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How to Judge Electronic Publishers

NOTE: I’m not all that sure you should be taking any notice of me, really: my first publisher, CrossroadsPub, crashed in a most spectacular fashion. It’s easier for me to tell you what this publisher did right rather than what it did wrong. It somehow (maybe just by sheer luck) managed to attract the most amazing talent, not only in terms of writing but also in the areas of editing and cover art. At first I was thrilled to be among all this talent. Many CrossroadsPub titles featured in all the awards available for electronic books. CrossroadsPub would soon have been regarded as the No. 1 electronic publisher but for astonishingly poor management that saw, among other things, none of the staff being paid, writers and artists not receiving royalties, absolutely no publisher promotion on any books other than Sharon L Reddy’s, ISBN numbers not being registered, and many books (including my own) actually sharing an ISBN with another title.

The Publisher’s Site

Is it attractive and easy to navigate, with not too many typographical errors? (Preferably there should, of course, be none!) Image is important on the Internet. However, what I perceive as a bad web site might not necessarily be seen that way by the majority of surfers. See Is your web site unfriendly? for my pet hates. There’s a return link at the bottom should you wish to come back to this page.

Domain Name

Does the publisher have its own domain name (something like “www.thispublisher.com/”)? Publishing is a business and it’s very unbusinesslike not to have an URL by which customers can easily find you. I’m certainly not impressed by publishers with web sites located on free servers, such as Tripod, Xoom or Geocities. If there are banner and pop-up ads on the site it is definitely located on a free server. Shun it.

What is the Publisher Selling?

What does the publisher appear to be selling—itself or its authors’ books? The emphasis should be on the books, not the publisher. Are there any authors on the publisher’s lists whose names you recognise—preferably recognise as being good writers? This was one of my criteria when I went looking for an e-publisher.

What is the average price of the publisher’s books?

An average-length novel, for instance, shouldn’t cost more than around US$4-5 to download. In my opinion, there’s absolutely no reason why a download version of a non-fiction book should cost all that much more either. E-publishers whose prices are consistently much higher than US$4-5 are just plain greedy. Shun them!

Contract

Is there a contract on the site? Is it easy to find? Is it easy to read? Once again, I’m not impressed by loads of typographical errors. Another thing that puts me off is a badly laid out contract. However, these don’t necessarily mean you have chosen a careless publisher; just a publisher who doesn’t know the webmaster is either careless or lazy. The webmaster and the publisher aren’t necessarily the same person. Be wary of publishers who don’t have a copy of their contract on their web sites—and never allow someone to publish your book without a signed contract.

Royalty Rate

Is it comparable to other e-publishers? It should be a minimum of 25%. An average seems to be 30%. Many e-publishers offer more. I’ve seen one as high as 60%—on the grounds that the author does most of the work. Never accept a royalty similar to what you’d get for print publishing. Any e-publisher offering such royalties is inexcusably greedy.

Rights

The publisher should be seeking no more than first English-language world electronic rights (or second rights if your book has already been electronically published). The contract should also have a time limit—usually 12 months. This can be renewed by either party at the end of the term. If the publisher afterwards wants to print-publish your book, there should be another contract. There should also be an “out” clause so that you can easily terminate the agreement if, for instance, you aren’t happy with the way your book is being marketed.

Formats

What formats does the publisher offer? The more the better. Preferably books should be available for downloading as well as on disks and CDs. Disks, however, seem to be on the way out.

Payment for purchases

Does the publisher accept credit cards? Does it use Pay Pal, which enables you to buy things off the Internet without a credit card? Does the site tell you how long it takes to fulfil orders? Downloads should ideally be available within 24 hours.

ISBN

These are considered essential. They certainly are if your book is to be sold in book shops, or even through online booksellers, such as Amazon. The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is used to order the book.

Online booksellers

Will your book be sold through major online sources, e.g. Barnes & Noble, Amazon or Borders? These are often the only online places from which some people will buy. A disadvantage, of course, is that books will cost more than from your publisher’s own web site. (This is an area where CrossroadsPub fell down badly.)

The proof of the pudding

says the cliché, is in the eating. Buy some of the publisher’s books, in different formats. What’s your first impression of them? Are they attractive, easy to read? And what about the quality of the editing? Does the book even look as though it’s been edited, or is it full of grammatical and punctuation errors that keep distracting you from the book’s content?

Paying for publication

Never pay a publisher to publish your book. I repeat, never pay a publisher to publish your book. While not all vanity publishers are sharks surfing the Internet for vulnerable writers to rip off, it’s better to play safe. Vanity publishing isn’t the same as self-publishing, by the way, but don’t try this either unless you are exceptionally good at selling, or there is some other good reason for self-publication.

An exceptionally good list of e-publishers can be found on Piers Anthony’s web site. The author comments on every entry, which is very useful for someone new to the world of e-publishing.

Once you have found an e-publisher for your book, you will need to do some promotion. You might like to start by getting it listed at


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