Written by Emily Harstone

How to Evaluate a Publisher for Your Book

When you’re finally ready to submit your book for publication, it can be overwhelming. There are so many publishers out there. There is so much information about some of them and so little about others.

How can you check the legitimacy of a publisher if you don’t know much about the publishing industry?

Even if a publisher is legitimate, how do you know that they will do right by your work?

All of these are complicated questions, but knowing how to evaluate a publisher, and knowing your own personal standards should make it relativity easy to find publishers that work for your needs.

This article gives you concrete steps to answering these complicated questions.

How to Make Sure a Company is Legitimate

I have spent quite a lot of time evaluating publishers for Authors Publish. Most of the publishers I evaluate, I never end up reviewing, because they go against our guiding principles in one way or another, or are disreputable in some way. Most publishers I end up reviewing, I put a half hour of research into the review, before ever typing a word. Although I usually know within 5 minutes, if I am actually going to review them or not.

One or more of the following things usually eliminates a publisher in the first 5 minutes of visiting their website.

There is a mention of fees of any kind
Some legitimate publishers are charging reading fees now, but that doesn’t make it ok. If they mention a fee for editing or anything like that they are eliminated. Some companies talk about a cooperative payment approach or hybrid publishing. Neither of these things is a good sign.

They are trying to sell you something else (and it isn’t a book)
I have no problems with publishers encouraging interested authors to buy a book the publisher has already published. That is a good idea. But what I do have a problem with is a publisher whose website that is really pushing or promoting additional services of any kind. This website is a good example of what to avoid, because they very much emphasize writing for them, and pre-publication services, while making it very tricky to find out very much about the books they have published, never mind buying those books. 

They have been around for under a year
Most presses fail in the first three years, so over three years old is ideal, but if you are a new author you sometimes have to take a risk on a new publisher. Sometimes these risks pay off, but there is no reason not to monitor that press, and not submit to them, during the first year.

They have been around for two years and have published less than one book
This is usually an indicator that they are 1) disorganized, and 2) struggling financially, or 3) they are really a self-publishing operation, pretending to be a traditional press.

They have not published anything in the last year
If an older publisher has not published anything for a full year, it is not generally a good sign.

If they have only published a few books, I make sure these books are not just written by the editors themselves
Lots of writers these days set up companies just to make it seem like they are not self-publishing. Some of these grow into legitimate publishers, some do not.

Their website is not functioning properly
I don’t think I need to elaborate on this point.

The Next Steps
If a publisher makes it past those first easy to check hurdles, I check the Writer Beware thumbs down list to make sure they are not listed.

I also Google them. This often is not helpful, but sometimes equals good information. If there is ever a listing from Glass Door on the Google list, make sure to read it. These reports are usually made by employees of the company, such as editors, not authors themselves, but if employees are unhappy, this is generally not a good sign.

If I was actually submitting to this company I would make sure that they publish in the same genre I write in, and that they met my personal standards in terms of what I am looking for in a publisher.

How to Make Sure It Meets Your Personal Standards

Would you be happy if the publisher you submitted to, chose to publish your book?

This might seem obvious, but often times writers get so nervous or start to think it is a numbers game in terms of submissions out, that they submit to publishers that are legitimate but do not meet their personal standards.

For example I know someone who submitted to an eBook only publisher and their work was accepted and they signed the contract. The only problem with that, was that they didn’t want eBook only. They wanted an actual physical book, so they were not happy.

I cannot set your personal standards for you because I do not know you, but I think it might help you to see mine, just to get a good concrete idea about what I am talking about:

I am only interested in a print publisher with good distribution.

If they have good distribution I usually know because they mention the distribution company, or I see their books in bookstores all the time.

That clearly eliminates a lot of publishers, even a lot of the ones I have reviewed, but at least I know that. That helps me eliminate even more potential publishers, even quicker.

But for every author the standards are different and the preferences are different. Just make sure you are submitting to companies you actually want to publish your manuscript.

Finally

Even if a publisher meets all of these criteria, and offers you a contract, still approach with caution.  Evaluate the contract with care, and don’t agree to sign anything that involves you paying the press. The Authors Guild and Writer Beware, both have good resources in terms of contract evaluation.  


Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript SubmissionsSubmit, Publish, Repeat, and The 2021 Guide to Manuscript Publishers.

She regularly teaches three acclaimed courses on writing and publishing at The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish. You can follow her on Facebook here.

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