Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: What Makes a Good Publisher?

Before I begin (again), a bit of disclosure: While the following has been written in an attempt to be professionally and personally non-biased I am an Associate Publisher for Renaissance E Books. 

Now, with that out of the way (again)...

The last time I wrote an intro like the above it was for my Streetwalker column Self Or Not? – about why I feel that, even though it can be very alluring, I still recommend writers work with a publisher rather than go the self-publishing route.

After writing that column I've been thinking, a lot, about what makes a good publisher ... especially these days.  Not to (ahem) brag but I've been in the biz for quite a few years and have worked with a lot of publishers – both when books were printed on (gasp) actual paper, as well as in the new digital age, so I think I can say a bit about what makes a good publisher.

As always, keep in mind that this is somewhat subjective: what I like in a publisher may not be what you like in a publisher ... but the somewhat is there because, tastes aside, it's a publisher's job to get your book out so, hopefully, people will buy bunches of copies.

The world – as I mentioned – as totally changed, and so has what publishers not just can do but should be doing.  It may sound a bit ... emotional, but I like a publisher I can talk to – and who talks to me.  Sure, many publishers are simply too busy to answer every email immediately but that they get back to me eventually is more than enough to keep me happy.  I've dealt with far too many publishers who I have to write, write, write and write again to get an answer to even the simplest question. 

Sure, I think its very important to work with a publisher who respects you as an artist but more than anything they should understand the business of publishing.  I've had some great experiences with very supportive publishers – only to be disappointed that even though they tell me I'm (ahem) The Greatest Writer Who Ever Lived they totally drop the ball in getting my books out.  These days it is absolutely crucial to hit as many sellers as possible: amazon is fine and dandy, the publisher's own site is expected, but if they don't get books onto places like Barnes & Noble – and especially iBooks – then that can mean a serious cut in revenue.  The same goes for print versus ebooks: the cold reality is that that print books do not sell as well as ebooks ... so a publisher that focuses on print rather than ebooks is, to be polite, way behind the times.

Publicity and marketing is a very sore point for a lot of writers in regards to publishers.  Not to kick a hornet's nest, it is very important to have a publisher that at least tries to get the word out about your book  – but that in no way means that authors should just kick back and complain.  Yes, you should be annoyed by a publisher that does nothing to promote your book but if they are working hard – or as hard as they can – then get out there and add to their efforts. 

By the way, if the only thing a publisher advises you to do – publicity and marketing-wise – is Tweet or join Facebook ... well, let's just say that there are a million other ways to get the word out rather than doing what everyone else is doing.  Yes, a digital presence is essential – if anything to give you’re a place to see, and so buy, all your books – but the simple fact is that your friends on Facebook are not the people who will be buying your books.  A good, smart publisher will be working to reach actual readers and buyers through not just traditional channels but through a wide range of alternative methods.   

More than anything publishers are businesses and, as such, they have to operate effectively, efficiently, and intelligently.  That means that they can't give their writers 100% of their time ... mainly because while they are trying to find new authors, getting books out, working on promotion and marketing, but they also always keeping an eye on the bottom line.  Sometimes I feel if a publisher is spending too much time with me – the flipside of being totally ignored – I worry that they should be doing more for the company rather than obsessing over just one book (even if the book is mine).

Experience in a publisher is essential, but only if that experience has been educational: if a publisher tells me that my book needs anything  –  (different cover art, new title, different marketing strategy) – I will do what needs to be done, but only if I feel that the recommendation comes from looking, and understanding, what sells a book.  I hate to say this but I've run into a few publishers that want to be PUBLISHERS (meaning they are in the business only to boost their ego) and not a publisher (who is trying to create a successful company): the former's advice is usually based on trying to look like they know what works rather than really understanding the business.

I could go on – and will in my next column – but this should at least give you some food for thought.  If you have any comments about any of this, or want me to chat about anything specific in regards to publishing, leave a comment or shoot me an email:  I promise to answer ... though it may take me a bit of time.

Just like a good publisher should ;-)


  1. Amen!

    Let me provide my list of additional things to watch out for in a publisher:

    - The principals repeatedly use personal crises to make excuses for 1) not answering email; 2) not sending out royalties on time; 3) delaying the release of your book; 4) etc.

    - The principals try to do everything by themselves: submissions, editing, formatting, cover art, web site maintenance, etc. This may be necessary when a publisher is just getting started, but an effective publisher learns to delegate responsibility as soon as possible.

    - As an author, you don't know who to ask about a particular topic, e.g. royalties, release dates, editing, etc.

    - The publisher sends you a contract full of misspellings or boilerplate that doesn't make any sense.

    - The publisher can give only approximate dates as to when royalty statements will be available or royalties paid.

    - The publisher's web site doesn't work on every browser, or is otherwise unreliable.

    These days, it seems like it's a piece of cake to set up an epublishing company. Everyone wants to jump on the electronic publishing bandwagon. I've seen, from sad experience, that success in this business is a lot harder than it looks. It takes a professional attitude and a long-term perspective to be successful - as well as keeping a sharp eye on the ever-changing market and its many players.

  2. Thanks so much, sweetie - I'll add your comments and such to the next installment of this!

  3. My first (and only) publisher hit a lot of those warning triggers. Yeah, it was a bit before Twitter existed, but even basic website, typos in the contract, and a few other things should have told me I was about to have some trouble.

    Frustratingly, they went out of business, but I never found out until five years later (after sending letters, emails, etc). It was an eye-opening experience and taught me the difference between "getting published" and "getting published well".

  4. It's always a learning curve - alas. And some might be good at one thing but bad at others. I've had something like two dozen publishers over the years and only one or two that I could say were perfect.

    Of course I also work for one of them ;-)


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