What to Look For in a Publisher
By Amy Groening
I talk to authors every day who have had a multitude of experiences—both good and bad—with different publishers across North America. There are a lot of options out there, and if you’re new to publishing, it might be difficult to tell if you’re making the best choices for your book. Here are a few things to consider when you’re looking for a publisher:
Browse through your prospective publisher’s book supply and see what their covers look like. This should be a useful indication of what sorts of aesthetic standards a publisher holds its books to. Sure, there will always be a few duds in a bunch of books, but if every cover you see makes you go “ick”, you might be in the wrong place. Aesthetic appeal is the mark of a professionally created product—it may not guarantee the content of the book is fantastic, but it does carry connotations of quality that will affect your potential readers.
Your publisher should be able to give you a good idea of the costs of a project before you sign a contract with them. Prices are subject to change, of course, but there’s a difference between a projected printing cost for your book, and no cost at all. Hidden fees can add up quickly, so when you’re talking to a publisher, make sure to get into specifics before you start the process: what is the cost of publishing? Is editing extra? What about printing? Is there a fee to keep making your book available online year after year? Are there any free copies of the book thrown in, and, if so, how much do extra copies cost if you need more? A lot of publishers’ services are described in a way that makes them sound like a better deal than they actually are. If they’ll throw in 50 copies of your book for free, but charge you $25 for each additional copy you need, you’ll never recoup the investment you put into the book—“Free” doesn’t always mean “a better deal”.
Also make sure you’re clear on what services the publisher is actually offering you. Will they be designing your cover? Will they be typesetting your book, or will you be expected to do that yourself? Will they be offering you any additional marketing services or distribution? These are all aspects of a project that can add value to the publisher’s services, so keep in mind that a cheaper publishing fee often means you’ll be doing more of the work yourself.
How widely do you want your book to be available, and does your publisher have the means and connections to make that happen? Some publishers will walk you through the design and printing process of your book, but their services stop there—they don’t offer distribution of any kind, and you’re left to sell all your books on your own. If all you want is a few copies of your book to share with family and friends, this is a fine option for you. But, keep in mind, your book is unlikely to make it into a bookstore that way. A lot of non-distributing book publishers don’t even include ISBNs or barcodes on their book covers; these are essential tools in the book market, and a book store won’t even consider stocking your book without them.
If you want your book to reach a wider audience, distribution is key. Some publishers offer distribution through Amazon or other Ingram vendors. This is great, but distributing through Amazon alone doesn’t actually do much to help your book make it into a wider market. Thousands of books are being added to Amazon every month, and so it’s difficult to make your book rise to the top and be discovered amongst the millions of other titles already on there.
Don’t get me wrong, the option is never to not sell on Amazon; you want to be able to sell on Amazon, since a lot of readers prefer to order via Amazon. And again, if you’re planning an aggressive marketing program of your own that will drive people towards your Amazon listing, you can make it an effective selling tool. However, if you’re hoping to see your book get into more places—if you want to see potential readers walk into a bookstore and order a copy of your book, or even see it right there on the shelf, you need supply-chain distribution.
Supply-chain distribution is what most bookstores—the big names, like Chapters/Indigo and McNally Robinson; and the smaller local stores, like Blessings, Fig Tree, and Hull’s—use to order in fresh stock. These stores aren’t ordering books from Amazon, or directly from individual authors; they’re ordering books from a distributor: an organization with a warehouse, with stock of all the books a store wants to order and more, that offers wholesale pricing and can ship new stock to them every few weeks. Supply-chain distribution alone won’t guarantee your books are going to fly off the shelves, of course; you also need a solid marketing plan to encourage sales. It does make it possible for your books to be on those shelves in the first place, though, which is rare in the pay-for publishing industry. (Incidentally, we offer supply-chain distribution, and we’re the only Christian partner publisher in Canada that does. Not to shamelessly plug our own services or anything…cough, cough.)
There are lots of different publishers out there, offering many different services, of varying types and quality. There isn’t a “right” way to go with publishing your book; there is simply a question of what sort of services you want for your book, and whether or not your publisher will be able to deliver on them. So please make sure to shop around; make a list of pros and cons for different publishing options, and a wish-list of things you want for your book. Think long and hard about the services a potential publisher is offering you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. When you sign up with a publisher, you’re entrusting them with your manuscript, and starting a relationship (hopefully a beautiful one) that could last for months, or even years, so it’s important to make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
Talk to Other Authors
If you know anyone else who’s self- or partner-published, talk to them about their experiences. Hearing a fellow author’s perspective on things can be really eye-opening. What has your experience with publishing been like so far? We’d love to hear your story! Share in the comments section!
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About this Contributor:
Amy Groening is a project manager at Word Alive Press. She is a passionate storyteller with experience in blogging, newspaper reportage, and creative writing. She holds an Honours degree in English Literature and is happy to be working in an industry where she can see other writers’ dreams come to life. She enjoys many creative pursuits, including sewing, sculpture and painting, and spends an embarrassingly large amount of time at home taking photos of her cat committing random acts of feline crime.