When Authors Say I Do
Authors are told from the get-go what is expected of them. The publisher wants to know our platform, our brand, our genre. How many followers do we have? Previous engagements? How do we intend to market our book? In our eagerness, we practice the correct responses and join every media opportunity we can find, friend strangers, and Link to professional people around the world. After this engagement period, we finally say I Do, and sign on the line of a contract written in legalese. But, of course, there’s nothing to worry about, because we trust each other.
That’s what I thought in 2008. But, with age and experience comes knowledge. I’ve gotten smarter. So if you are standing at the altar, the threshold of your new career, let grandma here give you something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue, before you say I Do to your first publisher.
Publishing contracts are written to favor the publishing company. Authors need to ask the publisher as many questions as publishers ask authors. When entering into any contract, both parties should feel free to query the other. Authors, especially new ones, rarely do. They take the word of the publisher, who, after all, knows more about the business than we do.
The publisher wants to know how you plan to sell your book. Publishers don’t sell books. They should. But they don’t. They say things that sound like they plan to help you. They say they put your book on their website. Have you seen their website? Is it updated frequently? Is it interesting? How are the books displayed? How easy is it for customers to use? What do the other books look like? Will your book be comfortable here? Will it sell here? You might wonder how important that is to you. Trust me. It’s very important.
Publishers tell you Ingram distributes your book. That’s good. But your book isn’t special because Ingram distributes it. They distribute thousands of books. They are just the delivery boy. If no one knows about your book, doesn’t know the title to ask for, or where to get it, all the delivery boys in the world will not help you. Ingram doesn’t sell books.
Publishers want to know about your brand and your genre. What do you know about theirs? Is their brand recognizable in the market you want to be in? If your publisher has mostly e books with erotic covers but your market is school libraries, this won’t be a compatible marriage.
They ask about your marketing plan. What do you know about their business model? You need to think hard about the business model before you decide to say I do. For instance, a question I never thought to ask, is how does this publisher handle a sales transaction? My books are purchased in bulk by museums, libraries, and schools. These involve government procedures which means they need 90-day POs and no pay pal. I need a publisher whose business plan can accommodate that, or my books will not reach their intended market.
What does the publishing house look like? Is it a one-man operation? How many employees do they have? Do they out-source their work? Have you looked at their finished products? How professional is the business model? You think, in the beginning, that the business end isn’t your affair. But it is. The product of your union - the book- is what should matter most to you both. But, in truth, it matters the most to you. Protect it. Your book is a little fish in the big publishing sea.
It’s difficult to wait and be patient, and when it finally seems the wait is over, it’s tempting to say I do and jump in bed with a good looking publishing company. It’s hard to know what questions to ask when you’ve no prior experience. But, go slow and ask other experienced authors what they wish they had asked. Each will answer differently because they have had different experiences. Make a bouquet of the answers. Then toss those questions out there. Be wise.
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