Back when I started in this crazy business of writing, I was desperate for a publisher. I was looking around for someone who would love me, who would put my words into print. This was the mid nineties, when the internet was beginning to take off big time. As I surfed the internet (in a cafe – remember when people didn't have connections in their homes?) - I came across a lot of publishers who proclaimed loudly that they wanted me. Often for a price. But sometimes not. These were not “Big Six” publishers, but neither were they independent publishers I'd seen in bookstores. They were real low level stuff and while some of them were doing exciting stuff, a great deal were fly by night shysters to be avoided. I almost went with one once until I got some advice from someone who'd previously been stung. I wouldn't have known what to avioid if I hadn't been warned.
This last week or so there have been horror stories about similarly hungry writers being stung by a similar fly by night operation. The more things change the more they stay the same. It seems as though the lessons we used to learn about fly by night print publishers have been forgotten in the age of “e”.
Think carefully about your publisher. Research them and their writers before submitting. Look at their covers. The principle of cover design is still the same. Does it match in quality what you see from the big boys? Because small doesn't mean cheap. It means budget, yes, but it doesn't mean that innovation in design and originality go out of the window. Clunky fonts, clashing colurs, poor picture quality (especially on the internet) are all danger signs. But may not on their own be enough. After all some reputable publishers can be poor at cover design. But its a pretty good signal.
The other one is this: have you heard of their authors? I mean, not just guys you've seen who are at the same stage as you, but do their authors have some kind of track record, however modest? Do they get good reviews from reputable resources? Or are all their pull quotes unnatributed and/or only from “Amazon” (Amazon reviews are good for sales, but are notoriously fickle, too. A pull quote from another author or indeed a well known review site/blog/newspaper adds some gravitas).
Check their subs guide. Do they give good solid guides or do they beg for your subs? If they beg – and worse, if they start to say that they can make you the next (insert bestselling author X here) then run. Run as fast as you can. No good publisher will promise this and no publisher can guarantee that your work will make it. They want to have as good a chance as possible though, which is why a good publisher will be very exact about what they want and generally how they want it sent.
And speaking of their guides, look at the website. Is it clunky, like it was designed in the mid nineties? Is it little more than a free blogger template? If they can't design a website, how can they create an ebook that's better than what you could do yourself? That's why you want a publisher – they can be more professional, better connected, in a position to help you sell your books. Yes, they can't guarantee anything, but at least they can give you a fighting chance. A good publisher is a good partner. They do not make vague promises about “promotion”. They actually do it. Look at what they do to get the books out there. Is it merely a message board only available on their site? Do they interact with zines and other blogs and so forth?
There are good epublishers out there. Two that come direct to mind are Blasted Heath (look at how professional their site and their covers are) and Snubnose (look at the sheer quality of their books). But what has become evidently clear is that things have come full circle. E is only a new delivery method. It is not a fix all cure for the old ways. And a poor e-publisher is every bit as bad as a poor legacy publisher. Where a good epublisher will give your book every chance and do the best work they possibly can. So do your research, do the work and attract an e-publisher who will do your and your book proud.