I signed my first book contract in the summer of 2012 for the publication of my debut novel, Winter Songs. The publisher was a small, traditional press that continues to sell three of my novels. At the time I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to sign with a publisher that offered a fair contract and lived up to it.

There are an amazing number of unscrupulous and unqualified publishers that are interested in little more than picking an author’s pockets. A visit to Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write, and similar Internet sites will help an author steer clear of the worst of these scoundrels. Unfortunately, these sites don’t catch all the bad guys. The rest is up to the writer. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading the contract and just saying no to an unacceptable offer. There are several red flags that are deal killers for me:

  • Vanity publishers – These aren’t publishers; they’re vendors. All they want is your money. I ignore them.
  • Stealth vanity publishers – They may try to sneak in a fee or require an author to buy a certain number of copies of his own book. They lack working capital and confidence in their ability as publishers. They’re hedging their bets. I ignore them.
  • Miserly publishers – This is a traditional publisher that may try to lowball the author on royalty percentages and payout frequency. Instead of the usual 40% for e-books and 10% for print, they may offer 30% for e-books. By the way, I know this from personal experience. I swallowed hard and signed a contract like this. I’m sorry I did.
  • Greedy publishers – They will try to take an author’s film rights even though they have no connections in the film industry and no chance of ever selling the movie or television rights to the author’s work. This prevents the author from independently seeking a film agent that actually has connections. Any small, traditional publisher that does this is unethical, in my opinion. Again, I speak from personal experience.
  • Hobbyists – These are usually micro-publishers that have few, if any, employees, lack capital and expertise, and hold regular jobs. If they get sick or die, the press is likely to collapse and the author is screwed. Actually, the author is already screwed because his work is in the hands of amateurs for whom publishing is a sideline. Avoid them.

The publishing landscape is littered with  minefields. That’s an unfortunate fact. If you’re an author, be careful.