Writers Need to Research Publishers First

It completely amazes me the number of newly published writers who will brag about being “published” through vanity presses! I fail to understand the joy they feel when they have to pay sometimes thousands of dollars. Even worse is the fact they use companies without conducting proper research. I belong to several groups on LinkedIn, and the topic has come up on numerous occasions–some writers will have enough insight to ask before using a publisher. Two such examples are iUniverse and Author House. In spite of the insight of some to question the integrity of these vanity presses, a week or two later someone else will post they actually have a contract with them! Why do they belong to writing groups if they are not going to take the time to read posts, especially those that relate to a topic of such importance?

The Importance of Researching First

One of the big problems with vanity houses is they exploit unpublished writers, even to the point of telling them traditional publishers will see their book in bookstores and offer them a contract. They are so excited about the offer that they don’t take the time to weigh the facts.

  • Bookstores do not stock self-published books unless the authors contact them directly.
  • Vanity presses will publish any book when the author is willing to pay the price. It doesn’t matter if the book is any good or not–they are only looking for the money it will bring from the author.
  • Authors usually only get a few copies of their books for the price they pay–any others they must pay for although they might get a discount.
  • Vanity presses charge for every service they offer: printing, promotion, proofreading, editing, etc.

Learn to Follow the Advice of Others

While I am still working on my book, I have learned enough to know how to choose a publisher, and that includes conducting research. Whenever someone mentions I name with which I am not familiar the first thing I do is go to Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. In the case of both iUniverse and Author House you will discover they are listed by P&E as “not recommended.” I know they have been on the list of publishers to avoid since at least the turn of the 21st century yet novice authors get in such a hurry that they don’t take the time to research first.

In addition to checking out Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware, Angela Hoy has a newsletter she publishes that includes a section called “Whispers and Warnings.” She includes various publishers who have attempted (or succeeded) in scamming writers. While these are often publications, you can gain a great deal of insight.

Speak to other published writers to see what kind of experiences they had with their publishers or agents–yes, you should check out agents first as well, another feature Preditors and Editors includes. You can learn much more from other writers than you can from just online research. It can certainly take time, but you can save yourself a great deal of frustration and avoid making a costly mistake.

Do Not Pay Someone to Publish Your Book

This is one of the most expensive lessons authors need to learn because any company that wants up front fees is a vanity press. I have had self-published writers try to tell me the term is obsolete, that they wish to be called Indie publishers, but the problem is that can also refer to a small independent traditional publisher.

If you are insistent upon self-publishing choose an online source such as Create Space or Smash Words–other authors have indicated they take a percentage of the sales rather than charging an up front fee. Of course, the perfect solution is to work hard to find a traditional publisher–print or e-book–but the bottom line is avoid any company that has a bad reputation and is listed as “not recommended” on Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware.

Demand Media Has to Answer to Regulators for Accounting Practices

Most freelance writers are familiar with Demand Media, and some like myself have been exposed in the past to the way they treat writers with their stringent demands for such low pay. Demand Media/Demand Studios and all their other entities give a new meaning to the word content mill, and the information they recently disclosed to the SEC following their IPO filing in August 2010 should make all of us in the industry stand up and take notice.

Profit or Loss?

According to Demand Media’s IPO filing in August 2010 they had a loss of $22 million in 2009, $14 million loss in 2008 and a loss in 2007 of almost $6 million.  While this might not come as a shock to some people, the problem is that Demand Media’s CEO, Richard Rosenblatt, has been telling people in the media that the company is profitable.  Where is the problem? How can there be two separate answers to the same question? A company is either profitable or it isn’t, and quite honestly, I find it difficult to believe any kind of a loss because of the low payments they make to writers and editors who work for this content mill.

Demand Media’s Answer

The article that appeared in CNNMoney.com indicates that Demand Media treats payments it makes to writers and editors as a capital expenditure and expenses it over a five year period. Their reasoning is that they continue to make money from the articles writers publish for a period of 5.4 years, so they do not feel they should have to expense those payments at the same time they pay the writers. What this means for the writers that choose the flat $15 payment instead of revenue share is the company is still making money off those articles beyond the time covered by their payment to the writers.

Devaluation of Writers’ Needs

As a writer who once did work for Demand Studios, I have often said the way they treat writers is inhumane at best. While to novice writers, payment of $15 for a 400 word article may seem like a nice sum of cash, the reality is you have to work very hard to earn it, and in some cases it may take you more than an hour to research and write the article. Even if you choose an article on a topic you know well, you must still find at least one online source to use, and you must have at least five subheadings in each article.

Their required editorial reviews can also cause problems for writers who already have experience because they may assign you to an editor who treats you as though you are new to writing which was my experience. The combination of this dual accounting practice and their treatment of the very people who make them profitable is enough to make one question the integrity of the company and its entities in its entirety.

Forget the Resolutions and Set Goals Instead

The past month has been a very busy one for me which is very good indeed. I started ghostwriting a blog on luxury sports car which has brought in some additional income and a regular client has been providing me with some regular work as well which brings me to the topic of this post. Now that we have passed the holidays and entered 2011, many of you are probably thinking about making New Year’s resolutions. The question is: when is the last time you made a New Year’s Resolution you kept?

Breaking Resolutions Causes Anger and Frustration

At one time I used to have at least one New Year’s Resolution every year, and it was usually to lose weight. It worked for a while but then I started slacking off and lost track of what I had intended to do. The result? I became angry and frustrated with myself, so I quit even trying.

The Process of Goal Setting

As writers there are things we need to do on a regular basis and those things should not be based upon the coming of a New Year but should be things we do every single day. This year instead of attempting to create New Year’s resolutions you will not be able to keep anyway (probably because you set your sights too high), define some achievable goals.

What do I mean by “achievable goals”? Many people make the mistake of setting their sights too high. As writers that might include any number of the following:

  • Seeing your book in print when you don’t even have a publisher yet.
  • Finishing the novel you haven’t started.
  • Finding an agent or publisher for the novel you haven’t finished.
  • Doubling your income from 2010.
  • Expecting to double your current freelancing fees.

The key is to set short-term goals and move forward from there. For instance, you might set a goal of increasing your freelance rates by $.20 a word by the end of the year or finishing your novel so you can polish it by the end of the year–then look for a publisher and/or agent. When you set small goals that are easier to achieve, you do not suffer the frustration that is common when you set your sights too high and fail.

Be Consistent in Your Efforts

Another problem that is common with people in all walks of life is lack of consistency. This is essential no matter what type of job you do, but it is even more important for writers because it is so easy for us to give up when we don’t reach the level of success we expected. Writing is a very competitive field and as such we have to be in tune with what is going on and never lose sight of our goals. Unless you work consistently someone else will obtain what you were seeking to achieve.

Strive for Perfection

One of the most important things a writer can do is always work toward achieving perfection. You should never send a manuscript to anyone unless it is as perfect as you can make it. Don’t rely on spell check or grammar check but take the time to read yourself and even ask someone else (someone who can give an objective analysis) to read it as well. Polish everything you write until it shines before you send it to a publisher, agent or editor.  There is no easier way to kill your chances of publication than to send a manuscript that is full of spelling and grammatical errors.