Tuesday, August 14, 2012

You Can't Promote What Doesn't Exist

by Sunny Frazier

The world of publishing is very much like playing craps in Vegas. No matter how hard a writer evaluates a publishing house or tries to predict its future success before signing on the dotted line, the industry itself is as consistent as a roll of the dice.

There are calculations you can make based on factors such as the length of time the house has been in business, the size of its stable of authors, the number of titles and presence on the Internet. But, getting information on sales stats or evaluating their marketing is near impossible. You simply aren't privy to what is going on behind the scene.

I know a friend whose publisher closed shop and burned all the book stock. Another has had two publishers die on her. Sometimes a publisher goes in a new direction—say, deciding to switch from Christian publishing to erotica. Heaven forbid!

As the saying goes, nothing is guaranteed in life except death and taxes. While it's understandable that an author wants to hold on tight to their life's work until the “sure thing” comes along, the result is never getting a book out on the marketplace. Publishing houses have their ups and downs, their quirks and foibles. Remember, there are real people behind each house and they gotta be a little crazy to want to deal with the egos and eccentricities of writers.

How exactly do you pick a publishing house to get your novel out there? I could give you a generic answer, like find a good fit. But, if you haven't published, what is a “good fit?” This isn't a pair of shoes you're trying on.

One of the things you can do is contact the authors and ask “How is your experience with your publishing house?” Authors are usually very honest with their peers. But, don't stop at the first bad review because that could be a single experience or an author who is never satisfied. When you encounter people at conferences, ask how they feel about the house they're publishing with.

Many people rely on online sites like Predators and Editors or Absolute Write. The problem with these sites is that once a publisher or agent is blacklisted, they offer no recourse for getting off their hit list. Nobody is watching the watchers.

So, what is the savvy author to do? You're not going to like my advice, but here it is: jump in with both feet and hope for the best. Take a chance and get a book out to the marketplace. The only reason to hold on to your treasured words is if this is the only book you will ever publish. If that's the case, you don't have much of a career ahead of you or a publishing house willing to put money behind a one-trick pony.

Like I said at the start, it's always going to be a crapshoot.

15 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a crapshoot, and with more and more authors joining in all the time, and with smaller and smaller payouts. Sigh.

John Brantingham said...

I'd add one bit to that -- if you can actually meet the publisher, that's always the best. I've met two of my publishers beforehand and created a relationship. If you like the person, you're more likely to have a good working relationship.

Great post by the way!

Jewel Amethyst said...

I learned that first-hand. For my first book I looked at Preditors and Editors website and just submitted to everything that wasn't blacklisted or refused unsolicited work.

I thought I got lucky when Dorchester with years of publishing history and many loyal authors bought it. Well you know how that turned out. Dorchester is now defunct.

It really is a crap shoot.

Patricia Gligor said...

I agree with John. I was fortunate to be able to meet my publisher (and his wife) in person. He's a local publisher, which is nice too. He even started a book club that meets once a month not far from where I live. Lots of personal interaction.

jrlindermuth said...

Sound advice as usual from Sunny. Nothing is sure in life and if you aren't willing to take a chance now and then you don't have what it takes to last in this game.

Sally Carpenter said...

The best route is to look up the publisher's website and see if that press is even accepting unsolicited manuscripts or if the press only takes agented submission. If not, forget it. If yes, then see what types of book the press will read and what they have published. This will give a good idea if your masterpiece is right. Don't send a thriller to a cozy press and visa versa.

Lorna Collins - said...

I'm with John. I found both of my publishers by meeting them at conferences and getting to know them. I'm extremely happy with both houses.

marja said...

I did a little research, asked other authors, and then jumped in with both feet. I'm happy.

Lesley Diehl said...

Do your research, but, as Sunny says, jump in. If you're not willing to take some risks, you shouldn't be in this business.

Liane Spicer said...

Dorchester also published my debut novel, and we all know how that turned out... I thought I was so lucky when my agent told me they wanted the book. :-/

Talk about a crapshoot.

Melanie Jackson, author, editor, piano student said...

I laughed about the idea of a publisher switching from the Christian genre to erotica! Thank you for this article, Sunny. I believe that talent and perseverance, perseverance, perseverance are what it takes. You do have to hold your breath and make the jump -- even if it's a long time before you land somewhere.

marta chausée said...

My strategy is identical to the one I employed as a kid at discos and dance halls on two continents. If the one-eyed hunchback was the first one to ask me to dance, I got on the floor with him, smiled and gave it my all. It signaled to anyone paying attention that I was a DANCER, and a good one.

After that first dance, I danced a lot.

Mark Bouton said...

I've had books bought by "good" publishing houses and then had the deal fall through at the last minute because they got a new marketing manager who thought they should drop their mystery/suspense line. Imagine! I've had publishers who did good things for my books, then dropped the ball because of situations with the personnel within the house on an important book. As Sunny says, you're always taking a chance. Editors move to other houses or get fired. Publishers change their focus. The marketplace shifts from one fancy to another. You place your bet and take your chances. There's no way to know all the circumstances that will affect your book. Look for that "good fit" based on your research, comments by other authors, and your gut feeling from discussions with someone at the publishing house. And good luck!

Augie said...

Great article. Still jumping...

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Excellent advice from Sunny. Taking that risk is definitely scary but necessary.