When Publishers Do Bad Things

It doesn’t happen that often, thankfully, but sometimes publishers do bad things, things that go beyond issues of incompetence or lack of organization. Usually these “bad things” have to do with non-payment of royalties or advances, the cancellation of books for specious reasons, and/or poor or abusive treatment of the author during the editorial or publishing process. (Granted, repeated cancellation of books may just indicate poor initial decision-making on the part of a publisher, but is still an important factor when considering what publisher to go with–assuming you have a choice.)

What are usually not valid excuses for bad behavior?

—Blaming sudden growth for non-payment of monies because of supposed ma-and-pop corner store accounting practices. Most all publishers, large and small, deal with distributors and wholesalers who keep records of books sold. It would be unlikely that any publisher would not have a fairly good idea of book sales for an individual title, no matter how busy they are. Publishers have to communicate with the entities that help them sell their books in order to keep publishing. This requires them to stay in the loop.

—Suggesting communication issues as a generic catch-all reason that absolves particular individuals of responsibility, especially in cases where it is quite clear that those who have been ill-served have been attempting to communicate and simply have been ignored. In this case, the excuse is simply an effort to stave off negative publicity.

—Putting the onus on the individual writers published by the publisher to come to them with any issues or problems related to non-payment.
This suggests a less than proactive approach on the publisher’s part and may simply be a delaying tactic.

Always remember that by the time individual writers are willing to say bad things about a particular publisher, this is usually just the tip of the iceberg, to use a cliche. Very few writers feel comfortable bad-mouthing their publisher, for fear of being seen as difficult. In cases where several writers have spoken out, you can almost always guarantee that many of those who haven’t spoken out also have issues with the publisher.

When considering a publisher, be sure to check with a sampling of writers published by that publisher, to get a sense of how consistent, honest, and fair the publisher is in dealing with writers. From a writer’s point of view, a publisher is only as good as the average experience that can be expected in dealing with them. Every publisher will have highs and lows depending on personalities and issues beyond anyone’s control.

Also remember that indie presses in particular have their eccentricities, and that each press has its strengths and its weaknesses. This is not the same thing as “bad behavior”–these are simply the quirks writers have to deal with, just as the publisher and acquiring editor are agreeing to put up with your quirks, in a sense, and you will have to decide which quirks you don’t mind and which make a publisher unattractive to you.

Booklife Guest David J. Williams, with “Viral Marketing Case Study: Or, How I Built Fake Websites to Sell My Real Books”

Today, a great guest post by author David J. Williams , whose futuristic military thrillers I quite enjoy–tightly written, intelligent, and exciting. This is being posted on Tuesday rather than the regular Wednesday due to a WordPress issue. – JeffV

er, hey, is this thing live? Well, first of all, thanks a ton to Jeff for inviting me to say a word or two about how I’ve been marketing my Autumn Rain trilogy (consisting of the books THE MIRRORED HEAVENS, THE BURNING SKIES, and the forthcoming THE MACHINERY OF LIGHT). I’ll also say a bit about Lessons Learnt and all that…

First, let me reveal the Actual Strategy, and then I’ll break it down a little from there. “Viral marketing” has more definitions than you can shake a stick at; it seems to me that the essence of the best campaigns is that they’re not transparently related to the author, but instead help to generate a buzz by virtue of their being a little mysterious.

The core of my campaign was the following site:




That dastardly terrorist group Autumn Rain! Who the #$# are they? I.e., we’re dropped straight into the world, with a faux news site with CNN-like look-and-feel, reporting on the aftermath of the catastrophic event that opens the first book. There’s plenty of “apparent” content and even (if you click on the graphic at the top) an actual video, in which a doomed reporter broadcasts his final hapless transmission. Of course, if you try clicking on the other links, you rapidly realize that there’s really not much to this website: it’s just a shell, intended to convey the emotional impact of Something Really Huge Going On, creating the illusion of verisimilitude…an illusion that’s carried still further by the page that virtually every link takes one to:


The world of 2110 is one where the government has the Internet in “lock-down”, so it ties in thematically…but the point is that this website is like a cat that arches its back and makes all its hair stand on end to appear larger than it actually is. (I apologize for that somewhat-forced analogy, but as I write this, my feline friend Captain Zoom is sitting on my lap and intruding upon my cognitive processes, in addition to making it that much harder to type).

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Booklife Essentials: Knowing the Lifecycle of a Book

(The remains of writers who never did understand the lifecycle of a book. Photo by the highly recommended Jeremy Tolbert.)

In this first week at Booklifenow, it’s important to provide a breakdown of the lifecycle of a book. While this information might appear basic, very few first-time authors seem to receive it prior to publication. As a result, many writers are unable to take advantage of possible opportunities. Even worse, not knowing what happens when results in the following unfortunate scenarios: writers asking for things at the wrong time, writers not understanding their role during a given part of the process, writers being really irritable about quick turn-arounds on tasks like approving edits, and editors wasting time answering questions that could be forestalled with some simple documentation.

If there’s one way that agents and editors could help their writers it would be by not assuming any prior knowledge of this lifecycle—although it is true that the process can change from publisher to publisher. (The lack of internal documentation of process at most publishers is a bit of a crime.)

The process set out below the cut constitutes a general breakdown of events and timing issues that occur during the lifecycle of a book. A week-by-week breakdown would be too long for a blog post. (I recommend supplementing the information I give you below with Colleen Lindsay’s excellent post on working with publicists.)

However, the traditional lifecycle doesn’t approach the “book” as a mutable object that can take many different forms in the modern era. If you boil the process down, stripping off the detail and making a “book” a more fluid creature, the lifecycle roughly becomes:

• Creation and perfection of content.
• Acquisition of a platform (or format) for the content.
• Creation and perfection of the “skin” (aesthetic) and context for the content.
• Accessibility to the content.
• Visibility for the content.

In creating your plans for your book, always keep this simplified version of the lifecycle in mind. It helps focus your efforts by reminding you of what’s important.

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