Tuesday, August 20, 2013

There is no perfect publisher. (Sorry!)

There was a ton of internet buzz in certain circles over the weekend about Small Presses, scamsters, schmublishers, etc. You can read the piece that touched all this off here on the YAwriters subreddit. There are responses all over twitter and the blogosphere. One response that resonated with me was from Jennifer L. Armentrout, who points out the fact that many small press deals carry a stigma, even when they are super-legit.

As an agent, I've done deals with the biggest publishers, with mid-sized and smallish independent publishers, with small presses, start-ups and e-only publishers. (And everything in between!).

So I must start by saying, I'm in NO WAY accusing anyone (in a veiled way or otherwise) or talking about any particular press -- I'm just about trying to help authors avoid fraud, scams and sadness.

And, I love the publishers I work with. Hey guys, you're awesome, keep up the good work!  *running high-five to my publisher friends* -- now there's no need for you to stick around while the authors and I have a cozy little chat. Scoot along now, you cuties.


OK authors, now that we're alone, here's my perspective:

I've seen publishers do an amazing job - create lovely works of art and sell them exquisitely - take an newbie author from outta nowhere and make them a star (or at least treat them like one!) - lift their authors and illustrators up, make their work shine, give them support and clearly care on a personal level about doing right by them.

I'm not talking about just the big fancy rich publishers... ALL sizes and types of publishers.


I've also seen situations that would make your hair curl (or in my case, straighten!).... atrocious behavior, nonsensical business practices, lack of any communication, contracts with bizarre, byzantine language... stuff that almost seems designed to purposely screw with or possibly torture the author.

I'm not laying this at the foot of small presses... ALL sizes and types of publishers.

Whether big publisher or small press, mega-corporation or independent or start-up, most authors will experience at least a taste of both terrible and wonderful during their journey. I'd say the vast majority of my author's publishing experiences fall somewhere in between these two extremes, though much more toward the good end than the bad. Most publishers are trying to do the right thing by their books (and sometimes, like any humans, they don't do such a great job, and sometimes they do better than you can imagine.)

And again, yes... that's with ALL sizes and types of publishers.

The takeaway from the Reddit post, or from any of these other conversations, should not be "let's dog-pile on small presses and start-ups" or "you should avoid all small presses and start-ups" -- after all, there are many fine, totally legit, mega-awesome small presses doing great things.

The takeaway should be, "no matter WHO is offering you a contract, avoid scamsters and sadness by doing your due diligence as an author."

Now remember: No path to publication is going to be easy-peasy, bon-bons in a bed of roses. As should be clear by now, there are potential benefits and pitfalls to self-publishing, small-press publishing AND to publishing with a big NYC house.

For example, being published by ANY publisher, even the largest, does not guarantee bookstore placement... bookstores stock what they feel like, and plenty of books from major publishers do get skipped by stores.

So that being said, a clue when you are looking at whether a publisher is worth your time: Does the press have distribution? Do they publish books that you've heard of, or at least that you can look at and easily buy (or at least order) in a store or online? Get your hands on an actual copy of one of their books, or download it if e-only. How does the finished product look to you? Is it high quality and professional looking? Is the retail price competitive with other, similar books on the market?


Are they asking YOU for money? Is there even a contract? Is the contract fair? Do they have good designers and editors and marketing/publicity folks on board? What happens when your book goes Out of Print? Are they trying to grab all rights in perpetuity? IF they want to keep rights like foreign, do they have a history of successfully exploiting those rights? If you're not being offered an advance, what are you getting? Are the royalties better than average, do they have marketing, and do they have a history of successful books?

The big question I'd ask myself is the one Saundra Mitchell brought up in the Reddit post. What will they be doing for me? Will I be better off WITH them or WITHOUT them -- are they doing things for me that I could not or would not do for myself? 


Saturday, August 03, 2013

Waiting for the other shoe to drop...

I've noticed a common problem in many submissions. I call it, "waiting for the other shoe to drop." It's where the character begins a quick action... then interrupts it for an extended period of time... then maybe a page or two later FINALLY picks it back up again but by the time they do, I've forgotten why it even mattered in the first place or what they are referencing, or I am so irritated I've stopped reading anyway so I never even get there.

Terrible example I've just made up:
Jimmy lined up his feet on the free-throw line and crouched low for a moment, catching his breath. The tricky swoop-basket he'd invented and practiced a thousand times at home alone would win this game... IF he managed to make it in front of an audience. He stood, lifted his arms, and threw with all his might, then watched as the orange ball arced toward the basket.

Everyone always called him a shrimp, but Jimmy was determined to show them all he was the toughest little shrimp around. He could trash-talk better than any kid at his school. His step-dad always said, "what Jimmy lacks in height, he makes up for in mouth!" and that was pretty much the truth. But he had been working on this basket for days and days, even forgoing his favorite pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza at lunch because he heard somewhere that hunger gives athletes an edge.

His stomach rumbled. Man, maybe skipping the pizza was a mistake. If this was an 'edge' he'd rather not have it.

HEY SHRIMP, Kevin yelled from the sidelines. NICE SHORTS!  Jimmy looked down at his shorts in dismay. Aw man, the juice he spilled before the game looks like a pee-stain. Ugh. Can't he go one day without dropping something on himself? He looked back at Kevin. "NICE FACE, DILLWEED!" he shouted.
If you're anything like me, by now you are tearing your hair out going OMG WTF DID HE MAKE THE BASKET????? WHY IS THE BALL TAKING SO LONG??!

Please don't do this to your reader. If you start a short action - by which I mean a literal physical movement or act - follow through. Throwing a ball, skipping a rock, taking a bite, sneezing, giving a hug... let the character do these things THEN move on, don't interrupt him or her right in the middle of it to talk about five other things.

Now, if the character is making dinner, that is a big act comprised of many small actions. So it is fine if the character has thoughts or conversations or reminisces about things or whatever while dinner-making is going on. But if you start an action like "Sarah began salting the roast" and then go off for five paragraphs about something else and then come back and the Sarah is STILL SALTING... I'm going to be worried about her blood pressure, at least. Or assume she is just a terrible, terrible cook. If that's what you're going for, then by all means carry on. Otherwise, let her finish salting quickly THEN go off on a tangent.

Like so:
"Sarah salted the roast, then lifted the heavy steel pan into the wall-mounted oven with a grunt. 'Nothing like a home cooked meal', she muttered to herself. Then she thought about the arsenic she'd added to the cornbread, and laughed out loud."