Things a Publisher
Should Do for You
As the number of major publishing houses seemingly continues to shrink, and with more and more people seeking representation from an evaporating pool of agents, many hopeful authors turn to small (sometimes called “indie”) publishers. These are publishing imprints that don’t require agents to submit manuscripts. They’re often run by a small group, or sometimes even just one person. They will offer some kind of editorial feedback, a cover design, and interior formatting. Some will produce both ebook and print copies (often only via print on demand), but many are digital only. They will slap their publishing logo on your book and take a cut of the royalties for…
Doing what, exactly?
You could pay an editor, cover designer, and book formatter to do the things that these small publishers do and then retain all your royalties yourself. This is you, as an author, investing in yourself and your work in the hope (expectation?) that you will make that money back, and ideally more. But there are many authors who either can’t afford the upfront costs of self-publishing or aren’t comfortable with taking on the process themselves. So they seek a small publisher to do the things they are not confident about.
Here is where I insert the usual disclaimers: always, always vet any publisher you are considering submitting to. They should not charge you any fees. They should not demand that you buy a certain number of copies of your own book. And whoever is running the publishing company should have some experience and background in the industry, plus a successful track record. After all, if they can’t sell their own books, how are they supposed to sell yours?
But what should this publisher be doing for you? What should they offer, beyond the editorial and design?
- Marketing – They should not be telling you that you’re on your own in marketing your work, or that you and the other authors they publish will be marketing one another. The publisher should have a marketing and promotion plan of some kind (ARC giveaways, setting up a website for you/your book, running ads, etc.)
- Distribution – To be discovered, your book needs to be in stores and libraries. Your publisher should have connections with at least a few stores and libraries that carry their books. Their books should be available to order by any bookstore or library that might be interested in your title.
- Reviews/Exposure – Your publisher should also be submitting your book to review outlets to extend word of mouth. (This could probably be lumped in with marketing and promotion, but still.) They should have relationships with book bloggers and other influencers, and they should have a solid media presence on at least one platform where they engage with readers regularly and foster those relationships. And if they have their own podcast, YouTube channel, or other outlet, check their subscriber numbers.
In short, your publisher should have a reach that you do not. It’s a reach that, were you to self-publish, you might eventually be able to achieve, but the whole point of going with a publisher is that you don’t have to build your own network of connections. They are earning their cut of your royalties not simply by lending you an editor, designer, and their logo, but by giving you access to their (ideally extensive) resources. If they do not have these resources—worse, if they expect you to give them yours—then I would advise against publishing with them.