Listen, publishing isn’t easy. Sure, a lot of people have books out there, but having a book out with a respectable press who cares about your work and sends you money is a very different story. When I started writing in English, seeing my name in print was at the top of my list of priorities, right below telling a good story. With time, that changed. Seeing your name in print is as easy as paying someone to publish you or publishing your own stuff. Those have a different process and I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons on self-publishing, so bear with me and let’s stay on point. Ready? Here’s a list of things you should do and be on the lookout for when it comes to sending someone your work. Call it a guide, some suggestions, or the draft of a map to help you navigate publishing. Oh, and you can more or less blame Brian Keene for this piece. Tell him I say hi.
– Do your research
I know how it goes. You see a submission call that happens to be about something you wrote or want to write. You immediately want to send your story in. Don’t. Sit down, mellow out, and read that shit. Are they paying you? How much? How many contributor copies? Do they have a cover yet? Do they at least have an artist in mind? What else have they published? What kind of social media platform do they have? What about distribution? Who have they published before? Have they published anything that generated considerable buzz? What’s their work ethic like? Do they pay before or after publication? Is it one of those deal where they’ll split .15% of royalties between 10 authors? If you have solid answers for all of those, then you’re ready to make a decision. It’s not too hard. For me, it goes like this: Do they pay? Yes. Is it worth my time? (I mention this because some bullshit artists out there are offering .0001 cent per word, and fuck that/them). Yes and yes? Then read the guidelines carefully and submit! You can do that with every question. Obviously, the payment thing is the most important one unless it’s a charity anthology for something you believe in and know for a fact that the editor/s is/are not dishonest.
– Contracts matter
If you’ve spent more than ten minutes on social media, you’ve probably seen a few posts like this: “Happy to announce I just signed a contract…” or “Now that the ink is dry, I can tell you…” Listen, I consider myself a perennial newbie, so I still get excited about signing contracts. That being said, you need to READ THAT SHIT. How long will they own your work? What rights are they getting? What happens if two years go by and your story or book hasn’t seen the light of day? Also, keep in mind that there are some “hell no” words. One of them is “indefinitely.” That means your story will be theirs for as long as they want to publish it. You can’t sell it anywhere else. You can’t look for reprint opportunities. You can’t put it in your collection. Another one is “all.” You never give away all rights unless the dough you’re getting for that story is enough to make you forget about it for the rest of your days. The same goes for “in perpetuity” and “perpetually.” Read carefully anything having to do with subsidiary rights. Why should a press make money off your work if you manage to give it a life in a different form? Also be careful when it comes to words or sentences you don’t understand. I know we’re all into creative writing, but contracts shouldn’t be creative; they need to be clear, concise, and leave abso-fucking-lutely no space for ambiguities. As a writer, you should also be a reader, so sit down and read anything thoroughly before putting your name at the bottom.
– Mufuckas who don’t pay dealers get got, so act like a dealer
I’m tired of writers not complaining about not getting paid except to their friends and colleagues. Sure, getting published is awesome, but if someone says they’re gonna pay you, they need to pay you. A delay is one thing, but if months go by and you don’t see a cent, ask them what’s up. You don’t have to be nasty about it from the start. Just ask. Ponder their answer. After some more time goes by, ask again, and use different language. If you ask for your money three times (politely/neutrally/angrily) and get nothing, it’s time to make a scene. Tweet about it. Post on Facebook about it. Let people who write stuff like this piece know that they screwed you (seriously, I don’t need a cape to come fight for your rights, fellow authors, I have plenty of anger to share with as many unscrupulous publishers as you can show me.) Publishing is a big business, but not that big. Word gets around quickly. Other writers will thank you for helping them stay away from troublesome publishers, so do it. Also, remember that for many of us, a payment for a story or a royalty check can mean the difference between paying the rent that month or not falling behind on your internet payments, for example. Not paying authors is fucking disrespectful, but in some instances it goes beyond that and turns into writers having less food in the fridge or less gas in their tanks. Spread the word: mufuckas who don’t pay writers get got.
– “Yeah, I hang out with KKK members, but I ain’t racist!”
Listen, sometimes a person will suddenly be outed as a bully, racist, or insufferable asshole. When that comes as a surprise, you shouldn’t blame publishers for putting you in the same anthology or publishing both your books. However, when someone was/is/will be a known asshole, bully, or bigot, then those publishing that person are probably just like that. Look at some great indie publishers and you’ll see that none of their authors are any of those awful things. Why did Roxane Gay pull her book from Simon & Schuster when she learned they were going to publish Milo Yiannopoulos‘ book? Because she knows that working with assholes willingly makes you an asshole.
– Ask questions
You know the easiest way to learn more about the quality of a publisher? Ask its authors. Ask them if they get paid on time. Ask the women who work with them if they’ve had any issues or have felt uncomfortable at any point in time. Ask illustrators and cover artists if they would work with that publisher again. The first thing I tell folks about Broken River Books, for example, is that BRB is family, not just the press and people who put out my book. Relationships like that matter. A lot. Try to build a few of them. Ask writers if they are happy to be working with a particular press. Their answer will tell you a lot about how that press treats people and their work.
– Listen and pay attention at all times
If S.T. Joshi called me tomorrow and asked for a story, I would reply “Fuck you, man.” Like I said, word gets around in this business, and some people will complain when things aren’t going right. Look at how many presses have closed their doors because the people behind them have been exposed as toxic. Look at what happened to Alt Lit. Look at what’s happening with Dark Regions Press. Information is power, and the more you know about the folks in this business, the easier it’ll be for you to avoid bad experiences. We’re all in this together, and the problems others are facing can easily become yours if you don’t pay attention.
– Learn from your mistakes
Two of my first anthologies were Zombie Tales from Undead Press and Earth’s End: An Apocalyptic Anthology, published by Open Casket Press. I don’t talk about them and you won’t find them on my resume. Why? Because working with those two press, which were run by the same guy, Anthony Giangregorio, was a mistake. I got a copy of each as payment (something I wouldn’t do now), but the story in the second anthology was changed without my permission. It wasn’t edited, it was changed, turned into a different story, even given a new ending. I keep those books around to remind myself of what not to do. Like me, you probably had one or two or seven bad experiences. Hold on to them. Learn from them. Remember how cheated you felt. They say you shouldn’t hold a grudge, but I say hold on to that shit like it’s the last bottle of water in the desert. Let those experiences keep you alert, sharp, and always on the lookout for “editors” who want to make a quick buck.
– Respect the process, respect good presses/editors, and respect yourself
Don’t reply to rejections telling the editor they made a mistake. Don’t reply to negative reviews. Focus on writing to the best of your abilities and try to stay away from drama as much as possible. Don’t be a douche. Help others. In other words, be a decent person who is nice to work with. Rejection is part of the game. Every editor has a different taste, and you need to learn to deal with that. However, you also need to respect yourself. Yeah, I know your writing sucks and oblivion is one bad day of writing away and everyone is better than you and how do you even write a book and blah blah blah. That’s all good, but know that you’re putting in the work and should be respected for it. Don’t let some asshole tell you that the novella you spent half a year writing and polishing is worth a fucking PDF. The time for participation awards is over; turn in amazing work and get paid for it. –
– Keep in mind these red flags:
Awful covers – One bad cover is okay. Two is maybe bad luck. Three? That’s just really bad taste and someone not giving a shit about how the book looks. And covers sell books, folks. I won’t even discuss that because it’s a fact. If a publisher doesn’t care about what your words will wear on the outside, he or she doesn’t care about a bunch of other important things.
Predatory submission calls – I can’t believe you are making me say this again: fuck submission/reading fees. Fuck them with a machete, behead them, and bury them in the backyard before someone has a chance to defend them again. Also, do the same with any submission call that asks you for money to get a cover, money to pay an editor or proofreader, and money to spend on advertising. Bonus: three typos in a submission call spell “We’re a shitty press who doesn’t even care enough to proofreader our submission calls, so please don’t send us your work.”
Crappy contracts – Revise the words you don’t want to see in a contract above and stick to that. Don’t give away your work forever and don’t let someone give you a few cents for a novella.
Not paying authors – I know you’re special, but if three authors working for a particular press have never seen a royalty check, then you won’t see one either regardless of how special you are.
There, done. Now go submit something to a decent press. Good luck.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS (Broken River Books), HUNGRY DARKNESS (Severed Press), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist. Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbcide, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at@Gabino_Iglesias.