Sunday, 16 March 2014

When Publishers Go Bad

Some of my very best writer friends, who are some of my very best friends in general, are struggling with a bad publisher just now. I won't name the publisher, because it seems in writing circles slagging off a publisher you're not personally affiliated with is Bad Form.

I get being professional - absolutely. Don't tweet, phone or write to agents or publishers to castigate them for not getting your genius, no matter how true you think it might be. It usually isn't. Coming across as unhinged isn't going to do you any favours no matter what business you want to go in to. But professionalism has to go both ways. And if I, as a writer, think a publishing model sucks I should be able to say so publicly without some kind of "difficult" label being dropped on my head.

There is more to being a publisher than putting out books. Shock, horror - publishers are supposed to do some WORK for their writers. Few writers these days will shun any kind of social networking, but naturally anti-social writers (of which I am one) may be unwilling or bemused by the whole thing. I've been on Twitter for a year and still have no idea how to work the damn thing. And that's where the publisher's marketing department comes in. Putting in an "I will tweet occasionally" clause is not an outrageous thing, but what's the point in tweeting to a yawning void?

If a publisher is going to insist on that, then they have to be actively tweeting and using social networks too. They should know the market your novel is aimed at inside out, who is following them, and tweet accordingly. They should have marketing avenues and possibilities in their head before they even think about accepting a manuscript. Publishing is supposed to be about what a publisher can sell, not how much a writer can spend on petrol, or how many hours a day they can spare to monitor a Twitter hashtag. If someone's following a publisher's science fiction/fantasy imprint there's a good chance they're going to want to read that science fiction book they've just released. If a publisher can't even be bothered to distinguish between their imprints then why would I bother submitting my work to them?

This publisher's case is more insidious, though. It involved snaring writers from a well-known writers' forum whilst claiming to be an angelic paragon of virtue. How they saved writers from another bad publisher. That was a genuinely horrific situation for all the writers caught up in it, but to my mind this is worse. I knew the owner of this particular publisher had a difficult personality long before any of my friends got involved with her, and I personally would never have worked with her on that basis. She is a fantastic editor and a very good writer, but she has no idea about marketing and refuses to either learn or delegate. In the interests of balance, on one occasion in a non-writing related way she was very kind to me, and I will always appreciate that. 

As writers, we can all warn someone but we can never warn everyone, and I know the people directly involved with this publisher are warning everyone they know. If anyone wants or needs the identity of this publisher, they're of course free to tweet me or ask via PM on Facebook.

My best unpublished advice is ALWAYS wait two years to submit to any start-up publisher, no matter who they are. Even if you're rejected, your multiply-drafted, headdesked-about, cried-over, beta-read-and-started-all-over-again work is ALWAYS worth more than a bad publisher. It's not necessarily worthy of a good publisher, but I guarantee you it's worth more than a bad one. Start up and work down. Always.

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