Do Your Research: A Guide to Avoiding Trouble.

I’m working with some amazingly dedicated small presses across on SFFWorld, and they sff_logo_smallare dedicated to getting the job right. Small but Mighty, a feature due to go live later this week, was set up to highlight that fact, and to give these hard working people a place to shout about the result of their investments.  I’ve long been a fan of the invaluable work the small press industry brings to the reader. But dear writers, be you aspiring, almost there, or still a little green around the gills there is something I really want to draw your attention to.
You have spent every spare moment you can scrounge to write your story. You’ve called in all the favours you can ever remember doing to make sure what you’ve written really is as good as your mum says it is.  You skipped the holidays, avoided the nights out. You edited it at 4am because it wasn’t really quite good enough yet. But now? Look at it. Its proper perfect init? It wants to be read by someone who’ll write fan fiction about the lead character. Or something.
Your best mate’s cousin’s friend knows a guy who does something with books. It returns with a lovely, shiny contract.

Really? I wouldn’t buy a car, computer, phone, pet….ANYTHING this way, so why would I trust word of mouth to find a home for a story I’d spent hours and months writing?

Nope. Don’t do it. All those hours you bled over your words to toss the finished work at the first whisper of something? Seems a bit silly – like firing a gun in a spaceship silly.

I mean. I should know a bit about contracts (I don’t, despite marrying a lawyer) and expectations of the industry (also only from one side). I do know about how to make something look better than it is. I know how to use words to influence, I even get paid to do it from time to time. I know how to gild that lily. I don’t like doing it. I do like helping people, but I learned the hard way not to make promises I can’t deliver on. It’s not a nice life lesson.

It’s easy to confuse a successful something-or-other with a one man band preying on the gullible. And writers are very easy targets. I know I am!  I have fallen for the nice guy routine in the past.

Do your best to avoid the misery of dodgy presses, malicious contracts, agents that take the mickey, and loss of earnings by doing a little bit of research. It’s ok, this is just as important as the word count and the synopsis:

  1. Two years to make or break. It takes at least this amount of time to learn the ropes of any business, for investments to show any sign of return, and reputations to be more than good intentions. If your agent or publisher is new you’re risking a lot more than just your story.
  2. Check reviews of other books from the publisher. Are the reviews on Amazon complaining about typesetting? Is the Good Reads account peppered with structured reviews about well-rounded characters, pacy plots and vague about the actual personal connection to the story? A bought and paid for review tends to be ambiguo s. If itncould have been written about any story, be suspicious.
  3. Writer Beware. Check it. Is the planned future publisher or agent listed here? Yes? Is it worth the risk?  Get on the mailing list.
  4. Preditors and Editors. Another good ‘go-to’ while you’re there read this too.
  5. Absolute Write has a thread dedicated to highlighting publishers and agents who aren’t getting it right. Decide for yourself if the dream is worth the risk. There are other sites out there which provide similar lists.
  6. If you must part with money to see your name in print, please, please, please self-publish. You’ll have far more control over what goes out there, and the only person you’ll be contracted to is yourself.
  7. Reading charge? Wait…they want to make money from you before they read anything? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  8. Editing Fee? Money flows to the writer. Always. Forever. See point 6.
  9. Promotion Charge. You did see point 7 and 8 right? Yes, the internet is a scary place, and no, an SEO package won’t save you from it. An advert on an obscure site won’t either.  Not even being ranked 1 on a Google search will do that.

These tips are for the ones who want to do more than kick the tyres.

  1. Get out there. Conventions and writer days are a good starting point to find those publishers who are investing in their portfolio of authors. It is so much harder to pretend a business has 100 employees and that “Everything’s going swimmingly” in a face to face context. Also, hanging out with other writers and authors is good for the soul.
  2. Web-check. If the publishing business is registered in the UK, the website must display the Company Information i.e. the business name, place of registration, registered number, registered office address. It should also let you know if it’s a member of any associations. Sole traders should be displaying the address of their main place of business.
  3. They sound familiar, Whois that? Run a whois on the domain name. Businesses want to be found, and generally the domain is registered to the place of business. It should match the one on their website. ANYONE can own a domain, website and therefore, anyone can reinvent a troubled publication. While data can be held private, it can cost more to do so. A step some skip to save money.
  4. Companies House. Check out the business history. A business in trouble won’t hand in very good accounts. An individual with a very good accountant can make things look better than they are. There are loopholes that allow one firm to buy out a failing one. And the same person can be involved, or related to the person from the previous one. It’s a tried and tested way of avoiding a bad rep, shedding a name and starting fresh. There’s nothing wrong with starting over if lessons have been learned so… back to square 1 they go. Right?

So far we haven’t spent anything on researching but:

  1. Got a contract, but not an agent? Get a lawyer. Freelancers don’t charge the earth for a check, and there are plenty of legitimate freelance sites set up for you to find one. OR become a member of one of the many writing associations that include contract vetting as part of their membership. Society of Authors for example. The biggest advantage of joining such an association is that should something go wrong, they’ll fight in your corner to help make it right.

 

If all that doesn’t help, grab a cuppa and have a look at a professionally drawn up author contract. This is in the public domain, available to download by ANY publisher wanting to use it, it’s legally binding when signed. Look what rights you’d be signing over.  Fancy your book being a TV Show? Will you see any money from it? Hope you don’t mind them using your name in any form of promotion (Good or bad) without your consent. There are plenty other examples on that site, fortunately they aren’t actually using that contract for anything other than teaching their students.

All this might have made your brain hurt, I know. Don’t take my word for it, figure out what press is best for you, based on your choices. It all gets in the way of seeing your words in  print. I get that.  This book is your baby, this dream is your precious future, don’t just kick it out the door and hope.  Do as much as you can to make the right choice for you and your work. Do your research!

About Milly MollyMo

Author, and freelance writer.
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2 Responses to Do Your Research: A Guide to Avoiding Trouble.

  1. Thank you Milly. That has been a very friendly page of advice. I fit into a few of those categories but only in the manner of throwing my hat in the door and hoping for a good outcome. I am about to send a manuscript to Lulu to get twenty copies printed and then to approach a potential sponsor. I hope to have a very popular female politician launch my book because the story “happened” in her electorate, my own home town.
    Lulu? It won’ cost much and I can re-evaluate the experience. I’ll let you know how it goes.
    I am an Australian former teacher who is getting too old to be bothered about big contracts.

  2. Lots of good advice and reminders of how to negotiate the potentially dodgy world of publishing – I’ll try to remember them if and when the time comes with my book. 🙂

    Susan

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