More questions from Twitter today. If you've got questions you want me to answer next week, put them in the comment section.
How long would you recommend someone wait before submitting to a smaller press to make sure they can hold water?
No simple answer, but a great question.
First truth to kinda drop on the table here – anybody, on any given day, can start a publishing company. It is easy. Super easy. The technology makes it so much simpler than it was a decade or two ago. In fact, if I was a younger version of me, not afraid to do stupid shit to prove a point, I’d start a new publishing company tonight just to illustrate my point.
But I am a mature member or the community, an “elder spokesman” if you will, and those shenanigans, though tempting, are well behind me now.
The point, however, stands. Anybody can start a company at any time. There are no tests to take, no certifications to earn, no accreditation to be garnered from a prestigious, off shore online university.
On the one hand, “Yay! Democracy in action! All voices are heard!”
On the other hand, “Ooh, this isn’t going to end well.”
Who then gatekeeps the gatekeepers?
We all do. The online world. Readers. Authors. The market. That gatekeeping starts even before a first book gets sold, and as more information comes in, the gatekeeping gets a little easier to read. I’d say within a year or two you know who is legit and who...not so much.
Things to look for with a publishing company (especially on their website), wherein most cases things are going to end in a crash:
- Makes a grand declaration that they are going to “revolutionize” the publishing industry. Riiiight, because somehow, in some Eureka~! moment some dude who knows next to nothing about business or publishing has, with great certainty stumbled upon the formula for success. Except actually it’s for New Coke.
- Website is geared towards authors, and not towards readers. (Publishers sell books to readers. Other businesses court authors). Especially keep an eye out for “Ermagerd! We’re going to pay 90% royalties because we believe in supporting authors!” That’s all well and good (I, too, believe in supporting authors, but that’s going to leave a business severely undercapitalized. Any guesses what happens to an undercapitalized business in the long run? (Trick question: There isn’t a long run for severely undercapitalized businesses)
- Covers look like stuff made with an old edition of Microsoft Paint. And you can’t do the ol’ squint eye and say, “Well, yeah, but maybe, kinda, this sorta looks ok.” Book covers aren’t competing in a third grade art contest, they’re competing in a busy marketplace and things like production value aren’t and shouldn’t be graded on a curve. Want to be treated like a growed up business, gotta be growed up. Even at birth.
- Is anybody reading the books? Sure, the same eight people on Facebook are talking about them (coincidentally, all of them also authors with the same publishing house), but no media, blogs, reviewers of any sort seem to be reading the books. Tree falls in the forest, yadda yadda...
I said everything I said and I stand by it even though there are probably a few people who are like, “Damn, dude, you don’t have to be such an asshole about it.”
But that’s not my intention.
It’s just that there is nothing new under the sun and I’ve seen the heartache that has fallen on authors who are convinced somebody is legit when they’re not, the pain that comes with a book being butchered by hacks, the frustration when rights get tied up senselessly by “internet lawyers” who are also “internet publishers.” And, in my old age, I’ve got little to no tolerance for watching people get victimized by the clueless or the willingly deceitful.
In that first year or two, probably wouldn’t hurt to browse absolutewrite.com/forums to see which way the prevailing winds are blowing. Even without doing that, I urge people to listen to their guts. I fear sometimes people excuse/ignore/justify bad behavior from publishers because they’re holding out hope that the same publisher can make a dream come true. That’s not a good place from which to negotiate your publishing future.
From @octaviabooks --
What was one (or more) of your favorite "finds" and was this serendipitous? How did it all go down?
If we’re talking about things that have come in through the slush pile with me having NO idea it was ending up on my desk, the answer will always be Nathan Singer’s debut novel, A Prayer for Dawn. It was the right book at the right time for me, for Bleak House (my old company), and for a certain class of reader with whom the book vibrates with the kind of life sustaining literary marrow we all crave.
Yikes! That was a touch melodramatic, I know. But it’s been TEN YEARS since the publication of that book and if I died tomorrow it’d be on my shortlist of professional accomplishments I’d be most proud to put on my resume.
If we’re talking about things coming in from agents I’d worked with, but authors I’d never heard of, Craig McDonald’s Head Games blew me away from the start and I know it was going to be awesome. It later went on the be a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I know that when that came in, it sat on my desk forever and when the agent pestered me about it for the hundredth time I opened it just so I could reject it.
If we’re talking about things from first time agents and first time authors, I knew that I wanted to publish Scott O’Connor’s debut novel, Untouchable from the first few paragraphs. Loved it right away. Made an offer before I finished the book. It went on to win Barnes & Noble’s Discover Award for Fiction.
That’s only a cross section. There’s definitely an adrenaline rush that comes with “finding” a book and wanting everybody in the world to read it, but knowing that it’s going to be at least a year before you can talk about it with most people.
I’ve been totally blessed by the universe to work with some highly talented authors with amazing books and if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, nobody should mourn it. It’s been a good journey.
From @tiakall --
Titles. Which is more common, using the author's title or the publisher coming up with a new one?
I’ve published about a hundred books during my career. I can count the number of titles I’ve changed on one hand and probably have a digit or two leftover. I can’t speak to what it’s like at other publishing houses, but that’s been my experience.
There's a whole bunch more publishing advice and other nonsense over on my blog www.benjaminleroy.com