Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Young Writers/Young Publishers

I get emails from young writers asking for advice. Unfortunately, I don't always get a chance to answer them. To tell the truth, I'm probably one of the world's worst correspondents when it comes to email.

Of course, that doesn't mean I lack for advice. I've got a bucketful, and I'm willing to dish it up. For those of you who are climbing the ladder and looking to sell your first book (or second, or third, or even your fourth or fifth) in the small press or to a newer publisher, here are some basic tips:
  1. Have you tried New York? I mean, really tried? Do it. Aim high. Especially if you're trying to sell a novel. Start at the top, or as high as you can reach with any connections you've managed to make. If it's not happening there, then go the Indie route.
  2. If you work with a new publisher, you're taking a chance. Some chances pay off and others don't. Myself, the "new" publishers I worked with were Cemetery Dance, Subterranean Press, and Night Shade. Things turned out just fine for me, but they don't always work that way. You have to watch yourself. You have to protect your book. You have to be very careful.
  3. If publishers don't keep their promises, do your best to hold them accountable. Of course, this is not an easy thing to do. You may have to ride them like Zorro to get results. But if they stop responding to your emails and phone calls that means Zorro can't even find his horse, let alone lead it to water. This why you should always have an exit route in mind that will protect you and your reputation (even if you don't quite have one yet).
  4. The first putuporshutup moment in a writer/publisher relationship is the contract and the check. If those obligations aren't fulfilled in a timely manner, you're probably in trouble. My advice is: don't stick around.
  5. Insist on a Reversion Clause in your contract. This means that you're setting a time frame for the publication of your work. With small press projects, I generally work with a 12 - 18 month window. If the work isn't published in that time, the rights revert to me and I keep the advance. Don't be afraid to use this clause as a negotiating tool. Don't be afraid to enforce it if you have to. I've never had to. I've been lucky.
  6. Covers sell books. Make sure to get a good one. You probably won't get anything in the contract about that, but you can try. Otherwise, make the cover part of the discussion before you sign your contract. Have a good idea of the publisher's intentions in this regard, and make sure they're something you can live with.
  7. When working with an unproven publisher, it's best to do one project at a time. Wait for them to prove themselves before you line up more work. Of course, if they're waving a good check in your face and you can trust that it will soon be in your hand and putting food on your table, that's another story. Charge ahead.
  8. If a publisher is taking money based on the value of your name, this will ultimately be a reflection on you. That may not seem fair if things go south, but its something to keep in mind, and another reason to be careful about working with someone who has yet to develop a track record.
  9. If you're a first novelist and a publisher waves a contract in your face for a micro print-run book, my tip is to avoid it. If you want to know why, tune in next Wednesday and I'll clue you in...