Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yep, too good to be true

Well, it's time to tell about the recent event in my life that did in fact turn out to be too good to be true. (You can read my post about it from a few days ago, but that's not necessary.) I had to let this run its course before blogging the whole thing. This may be a long story, but bear with me.

A week or so ago I received a message from a publisher via an online writers group I am in. This was suspicious to me, but I thought there is no harm in hearing what they say. I emailed them back, and they looked at my first chapter via my website. I sent them a synopsis as well. They wrote back and seemed very interested. A little too interested. I allowed them to call so we could dicsuss things farther. I expected a big sales pitch. I also expected to end the call abruptly with bad feelings. That didn't happen. The women I spoke with were very nice, not pushy, and we seemed to click. The answers they gave seemed legitimate, and they answered things directly.

Let me take this moment to say I am normally very cynical when it comes to stuff like this. I also go by my gut--I believe the Holy Spirit nudges us and warns us when things are awry. And I'm smart. Together, those add up to me being a salesperson's nightmare.

The call ended with me agreeing to review a contract. I still felt that it was a big red flag that they had not read my entire manuscript. That fear was somewhat calmed by the fact that the contract was presented as though it was a preliminary contract, contigent upon approval of the full manuscript.

I received the contract. Much of it seemed reasonable and in line with what I've read about regarding publishing agreements. The big thing that told me this was a no-go, however, was the paragraph that said I was obligated to buy copies of my book up-front. Not all of them, but not just a dozen or so. Two hundred and fifty, minimum.

Now there are two ways of looking at this:

One--they have legitimate reasoning for this. They tend to focus on nonfiction, written by ministers and inspirational speakers. These are people whose real goal is to speak to and minister to the public. So, maybe they use the book as part of their platform in order to gain speaking engagements, and the book sales are not top priority. Buying those books makes them motivated to not forget about the books.

Two--possibly, because the authors/ministers/speakers see it as a ministry, they want to buy lots of books to give away and this company does offer quite a discount on self-purchased books. So, they structure it to help out these speaker-authors--they can call themselves a traditional house by not charging publishing fees, which makes you as the author look more credible--but you're still going to pay up-front like a self-pubber or subsidy and they just call it book purchasing.

This second scenario might seem shady or legitimate, depending on the light in which you view it. That is why I'm not mentioning the publisher's name. Maybe they are legit, within the circle that they work. Symbiotic relationships that work for one set of organisms don't necessarily work for other sets.

At first, I was a little angry. I felt taken advantage of a bit. Not completely, because of the above statement--if they are used to a publisher-author relationship like the aforementioned situation and all parties have been happy with that so far, then they don't see the downside that I do from over here. But I would think they'd understand that as a fiction author I'm not out to fill stadiums and pitch my subject of expertise. I'm out to sell books. MY books. Why do I need to buy them from you to prove that?

I was also upset that my radar didn't go off louder on this. Had the Holy Spirit abandoned me? Why was I not getting that bad, bad feeling?

Yes, I did get my hopes up some. Who wouldn't? With several signs pointing to this being a unique opportunity, I did allow myself to look into this. But I did so with eyes wide open, lots of research, and a definite reserve. Just not the complete "no way" attitude I tend to get when offered something that seems a little too good.

I think I've discovered why it played out the way it did. If I'd gotten the "alarm" way in the beginning, I'd have completely disregarded the message, and then forgotten all about these people. But, I feel God wanted me to get far enough into this to get my hands on the contract. I know have learned something and have physical proof that they are doing this. I will never doubt that I let that "golden opportunity" slip by. I can look at that contract and know that I made the right decision by turning them down.

Also, I can let you know about this. EDUCATE yourself as an author. Do NOT just take the publisher's word that they have your best interest at heart. Contact writers you know and ask them what some of the terms were in their contract--you can do this without asking their exact royalty percentage and advance amount. You need to know what is standard and what is not.

There are books out there to help you with this. One I have is How to Be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis. Go to sites that list publishers, like Predators and Editors. Attend writers groups, join online groups--ask everyone if they've heard of a publisher before you take a jump!

I did those things--asked everyone I knew (no one had heard of them), checked Predators and Editors (who, btw, did not have this company listed at all, so they weren't officially red-flagged), went to the bookstore and looked at their books (yes, they're on the shelves, which is usually a very good thing). At first it all seemed pretty good.

But, even with that, I held back. Maybe I didn't have that gut-sick feeling, but I did hold back. And I'm glad I did. I may not be able to get an advance as a new author, but I sure as heck am not paying my publisher one!

So, take from this what you will. I'm not mentioning the name of the publisher publically because at this point I have no reason to. When I told them "no" they took my answer graciously. But not every publisher out there will be so gracious. Some are true scams, so prepare yourself.


Bekah said...

Great post, Kat! You were wise, I think, in that scenario.


Hannah said...

Ooh...interesting to read, yet upsetting about the publisher.


Sheryl Young said...

Kat - this happens to all of us. There's a little thing called EGO that the devil uses to get us to believe something and want something badly enough to turn a blind eye to the warning signs. Glad you saw them! Keep writing. Website looks great.