Written by Emily Harstone October 1st, 2020

Warning Signs: How to Avoid Submitting Your Work to the Wrong Publisher

This article is all about how to avoid signing a book contract with the wrong publisher. It is hard to find good publishers, and it involves a lot of research just to find a legitimate publisher that accepts work if you do not have an agent. However, there are great options out there, particularly for genre writers. Although Authors Publish reviews one publisher a week, we want to make sure you know what to avoid when looking for publishers on your own.

The first thing you should do when considering submitting to a specific publisher is to do research. We used to direct readers to Preditors & Editors, a website that was devoted to listing publishers, agents, and book distributors. However, for the past years their information became increasingly out of date, with few updates even for major publishers. About six months ago they officially pulled their content offline and are looking for a new individual to take over. They still run reader polls but those are unreliable and should be avoided.

Instead I recommend using the index of agents, publishers, and others at Absolute Write Water Cooler. A lot of speculation occurs in the forum, so take unverified information with a grain of salt. But there is lots of good legitimate information. Although not all of it is up to date. Absolute Write is my primary research source when considering which publisher to review.

The site Writer Beware also contains a lot of  information. They have a lot of detailed information as well as this helpful list. Although they cover a lot fewer publishers than the Absolute Write Water Cooler forum.

This may seem obvious to most, but no legitimate traditional* press will ever charge you money. If they charge you money, they are a vanity, hybrid, or assisted publishing company — there is no way around that.

A good way to spot a vanity publisher is to look for the word “packages.” It is not that all self-publishing should be avoided, but you should know what you are getting into. Even in the world of assisted publishing there are reputable publishers and disreputable ones.

Another thing to look for includes publishers that are forward about how much they pay their authors in terms of royalties. If they are hiding this the amount of royalties, the pay could be minimal.

It’s also important to check to see if they have distribution. Usually if they have good distribution they state the name on the website. Ingram, while large and capable of good distribution, is not a good sign. They offer distributions for pretty much anyone, and because of that, the vast majority of the books they represent never end up in stores.

It’s good to look at a few of the books the publisher is offering. Ask yourself if you like the cover? If their books are listed on Amazon try and read samples to get a good feel for the level of editing they provide.

Writer Beware, and Absolute Write sometimes don’t list publishers, or their listings are not up to date. If you don’t know very much about the company or feel as if your information is out of date, Google the company name. It sounds so simple, but I have been shocked by what I have found by doing this. Sometimes you will find lawsuits or big newspaper articles about what a company has done that was never reported on any of the literary watchdog sites.

I am not telling you all of this to scare you, but to help you protect your writing. You should be confident when submitting that your work will go to the right publisher. Research helps reinforce that confidence.

This article focuses more specifically on evaluating a companies website based on the information that is there. If you come across a publisher where you can’t find much about them online you can still get a better perspective on if you should submit to them or not.

*Some established presses charge reading fees, but have no other fees attached. They are still considered traditional presses. This started out in the poetry publishing community but has spread to other genres.

Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript SubmissionsThe 2019 Guide to Manuscript PublishersSubmit, Publish, Repeat, and The Authors Publish Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Publishing.

She occasionally teaches a course on manuscript publishing, as well as a course on publishing in literary journals.

You can follow her on Facebook here.


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