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How to Tell a Good Small Press Publisher From a Bad One

Updated on March 7, 2014

Looking for a first or new publisher can be daunting, especially in the booming world of small presses, where there are potentially dozens in your genre to choose from - inevitably, some better than others. Part of what to look for in a publisher will come down to personal preference, but there are also some things that should be universal.

Keep these tips in mind on your search and you'll be more likely to avoid the pitfall of a bad publisher and all of the unpleasant things that can come with trying to deal with one.

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Signs of a Bad Publisher

Firstly, let's look at a couple of the major warning signs you might see if you're dealing with or looking to deal with a bad publisher.

  • Lack of Transparency - In general, good presses will list their staff, their submission terms and guidelines, royalty rates, the rights they usually seek to require, and any other pertinent information. A press website lacking clear information should be taken as a red flag.
  • Long Response Times - If a press is either reporting a long response time on their website, or they fail to respond to you within the time frame they've provided, you're better off not wasting your time. More than 10 weeks would be excessive for a small press.
  • Poor Webstore Design - Do you like the way this press' own store looks and operates? Remember that one of the advantages of small press publishing is that small presses often cultivate followers, and those people will need to be able to use the web store. This is also usually the best deal for you, so treat a badly designed store with great suspicion.
  • Lack of Contract - If the press doesn't provide a formal contract, ditch 'em. Never work without a contract.
  • Anything Odd or Unprofessional - if something you see strikes you as wrong, it's often best to trust your instincts. If you're not sure, ask a friend for a second opinion. It's better to be overcautious than potentially have disaster befall you because you weren't cautious enough.

Signs of a Good Publisher

So we've heard the bad - what about the good? Here are some of the kinds of things you should be looking for in a publisher:

  • Clear, Professional Submission Guidelines - The first point of contact a press has with a potential author is usually their submission guidelines. Guidelines that read well, treat you like a professional and are as clear as possible are a good sign.
  • Good Web Design - Does the publisher's website work properly and look good? Attention to detail in their website means there's a better chance a press will pay attention to detail with your work.
  • Previous Publications - Take a look at some of the books your potential press has already published. Do they look professional? Are they available through major distributors? Take a look at the 'Look Inside' feature on Amazon - are they formatted attractively? A good press will have good previous work.
  • Transparency - Editor and owner names should be readily available on their website, with contact details provided.
  • Professional Communication - Any contact you have with the press - whether via email or social media - should feel professional and respectful from their end. Good presses do not speak down to authors, regardless of whether they're published with them or not.

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What To Do If You Get Caught Up With a Bad Publisher

Found yourself dealing with a bad publisher? Let's talk about what you can do about it.

If your publisher didn't provide a contract, you can just walk away. No contract means no legal relationship. If you have not signed a contract that says they can use your work, and they use it, you can take legal action to stop them. Start with a Cease and Desist letter, and if the particular work they've got is important to you, contact a lawyer who specialises in intellectual property.

If you signed a contract with a limited timeframe, it may be best just to wait it out. Once you get your rights back, make sure to send your publisher a letter to say that you are terminating your relationship and watch to be sure that they honour it. Otherwise, again, legal action is your next recourse.

If there was a termination clause in your contract, (and there should have been, but a Bad Publisher may not have one), take advantage of it. That's what termination clauses are for.

For all other bad dealings, it's important to know exactly what your contract says (and means), and what you can do about it. Sometimes you will just have to move on and consider the book or books you have with them a loss, but if it's worth it to you there are often ways to recover your rights and cut ties with a bad press.

© 2014 Cecil Wilde

Care To Share Your Bad Publishing Experiences?

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    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      Just an excellent guide!

    • Seafarer Mama profile image

      Karen A Szklany 3 years ago from New England

      Wow. Very detailed outline of things to consider when looking for a press to publish one's manuscript. Thanks so much for putting this together!

      Voted Up, Tweeted, and Pinned. ~:0)