signing the contract you are signing away the rights to your work until the publisher decides to let it go out of print and return the rights to you, or the publisher goes out of business, consider very carefully what you are getting into, because you are entering a serious, legal, long-term relationship. It’s only human, especially after all the rejections from the big- publishing agents and editors, to get excited that somebody found your work worthy of publishing, but don’t let the excitement cloud your judgment. If something about the personal rapport you have with this publisher nags at you, walk away. If the publisher honestly tells you upfront how they work, and what they will and won’t do for you, and it doesn’t sit right with you but you’re just so happy about being offered a contract you can’t help yourself, walk away. Don’t sign the contract and then nag them, after your book is out and you don’t see the desired retail figures, to change the way they run their business just to please you. Don’t assume you know more about the economics of publishing than your publisher does, and that they haven’t done their research before making business decisions. And don’t throw tantrums, demanding to be let out of your contract, just because you belatedly regretted your decision to sign up with this publisher. You are not likely to be let out, and it will ruin the personal relationship between you and your publisher, which is the foundation of small publishing. It may be better for you in the long run to contain your thrill at having your book accepted, turn the contract down, and continue looking for another publisher, with whom you’ll be more comfortable on a personal level, and/or whose approach is more in tune with what you think a publisher’s role should be. If everything else fails, you can self-publish and market your own book as you please, but at least you won’t assign the rights to your work to someone who won’t, in your opinion, do it justice. Conclusion In any eventuality, patience is important. Do your homework, do your due diligence, keep looking for the right publisher for you, and always keep thinking about ways in which you can promote and market your book. Whether you get it published by a professional publisher big or small, or decide to self-publish and take control of your own book’s quality and fate, nobody will market it for you if you don’t lead the effort. Publishers have limited marketing resources and tend to help those authors who help themselves. Retail sales of your book are unlikely to make you a lot of money, but there is always hope that someone will option or buy the rights to produce a movie or, even more likely, a long-form TV show. Remember those actively proliferating streaming services. They need content. Having your book in print and available is key to being discovered, even if you start small. Olga Gardner Galvin Publisher ENC Press
A few lessons learned from publishing in America* * #unsolicitedadvice #justmyopinion #TLDR
© ENC Press 2018. Tipping sacred cows since 2003. Covers may  vary slightly from the ones pictured here.