You are probably wondering what I mean by the title of this article. I have worked with both a good publisher and a sucky one. I hear from other authors about who is good and who is not. When I was having my bad experience with my ex publisher, Xlibris, I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was or could pinpoint it. I was wondering why my marketing efforts were hitting barriers and why things and people were stressing me out. I will compile the checklist quiz to give your perspective/present publisher and other diagnoses to test them through their contracts and other behaviors if you have doubts of their integrity or your publishing experience. A cast of doubt can be the mark of a bad experience. The list comes from my personal experiences and crucial points and the “Author’s Bill of Rights” created by Mark Levine. These simple points will help you determine if your publisher sucks. The grade the publisher gets for “Sucks” or “Cool” is subjective based on what the author can tolerate. I gave Xlibris this quiz after I discovered it and they score “Suck” on my grading scale.
The below checklist quiz is like the “Self Publishing Rights” we that have in self publishing. These are not the same as those in traditional publishing: copyrights and subsidiary rights because these remain with the author in self publishing (or they should). These rights do not exist in traditional publishing, so the quiz does not apply. They play by a different set of rules. Then it all comes down to what the author can tolerate and what they think is fair in that arena.
Sometimes the author may not be with a bad publisher. Sometimes they may be working with someone who is not a good fit for them. If they are not bad or sucky then it will be easy to leave and go elsewhere to a better fit to your needs or choose to go the DIY route if you have learned how to do so.
The first two parts are directly quoted in Mark Levine’s words from The Fine Print of Self Publishing Edition 4.
Quiz Part I: “The Nine Qualities of a Good Self Publishing Company” The Fine Print Edition 4 page 22.
- A good reputation among writers
- Fair publishing fees
- Generous royalties without any fuzzy math
- Low printing costs and high production value
- Favorable contract terms
- Fair policy regarding the return of your book’s original production files
- Fairly priced add-on services, such as marketing and copyright registration
- A standard offering of an ISBN, EAN bar code, and LCCN (Library of Congress Control Number) as part of any basic publishing package
- Availability through at least one wholesaler, and listings on major online retailers
Quiz Part II: “The Ideal Publishing Package” a subdivision of Article II that includes Articles VI-IX The Fine Print Edition 4 pages: 24-25
- A high-quality, custom-designed book cover (don’t use any publisher’s template—covers sell books)
- Professional layout of the book’s interior
- Registration with Ingram or Baker & Taylor and listings on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and other online retailers
- A page on the publisher’s website or some other online venue (other than a third-party online retailer) where you can sell your book
- The ability to purchase your own books for a reasonable price
- A contract that you can cancel at any time
- The return of the original production files, or at least press-ready PDFs, of your interior and cover
Quiz PartIII: “The Author Bill of Rights”. I listed them in my own words below:
- Publisher allows you to see the contract when asked for
- Publisher takes no rights to your book including movie rights, etc
- Explains the exact calculation of royalties without vague terms (i.e. administrative costs)
- Publisher does not double dip by taking a royalty and inflating the print cost
- Publisher does not give itself a trade discount on its own online store
- Publisher allows you to terminate the contract at any time with no more than 60 days written notice and without penalty
- Upon termination the publisher gives you your printable files at no additional cost
- Upon termination the publisher ceases the selling of your book except for those still in their possession
Other things to consider:
Humans or Robots and Zombies?
Does the staff at the publisher seem like they are inhuman or mindless in their answers and service? Can you not get competent answers to your questions? The robots seem like they are programmed to say ‘yes’ to everything. Zombies mindlessly go through the motions and are someone else’s control. Here I speak of the mindless and controlled voodoo zombie and not theHollywoodzombie that eats the living. Although…unethical publishers do get a craving for the unsuspecting authors… Dealing with a robot/zombie staff can be frustrating. Has anyone called a company and talked to an automated answering service? It is frustrating, and you wish to speak to a human. Even the easiest solution to a small problem can become frustrating with staff that behaves like this.
Hide and Seek, Tag, Keepaway, Hot Potato, or Dodgeball?
Does the staff at the publisher seem to be playing games with you over the phone? Is it hard to pin down the person you need to speak with for your question/problem? Do you have delayed responses to your queries that go on for more than 24 to 48 hours? Do you feel like you being passed from one person to the other like a hot potato and have to retell your problem or ask the question again…and again…and again until someone gets caught with you and has to address your question/problem? Does the problem or question get passed between two people and the author can’t catch a break or a solution? These games frustrate people and sometimes are done on purpose. Problems don’t get solved or the time spent is a waste. Sometimes pulling crocodile teeth can be easier than putting up with the games.
My Consultant Team Acts like Used Car Salesmen and Bill Collectors
Does your consultant team seem like they bug you all the time and harass you so that you will buy something? Do they use hard-sell and high pressure techniques rather than offer suggestions? Do they try to force you to buy something you don’t want and act like you owe the money when you don’t? I have dealt with this and this is the biggest indicator to me that my ex publisher was unscrupulous. Staff that behaves like this can drive you mad, stress you out, and make marketing your book frustrating and unbearable.
Why is Everything So Expensive? Why Does it Phase Out So Quickly?
Sucky publishers seem to but a lofty price tag on marketing services that phase out in such a short time. After this phases out, they come back and try to pressure you into buying yet another pricey service that also doesn’t last more than a day. High priced services should last for a year or more and keep on giving and not appear as blowing in the wind.
Bull Shark Attack
Bull sharks are responsible for more shark attacks than the fierce and well renowned great white. Why? Bull sharks are the only shark species that can come into fresh water and stay for a great length of time due to a unique adaptation. You don’t have to go out into the deep ocean or to the ocean at all to get attacked by a bull shark. They have been known to swim up rivers and not stay in the estuaries. They come to you, you don’t go to them like the great white. Did you enter the fresh publishing waters and the bull sharks come to you? This is an indicator of a bad publisher. Ethical publishers let you swim to them and with them like a dolphin. If you swim with sharks, you will get bitten sooner or later. I still carry the scar and I will have one for the rest of my publishing career. Xlibris acted like a bull shark in how it approached me. I was new to the sea. I mistook it for a dolphin, and I got bitten. Now I can identify the shark thanks to an experienced diver.
I Get Backlash Every Time I Mention My Publisher’s Name
When you deal with bookstores, reviewers, and the like, they may ask you who your publisher is. Bookstores will definitely ask you. When I was published with Xlibris and several times I was nigh to having me a book signing and it fell through just as soon as I told the person who my publisher was. Then it was like my book and I had skunk spray on us, and it didn’t matter that it was returnable. It wasn’t my fault, but bookstores know who the sharks are. That was the second notion I had received that there is something up with my publisher, and this is before I had the privilege of finding out about and meeting Mark Levine. This is a very good indicator that your publisher sucks.
The Print Costs Aren’t the Only Things Inflated Around Here
This one has been hit in several different angles in the article. When you shop around at outside sources, other publishers, etc, and they offer the same or better service for ½ or less the cost that your publisher charges should make you wake up. This was both an eye opener and a wake up call for me after I had been in the water a little while.
If you give your publisher this quiz on its contracts, websites, materials and etc, and they violate many of these and you can’t live with it, then you can say “My publisher sucks.” Then you are going to ask, “Well, my publisher sucks. Now what?” That will be answered next week.