Thursday, June 27, 2013

Have You Heard of This Publisher?

Recently an author emailed me to find out if I’d heard anything about a publisher called knowonder! – she planned to submit a story I had declined though I really loved her work. I’d never heard of knowonder! but poked around the Internet a bit to get a feel for them. After researching and giving the author feedback, I decided my process was worth a blog post. Here’s my vetting approach and something any author looking for a publisher can do to get a feel for a company before submitting.

Google the company name. In this day and age they should have a website as well as links to their social networking sites like Twitter, Pinterest,  Facebook, and a blog. How do those sites look? Have they been around long? Are they active? They should give a solid and consistent impression across platforms.

Next look for a submissions page, and read every line closely. Knowonder! has a very concise submissions page, explicitly outlining what they seek. Their focus is read-aloud stories for 20 minutes a day as a literacy tool for children, so if you were submitting a story to them, you would be sure to read your story aloud first, and then have someone else read it to you as you critically listen to what you have written. How does your story sound? Would it pass muster with this company?

Now make sure all their other requirements are met by your particular manuscript. If not, revise and submit, or skip this company. With a publisher who is this clear about his needs, don’t waste time sending something you think might get noticed. No matter how good, they are building a book collection, and if you’re too much off-topic, you’ll be wasting your time and worse, risk alienating them because you can’t read instructions or are too dumb to follow them.

If you still think you might have a good story fit, do some more research in their About section and especially make note of what and how they will compensate you (should they state those terms online). Don’t be afraid of new publishing models that extend beyond the bounds of a normal royalty situation, and be sure to note digital products (including apps) and what the publisher is offering in the way of products.  (At this point in the process, terms will be fairly superficial. Don’t expect otherwise.) You can research and review further with your lawyer and negotiate later if you are offered a contract. But at least have an idea of what to expect.

Also note how long the company has been in business, how large their collection, and if they are expanding their offerings (age groups or genres) which indicates growth for a young company.

Then search online for any kudos or complaints. I found a great review from Hip Homeschool Moms and only one comment at the Absolute Write Water Cooler which is generally positive.

Finally, find out how to order a book from them. If they ship their own orders, this will test how easy their order process is and how quickly they can deliver. Poor fulfillment can kill the success of a company – and author success – so get a sense of this before you submit. It’s a very small cost upfront, and as an added benefit, you get to see the quality of the publisher’s books first-hand. Knowonder! sales are processed through Amazon so that tells you a great deal about order-processing. However, if you don’t like Amazon, you might have a problem with this arrangement.

Have I missed anything? How do you approach the task of finding and vetting potential publishers for your manuscript?

Dani Greer is founding member of this blog. She spends her summer days with new writing and editing projects, waters acres of gardens, and often can be seen knitting yet another pair of socks. Visit her at News From Nowhere, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. Excellent advice, as always. When I started writing the 'new big thing' was e-publishers, and they were springing up like mushrooms. If they're very new, with no track record, it can be a tough call. In romance, there were two startups that were getting a lot of attention from romance writers. One tanked, royally shafting its authors. The other is alive, well, and was voted the 'best publisher' at Preditors and Editors for the last five years.

    Terry's Place

  2. It can be a crapshoot, that's for sure Terry, especially with all the opportunities the Internet has provided to not only authors, but small publishers. You really can do a lot on a shoestring budget, but that heightens the risk for everyone in this competitive game. The more options you find, the better the chances of finding the right match.

  3. Those were good points, Dani, and I nice introduction to that publisher. They had some cute books to offer.

    In the vetting process, I would also suggest finding out what, if any, marketing and promoting the publisher will do. There are benefits with being with even a small publisher that does some effective marketing.

  4. I don't do this because I am a publisher myself. Having said that, I think all the research suggestions in this post should be followed closely. Too many people come up with creative ways to bilk writers (and others) out of their money. (I ran into a couple such characters when I started looking for a publisher for my first novel. Fortunately, I couldn't afford to pay their high fees. This is why I became a publisher.) While no amount of investigation can identify every crook or potentially failing business, this list goes a long way in helping writers find a positive fit with a publisher that works well for them. Great post, Dani.

  5. You asked how we vet potential publishers.
    Two valuable tools are Writers Market and agent query Many libraries have copies of Writers Market. Agent query has a section for publishers.

  6. Savvy advice. To add something a friend mentioned the other day, just because an agent, editor, or publisher is involved in a contest does not mean they are top tier. Always do your research.

  7. Yes, both of those are good, and I still have a bookshelf filled with my old Writers Market collection. Decades ago, that was really the only good place to go and look for potential publishers. Today, the Internet offers much more, and for a lot faster. WM won't give you a real-time sense of the publisher, for example. Follow a publisher online and you can learn a lot about that company. A LOT. Same goes for agents. I might have to blog about that angle.

  8. See if a publisher's books are on the shelves at your local bookstore. If a publisher doesn't have a distributor, bookstores aren't likely to stock books.

    Before you sign with a publisher, find out about royalties—what percent and how often paid. (Never pay a publisher to publish your book.)

    Also, you might contact authors (via their websites) who have been published by a particular publisher and ask about their experiences.

  9. Becky, I'd like to blog about your last comment to. It seems to me the old practice of introducing a writer to your publisher, or offering feedback about a house to a writing pal, has sort of fallen by the wayside in the modern publishing world. Maybe it still happens, but I have both feet in this business, and I don't see many folks paving the way for others. At least not until they have a contract in hand, and a book in print. Then there is a lot of mutual online support between authors.

  10. I would also caution an author not to ask outright about royalties too early in the game. There are too many contract variables in today's publishing environment. At this point, you just are looking for a date, not a marriage. Once your manuscript looks like it might get you closer to a contract, then pay issues become important, including whether the publisher pays their authors in a timely manner. It's unfortunate that this topic is one of the great weaknesses in the industry. Publishers get into tight spots and slow down paying their authors, and that's bad news. It's analogous to a restaurant not paying its employees or payroll taxes. That's where that grapevine comes in handy.

  11. Great advice here, Dani. I guess when one is readying oneself to swim in the publishing ocean, one should remember that sharks swim there too!

    I particularly like your statement in your last comment of 'you're looking for a date, not a marriage.'

  12. Great topic. In addition to Preditors and Editors, that Terry mentioned, if you google "publisher's name" + "complaints" you may connect with blogs that contain useful information.

    You do have to be so careful, and this procedure is a great start, Dani. "Listening" to the twitter feed for several weeks will let you know if they just have an account or whether they are really using social media.

    I would like to address what Becky said. Take it with a grain of salt, because I'm getting traditionally published. But there are many small publishers that expect some sort of buy-in from their authors—perhaps in the form of buying so many copies of their books. I've had friends take such deals. These publishers are looking to spread the risk, while offering to pay other costs and offer some distribution. They are quite honestly saying what is implied in every other book deal: "We need you to do what you can to sell this book."

    I don't think that's necessarily bad, as long as you have access to this policy up front. Then it becomes a choice. Anything new sprung on you at the moment of contract signing should still your pen until you contact a lawyer.

  13. Very good advice, Dani. Never sign with a publisher without doing your research on them. Learn everything you can from their website and online sources. And, if possible, contact one or more of their authors, especially if you know them.

  14. Great comments everyone! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  15. Great points! Just one word of warning. If you stumble on a publisher, or any other writing-related service, that seems too good to be true do a Google search: [name] + scam. The results might shock you.

    One of the members of my writing program was overjoyed to be offered a contract by a publisher. I was surprised as his work was (candidly) not very good. I did the search and found a horror story. The publisher was not just a vanity press, but a scoundrel too! Luckily, my member was able to get his deposit back. (Yes, one of those publishers.) Beware...


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