Saturday, 12 October 2013

The perils and pitfalls of getting published by Ann Evans

You’re never too old to get duped. After more than 30 years in the writing business,- and 17 books published I thought I’d spot a vanity publisher miles off. But what I shock I’ve had this year after discovering the American publishing company who were interested in my crime novel were a vanity publisher after all.

I can’t say their name but I've since found them mentioned on a website called ‘Writer Beware’ and only wish I’d looked there before signing the contract. It would have saved me a year of wasted time and effort – because if I knew then what I know now, I would have ditched them long ago and kept up my search for a reputable publisher.

Ho hum! You live and learn. Fortunately I’ve got out of the contract and I thought I’d try and turn a horrible experience into something positive by making a list of things to watch out for when dealing with an unknown publisher.

Here are my thoughts – forgive me if it smacks of teaching your granny to suck eggs, so if you don’t want to wade through all my points, the main thing I would mention is not simply to read your contract thoroughly for what’s in it but also search to see what ISN’T in it.

So how do you know if you are being conned? Few, if any of these vanity publishers advertise themselves as such. So you might be able to pick them out because they actually claim not to be a vanity or subsidy publisher. They might even offer you a small advance, which mine did, although it never materialised.

To be fair, some ‘author assisted’ or 'subsidy publishers' are up-front about the fact that they expect you to pay towards the publishing of your book. Some however are devious and avoid telling you that until you're pretty much ensnared. Additionally, there are some fake 'publishers' who are total frauds and exist only to extract money from hopeful writers.

If you do get as far as reading a standard contract, look to see if it contains a clause that prohibits its authors from complaining about its staff, services and products – ever. Then ask yourself why they would put such a clause in.

Look in the contract at what the publisher promises to do. However, it’s all very well them listing what royalties you’ll get on trade copies, translation rights, book clubs etc., this all looks very convincing and wonderful; but be sure they will actually be printing your book and these places will have the opportunity to buy.

Be aware that the contract may well deliberately miss off important points, so no matter how you scrutinise a contract, you won’t be able to scrutinise anything that isn’t written there. So as well as looking to see what they are offering, have your own check-list of pointers that you want agreement on.

So, how do you know that a publisher is legitimate? First off, check out the Writers and Artists Yearbook? If they aren’t in, it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t legit by any means. It just means you need to delve a bit deeper.

So, look at their website, Check that they are at the address they say they are. By simply putting the address into Google, it should throw up who is residing there. And it might surprise you to find it’s just a post box or a postal annex as the Americans call them.

Look at their backlist of published books. Find them on book store websites such as Amazon, Waterston’s, and WH Smith. Scroll down to the details of these books, and check if the book was actually published by that publisher and not someone different or self published.

Do they have a catalogue of forthcoming books that you can view? Does it look convincing?

Google the publisher's authors and see if they are genuine people. You could even email one or two to ask if working with that publisher was a good experience.

Google the name of the publisher and see what comes up, don’t just look at the first page of results, but delve deeper to see if people have blogged about they experiences with them. Check website such as Writer Beware. (

If all you find is good comments and lots of info on the publisher, that’s a good sign. If you can’t find anything on them, that’s a bad sign.

Before agreeing to sign any contract, ask them if you will be expected to pay anything towards the publication of this book. Be sure to keep their reply. Should they ask you for money later on for anything you will have this correspondence as evidence. And if it turns out they are in breach of contract it will be easier for you to terminate the contract.

If you haven’t already found out through your research, ask which bookshops they distribute to. Try and find out which distributors they use, then go to that distributor’s website and see if there’s a facility to search on it for the publisher’s name.

If you go ahead and agree to be published with them, read the contract through thoroughly whether it’s your first contract or your twenty-first. Be sure you understand and are happy with every single clause.

Read carefully what you are agreeing to. The contract might say you are responsible for your own publicity and marketing. Fine unless they omit to mention the fact that they want you to buy a minimum number of your own books to send out, at a cost that reaches thousands of pounds.

In my case it was suggested I buy 100 or 300 - but I'd get a better discount if I ordered 1,000! At only approx $22 dollars per book what's the problem??

This folks, is where I realised I'd been duped! All the other points listed above are things I did afterwards and realised just how badly I'd been fooled.


sensibilia said...

Gosh. That is a scary story, especially if you have 30 years experience. Thanks for the useful tips.

Sue Bursztynski said...

To the above, I would like to add: make sure they actually HAVE a web site. And if they're not a vanity press, but seem to be very small, make sure they can actually pay you.

I'm thinking of an education non fiction book I was commissioned to write, along with some other writers, including my reputable small press publisher, who writes to support his publishing business. He has even more than thirty years experience and had known this woman when she was working for a big publisher.

We all wrote these very specific, specialised books for the primary school market - she was packaging for a company in Canada, or so she said. I have no doubt she fully intended to get our books published, but she clearly didn't have the money to pay us, didn't send us the contracts till the books were written, they were horrible and then she kept us waiting for months before telling us that the GFC had gotten he own contract cancelled, so we Luke had our rights back and we wouldn't even receive the piddling advance she had promised us. And because my book was so specialised, I couldn't even sell it elsewhere.

Penny Dolan said...

Sorry to hear about your experiences, Ann, and thank you for putting together all the questions you'd now ask or poinst you'd watch out for.

What a warning! I feel as if your whole post should be up there in 18 point BOLD so people read and remember the advice.

Sue Purkiss said...

Very sobering, Ann. Sorry you had such an experience, but thanks for telling us about it - a salutary warning!

JO said...

Thank you for posting this - it's hard, admitting being taken in by people like this. I do understand why you can't name them - but do see why you can't name and shame. (Though they may have renamed themselves several times already).

Susan Price said...

Thanks, Ann - like Jo, I think it's very brave and generous of you to share this with us. Anybody can be conned like this - anybody - but it does take some backbone to admit it and use the experience to help others.

Ann Evans said...

I'm glad the tips have been useful. It's things you just don't think about when a publisher says they want to publish your book. I think when you yourself are honest you expect everyone else to be. And sadly it isn't always the case. I felt by putting these thoughts out there, it turns a bad experience into something a bit positive.

Allison Symes said...

Had a similar experience in the UK. Alarm bells rang very loudly when I tried tracking the books the company published and couldn't find them. As a double check, I went to the SoA for advice (I'm now an Associate Member but wasn't then) and they were so helpful. I'd recommend anyone to double check everything. Sadly there are charlatans in every industry and writing/publishing isn't exempt. And I can't sing the praises of the SoA loud enough.

Karen said...

Really useful post, Ann. It's so easy to be taken in no matter how long you've been in the business. I hope you find a reputable publisher for your book and make tons of money - that'll show them! :)