If you write a book and either skip or have no luck with the agent step, you might be tempted to send your book direct to publishers. Okay, fine. That totally works for some people, and despite the odds, YES, sometimes real publishers will respond to unsolicited submissions. I know this for a fact because I've done it. I don't recommend it, but I've done it. (years ago, pre-agent, and the book was not published).
Having said that --
IF said publisher turns around in 2 days or less and screams that they want to give your book a chance, I know it's hard not to jump up and down and start composing letters in your head to all those people who said you'd never achieve your goals, but please - PLEASE - before you agree to anything with a publisher, unagented, and with no advocate on your side, DO SOME RESEARCH.
Google is your friend. There are many legitimate small presses out there, and you may not have heard of them, so Google to make sure the one that's offering isn't a vanity press if you aren't specifically looking for a vanity press. (There are real reasons to use a self-publishing service, and if that's what you want, and the company is upfront about their services, then more power to you.)
If you get an offer from a company you've never heard of, do this:
- go to Google
- type in: "really awesome publishing company SCAM"
Call your local bookstore and ask them if they stock books by Really Awesome Publishing Company.
You can also query a couple of agents with the header :I HAVE AN OFFER FROM A PUBLISHER. and see if anyone responds. Most agents will tell you flat out if the "offer" is from a scam press (assuming it's one they've heard of). Please listen to them. They are not jealous of you or trying to keep you down. They are people who love writing and books and writers and don't want to see a potentially amazing book thrown into a black hole.
There are 2 kinds of vanity presses -
- A regular vanity press says "pay me $X.XX and I will give you YYY". Very straightforward. If you want only a couple of copies of a book or if you write to a small niche audience, then this might work for you. (It might not, that's not my call.)
- The sneakier option is a "reverse" vanity press. They say they're "traditional" in that they don't require payment for a book to be published. They may offer a small "token" advance. They're very careful to word things so that you will assume that by signing with them your book will be on shelves and that you will have signings and that you will be able to pay your bills with your royalty checks. Then, as soon as the contract is signed, they start bombarding you with offers to buy copies of your own book.
Just some things to consider, pulled from different sites/companies, etc.
- A press cannot simultaneously be a small press and still put out over 3,000 books a year. This is a #logicfail
- They will dazzle you with statistics like how few "books" are sold in bookstores these days. (Less than 40%). What they don't tell you is that "book" =/= "novel". Most books aren't for commercial use; they're technical manuals and reference books put out for specific industries, but when added into the volume of all books published in a given year, they skew the percentages. Remember: Numbers don't lie, but you can lie with numbers.
- No legit publisher tries to find you another publisher to take on your book after they've bought the rights to it.
- No legit publisher tries to find you an agent to sell the book they've contracted for.
- No legit agent requires you to pay them to read your submission.
- No legit publisher charges you to fix typos
- No legit publisher charges you for galleys.
- No legit publisher will sell you a USB drive with your book on it in e-form.
- Even the smallest of micropresses will give you at least 1 free copy of your book
Work out the average earning/author with the company's provided stats. Most of them will tell you, upfront, the number of authors they have. This is to make you think there are thousands out there, happily churning out books for the company. The company will likely also tell you that it's reached some major milestone in royalty payments, usually a million or two. Don't be awed by all those zeroes - do some basic math. Take that threshold and divide it by the number of authors the company claims.
If they say they have 75,000 authors, and that they've cleared 3 million in royalties:
$40 is the average total royalties per author, and that's assuming none of those authors have more than one book with the company. Is your book worth more to you than $40? (or whatever total you come up with given the company's stats)
These are just a few red flags, but there are hundreds of others. If you see them, heed them. Don't ignore them because of the glow of being accepted. <--- this is what these companies count on. They know that the average writer dreams of being someone snapped up right away, and so they do it. But by doing this, and having such a quick turnaround, they can pressure a potentially commercially successful author into signing away their rights. Once those rights are gone, they're gone. The book is published, and it now has a sales history -- as do you. 99.99999% of the time that sales history will be dismal. (Vanity published books average in the low double digits for sales.)
Now for the big one. If you've signed with a vanity press by mistake...
- IT DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE A BAD WRITER.
- IT DOES NOT MEAN YOU ARE STUPID.
- IT DOES NOT MEAN YOUR BOOK IS BAD.
These companies are not set-up to make a writer successful. They're not equipt to handle the demand that would arise from a book becoming popular. They can't get an author into a worthwhile situation because their experience isn't in real publishing and their reputations are trash in the industry. No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to succeed as a writer through a scam vanity press, because their definition of success is to get as much money from the writer as possible before the writer realizes the truth. They actually make it difficult to sell/ship to anyone other than the author because outside income sources don't pay off as well as continuing to ransom the dream back to the dreamer. If you're stuck with one of these companies, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT THAT YOUR BOOK ISN'T SELLING. It's the way the system is set up.
When someone tells me "OMG, I'm being published, too!" I want to be able to jump up and down and smile and say "YAY!" right along with them. I don't want to get messages like this, then hear the company involved and feel a cold knot in my stomach because I know that elation is going to be short-lived. I hope everyone who reads this blog and wants to be published reaches their goal. (It's possible, statistics are only important for those who conform to them.) But I hope they take the steps to keep that dream from turning into a nightmare.