HOW TO TELL IF A NEW OR SMALL PRESS IS LEGITIMATE
It seems like every day you can open up a trade journal and
read about a new publisher entering the children's book scene.
While most of these publishers are well-funded and have some sort
of background in the industry, a few may be bad risks for an
author or illustrator. Here are some ways you can check out a
publisher before signing a contract:
- See if the publisher is listed in Children's
Writer's & Illustrator's Market. This
won't apply if the publisher is brand new, but if the
company is at least a year old it could be listed in
CWIM, or similar trade directories. CWIM checks out
publishers before listing them, and if the directory
receives three or more complaints about a company, the
listing is removed the following year. Was the publisher
listed last year but not in the current edition?
- Look at the publisher's catalog. Is the
catalog designed in a professional manner? Not all
catalogs have to be glossy, four-color publications, but
they should include pictures of each book cover with
information about the book and how to order it. Make sure
the publisher can fulfill orders in four weeks or less.
- Look at other books the publisher has produced.
Are the paper and binding of good quality? Do you like
the design? Do you feel the book is priced comparably to
other similar books on the market?
- Ask about the publisher's distribution system.
Are the publisher's books distributed by a well-known
wholesaler or distributor, or is the publisher relying
mainly on direct mail to sell books? Many small presses
sell most of their books through mail order and do quite
well. It's important, however, that the publisher has
good mailing lists that will be relevant to your book.
(General fiction doesn't do as well with direct mail as
nonfiction, for which a very specific market can be
- Go to a large bookstore and ask to order one of the
publisher's books. If that bookstore can't find
either the publisher or the distributor in its computer,
it will have trouble ordering your title when it's
- Ask the publisher how your book will be marketed.
Does the publisher have a solid marketing plan, or will
you be relied upon to do most of the marketing yourself?
- Talk to the person who will be editing your book.
Is your editor enthusiastic about your work, and does he
or she have specific, in-depth ideas about needed changes
in the text? Very few manuscripts arrive at a publisher's
office in perfect shape. If your editor has no changes in
mind, question him or her about areas in the manuscript
you may feel are weak. See if the editor has constructive
ideas for revisions. If you're an illustrator, speak with
the art director. Find out how much guidance you will be
given while illustrating the book, or if you will be
working with no direction. Are the editor and art
director accessible? Do they return your phone calls?
Once an offer has been made on a book, they should call
you back within a reasonable time period.
- Read the contract carefully. Make sure it
contains a projected publication date, the author or
illustrator retains copyright to the work, and that money
is accounted for properly. Many smaller presses don't pay
advances, but they give higher royalties or pay more
often (every month or every 60 days). Be sure you don't
have to pay the publisher any money to produce your book.
It's not possible to follow all these steps, of course, if
the publisher is new and hasn't produced its first list. In that
case you could ask to contact some other authors or illustrators
the publisher is working with, and get their impressions of the
company. By and large, most new publishers are legitimate,
sincere and dedicated professionals, and are not a bad risk for
the author or illustrator. These people will not object to your
researching the company. Those who do should be approached with
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