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  • Vince Santoro

Not All Publishers Are Alike

Why I turned down a publishing contract.

Actually, I turned down two contracts and here’s why.

For many years traditional publishing was the only game in town. Then the publishing landscape changed (and it’s still evolving) and other options were made available to writers: vanity publishing, self-publishing, hybrid publishing, etc. The two publishers that offered me contracts described themselves as a “hybrid publisher”.

As with most writers, when you receive an email with an offer to publish your book, you get excited. You’ve spent long hours, days, month, perhaps even years on your work and now someone feels it is worthy of publication. But hold on, take a deep breath, calm down. A closer look at the details in the contract revealed a different story.

To many authors hybrid publishers are a bit of a mystery. The term “hybrid” may mean different things to different people. Some even associate hybrid publishing with vanity publishing because many vanity publishers have disguised themselves as hybrid publishers. Sometimes there’s a fine line between vanity and hybrid publishing since both require the author to take some financial risk.

A hybrid publisher’s business model is rather simple: allow the author to participate in production costs in exchange for a greater split of royalties, usually a 50/50 split. That may sound great for a first-time author but let’s dive deeper, through my experience with hybrid publishers.

The hybrid publishers offered editorial, design, and marketing teams, just like traditional presses. But I had some questions. What was their selection criteria? Did they publish anything that lands on their desk? Did they publish to industry standards? Did they cut corners on editorial, design or marketing work? What distribution services did they provide to make sure my book landed with retailers? Did they provide advance review copies (ARCs) to those that would most likely offer placement, reviews, or coverage?

Don’t get me wrong. There are good and legitimate hybrid publishers. If a writer is able to find one or be approached by one, it can potentially be a good arrangement. For example, if a hybrid publisher is a subsidiary of a larger press, it may have good industry connections to make the book available in their parent company’s catalog. This will lead to greater sales. The hybrid publisher can also handle the publishing tasks a writer has no interest in such as editorial, design, and marketing. I mentioned that the hybrid publisher can also give a bigger share of royalties than traditional publishing.

Then I decided to reach out to colleagues, published authors, who may have had experience with hybrid publishers. I also reached out to my editor for advice. Based on the publishers I was dealing with, the feedback was the same: If the publisher is not going to go above and beyond what an author could do themselves, there's not much reason to sign over rights and profits to them. Finally, I checked out a website, Writer Beware, and sure enough there was a wealth of information.

Now I was ready to negotiate. I asked for some changes, specifically with the subsidiary rights. I wanted to know how closely I would work with their editor. I wanted more details of their marketing plan. At the end of the day, they were not interested in negotiating or making changes to any of the clauses. Red flag? You bet. After that, my decision came easily. Thank you for your interest in wanting to publish my work but I will explore other options.

My take-away from this experience: research, research, research. The internet told me a lot about these companies. My published friends and editor gave me insights and honest advice. Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware who keeps tabs on scrupulous publishers, said it best. “Yes, there are a lot of predators working in the publishing field, but they’re nothing to lose sleep over. So long as you’re careful and approach opportunities with a critical eye, you will find no problem navigating around the sharks in this business."

So, there you have it. I got excited to have received a publishing contract and then another one just a few weeks later. But after I removed my writer’s hat and put on my business hat, things began to look differently. I have decided to continue to look for a traditional publisher or agent for my completed work The Final Crossing. One day soon, I hope to share with you a different experience in the world of publishing.

I welcome your comments, below.

Until next time,

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