Believe me, I know how tempting it is to sign the first contract that's offered the day it reaches your inbox, especially if it's your first contract ever! But,
DON'T DO IT!
At least not right away.
I know how crazy this sounds coming from an acquiring editor of a small press, but I want every single author I sign to Anaiah Press to do so with their eyes wide open, and a good feeling in their heart for doing so.
Whether you receive an offer of representation from an agent or a publishing contract from a small press, you have to do some research. I cannot stress how important this is!
So, where do you start? Here are the 5 steps I always follow when researching an agent/publisher for my own personal writing:
1. Visit the agents/publishers website. Look at everything. Click through every page they have available. If there are a lot of broken links then you might want to think twice about sending them your work. If there are a ton of authors who've only ever published one book with the publisher then it's a good possibility the publisher is an author mill and you want to avoid those. If the publisher has a sample contract available--READ IT! Also take some time to study the book covers. Do you like them? Would you be proud to have your name on a book with a cover similar to the ones they provide?
2. Research their reputation. Yes, this is possible. The first place I start researching is Preditors & Editors and Absolute Write. They are both free sites that offer advice and insight into various agents and publishers. I ALWAYS check these two sites. (And yes, you can feel free to go check up on Anaiah Press!)
3. Contact some authors. If you're seriously considering a specific agent or publisher, look at their client list/published authors. Randomly contact a few of them, let them know you're considering an offer, and ask what their experiences have been like. You'd be surprised just how willing and helpful they will be.
4. Ask lots and lots of questions. Seriously. Ask whatever questions come to your mind no matter how small or stupid you might think they are. If you've gotten to the point where they have sent you a contract, read it thoroughly. Have your attorney or a trusted author reader it. Then ask a ton more questions.
5. Trust your instincts. I cannot stress this enough. If you have that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, listen to it and heed its warning.
In addition to the above steps, I always look for warning signs and red flags. Here are some of them that you should be aware of:
- Poor quality website / not up to date
- Lack of authors - Sometimes this is due to the fact that the publisher is brand new (like Anaiah) and other times it's because authors are not willing to sign with the agent/publisher in question. Be sure to check to see how long the publisher has been in business.
- Unwillingness to communicate - If the agent/editor you've been in contact with refuses to answer your questions, gives overly vague answers, or tells you that they will answer all of your questions as soon as you sign the contract is probably a person/place you don't want to deal with.
- Unwillingness to negotiate - I've never seen a contract that wasn't negotiable. If you come across an agent/publisher who isn't willing to negotiate even one clause in their contract you might want to think twice about doing business with them.
Signing with an agent / publisher is a big commitment, and not one that should be rushed into or taken lightly. The average publishing contract is for a period of 3 years, sometimes longer. So ask yourself, are you willing to spend the next few years in a relationship with this person / publisher?