Sunday, November 21, 2010

In the Author Spotlight: Ginger Simpson

Today I'm happy to turn over my blog to Ginger Simpson, who shares wise advice. You can find more about Ginger on her web site and blog.

Publishing Pitfalls

The following is from a one day workshop I hosted during the Muse On-Line Writer’s Conference. I wanted to share it today on Cate’s blog because I think the message is worth repeating and providing for those who didn’t attend the event.

Following this advice will hopefully prevent you from making a mistake than can lead to frustration, depression, and worst of all, make you question why you want to write in the first place. I can speak with authority, since I’ve had three horrible experiences in selecting publishers, and even a few with agents.

Signing with a publisher is much like getting married. You wouldn’t marry someone you didn’t find a comfortable fit with, nor would you enter into a union that had unrealistic expectations. Sure…you might discover after a while that the mate you picked isn’t as ideal as you hoped, but believe me, divorce is a lot easier than shrugging off a bad contract.

Signing on the dotted line locks you into a deal for years. Don’t make a mistake than can’t be undone without incurring costs you can’t afford or having your book sit idle for months. Most contracts will “sell” your rights back to you, so before you put that pen to paper, do your homework.

There are various sites you can use to verify the background of most publishing companies. Preditors and Editors documents reported cases of abuse and unprofessional conduct and you can also check potential agents there, too. Author, Piers Anthony, maintains a site that does virtually the same thing—allows you to see if problems exist or have existed in the past with your intended house.

Google is a valuable tool for checking backgrounds, too. If you search the name of any publisher, if there has been a problem, you can bet people have blogged about it or discussed it on a forum. I once did a video for a client and learned the hard way that I should have done some checking on the author and her book. My blog and YouTube site were peppered with hateful comments because said author had been accused with plagiarism. The Internet was filled with sites about the ongoing problem and I could have saved myself a lot of heartache had I only checked.

One of my “gross” mistakes was kept alive for days on the “Dear Author” blog. It resulted in 342 comments, including THE Nora Roberts. I didn’t feel vindicated in the least.

Besides tying yourself to a bad deal, you can incur needless costs and wasted effort. One of my books had three different covers. The first publisher was a nightmare…as evidenced by the aforementioned blog, and the second wasn’t any better. Because I trusted that I had made good decisions, I ordered promotion material bearing the cover each time. Needless to say, I should have just flushed the money down the toilet. There is no way I can utilize any of the postcards, tee shirts or business cards I ordered. Live and Learn. Listen to me and save yourself some time, money and anguish.

Your very best source of information is the authors published with your target publisher. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Email them off list and inquire about their experience. Trust me, if they aren’t happy, they’ll tell you. But remember, confidence is vital. You don’t want to pass around someone’s name and quote them. I think the reasons are evident, but if I need to spell them out, I will. Feel free to ask me.

I’d advise you to do your homework beforehand and save yourself grief. I was recently too trusting of a new company which shall remain nameless, and when I dared ask questions on the author’s loop, which is usually intended for business-related issues, the CEO took down the author’s loop completely. That was a big red flag for me, and I didn’t stay there long. Luckily, I think the owner recognized she had violated contract policy in so many ways; several authors received their rights back without argument. I got lucky.

No one wants to be involved in a smear campaign I’ve had one lodged against me a few times and it’s not fun. I’ve blogged about them to alleviate my stress level and feel some sort of retribution, but I don’t badmouth the companies by name. I did report my experiences to the sites mentioned above, but that’s as far as I went. Why not call them on their bad behavior? That’s a can of worms you don’t want to open. Lawsuit threats, nasty emails, untrue statements—plus I don’t won’t to be the person responsible for harming the other authors signed there. When you besmirch the name of a publisher, you not only affect the person running the company, you cast aspersions on those signed there and can affect their sales. I’m sure being locked into a contract is punishment enough, but who knows. Maybe my experiences were mine alone.

Publishers are becoming more unique and “sales” savvy. Make sure your intended publisher has a web store. Giving readers as many options as possible is a good thing, but you want to get the biggest share of the pie that you can. The more “middle men” that are included in a deal, the less money you’ll see.

Take a gander at the covers. There are a boatload of readers who DO judge a book by its cover. Make sure they are professional looking because if you see something you consider cheesy, chances are you’ll be assigned to that same cover artist. I’ve been very lucky in this department, but I know others who haven’t.

And one more important thing I learned from author, Rick Reed via a blog post (he’s copying my topic ) is to check your contract thoroughly for a “Rights of Refusal” clause. If the contract stipulates that the publisher has this option, then you’re locking yourself into a bigger nightmare should divorce court become an option in this marriage. Although it can be an ego-stroke to think the publisher is interested enough in you to want to look at all your future work, that particular wording can, as Rick puts it, “shackle your future output.” The clauses I’ve seen deal only with characters appearing in the primary publication, becoming the stars of a sequel… but make sure you read and understand before you put your John Hancock on the line.

All of these tips are based on the assumption that you have perfected your writing enough to even query. Remember, what you send a publisher paints a pretty accurate picture of the kind of author you’ll be, and some houses are pretty particular. Polish, polish, and polish again, and make sure you’ve done your homework and know the house is seeking what you have to offer. Looking like a jerk on your first attempt to impress someone can haunt you, too.

On aside note…I recently presented a case to EPIC on behalf of a friend who isn’t a member. The issue revolved around a statement of reversion of rights to the author after the expiration of her contract. Said publisher tried to extort $300 from the author to purchase the edits done to her manuscript. In essence, the publisher gave the author the choice of destroying the edited copy and using only the manuscript previously submitted or paying mega bucks to what is legally hers. If you’re interested in what EPIC had to say, here’s the link.

I was pleased when the author used the information and was able to obtain her reversion of rights statement without further ado. If you aren’t a member of EPIC, you might consider joining.

Here’s their statement:
EPIC, the Electronically Published Internet Connection, is a non-profit, professional, international organization for published and contracted e-book and print authors. It was established to provide a strong voice for electronic publishing.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Ginger,
Great blog. My friend, you followed hard on my footsteps here on Cate's blog.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Very informative post. I've had some bad experiences too. I've learned never to feel secure in my relationship with publishers. They may seem friendly and helpful but their authors are only commodities to them.
Like you I don't complain about them by name online.