Now let me turn to an issue you may not get the straight facts about. I’m speaking from my own experience and from what many of my authors have told me.
The first thing you need to know is that what publishers care about is making money. Great literature is of no interest to them. It used to be, back in the olden days, but now that traditional publishers are mostly gigantic business conglomerates, they couldn’t care less about good writing. Whether you go to a traditional publisher (one that pays you an advance and royalties) or an on-demand press (you pay them, you may get royalties), their focus is on their bottom line. The publisher will make decisions about your book, decisions that it doesn’t do you any good to question. They’ll design a cover that you may not like. They’ll edit out passages you’re proud of. Some large publishers think it’s fun not to respond to authors’ phone calls and emails. They’ll lie to you. Some of my friends and I have fun swapping publisher horror stories.
Nevertheless, there are some excellent large publishers, some excellent small ones, some excellent on-demand publishers, and some excellent vanity presses.
But many small presses are one-man operations, which means you may get lousy production values. One of my authors found spelling mistakes on the front cover of her book. Imagine that! She had to fight to get the cover corrected. Some vanity presses think it’s more about them than you. Some on-demand publishers are looking for naïve authors with great big fat credit cards.
I used to refer people to a fascinating site called Preditors&Editors, which listed good publishers for authors looking to self-publish. P&E also warned writers away from predatory vanity presses. But P&E went out of business. But there’s hope for us! I’ve been led to a new site whose purpose is to help inexperienced authors. This is Reedsy.com, which tells us that “not all publishers are created equal. For every Random House, there is some guy in a random house, convincing authors that they hold the key to publishing success. But before you sign on the dotted line, stop for a second and ask yourself and look at what they’re offering.” Go to Reedsy.com to learn what you need to know about so-called publishers you need to avoid.
What you need to know
Some publishers—especially vanity presses—like to take advantage of authors with no experience will want to edit your book. Here’s what you need to know about that. They hire “evaluators,” usually through those “work at home and earn big money” Internet ads that land in your spam box. These evaluators are people who like to read, but they’re not necessarily people who know what good writing and gooder English are. So you send them your precious book. First, the evaluator runs it through a spell checker, a grammar checker, and a style checker. It doesn’t matter if you have stylistic sentence fragments or other examples of idiosyncratic “bad writing” or spelling that works in dialect. The evaluator lays your book against the handy-dandy checklist and marks you off for “wrong” or “bad” writing. One evaluator website, for example, objects to sentences that are more than 20 words long. But a sentence needs to be as long as it needs to be to say what it has to say.
Then the evaluator reads some (but probably not all) of your book. More marks on the checklist. Then they tell you all the things that are wrong with your book and suggest that you let them edit it. For a few dollars. (Note that this is not true of all on-demand presses, but it’s true of enough of them that you need to be very cautious. Don’t sign a contract without advice from a literary agent or a lawyer.)
I have done freelance editing for companies that do this kind of editing for those kinds of on-demand presses. I’ve seen those checklists. I’ve found mistakes the evaluators made. And when I edited for a couple of those small presses, they told me I had to write comments guaranteed not to “offend” instead of talking to the authors like they’re real people. Like they’re smart people. They told me I couldn’t do any teaching. They told me I couldn’t even add an “attagirl.”
When you come directly to me, however, we develop a relationship. We work together. I’m always on your side, and I won’t ever lie to you. The owner of one very small press for which I worked very briefly appointed her 19-year-old daughter as chief editor. This daughter’s job was to approve or disapprove of my editing. You know what? I’m not sure I’d want a 19-year-old chief editor looking at a novel I wrote.