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Finding The Best E-publisher 
For Your Novel.

Tracy Cooper-Posey

So...did you believe e-publishing was a passing fad?

It may be that e-publishing's time has come. A recent article in Publishers' Weekly's on-line bookseller newsletter announced that, "Hoping to break new ground in electronic publishing, Stephen King has teamed up with Simon & Schuster to publish his newest work, Riding the Bullet, in ebook format only." (PW Daily, March 8, 2022).

King's book sold over 400,000 copies in its first day of sales -- tying knots in Amazon's and Barnes & Nobles' on-line ordering systems. King's novel will surely boost the acceptance and popularity of e-books.

Want to join the fun, but don't know which e-publishers are good ones? There are a lot of overnight start-up operations that close their doors just as swiftly a short time later. Even the best e-publishers have only been around for a few years, so it can be hard to tell them apart.

Here's a way to find the best one for you:

Subsidy or commercial publisher?

First up, decide if you want your book published the "traditional" way or not. That is, do you want a publisher to buy your electronic rights in exchange for royalties?

Or do you want to maintain control (and most of the profits from sales) of your book? A subsidy publisher might be for you.

If you're confused about this issue, then consult Inkspot's Electronic Publishing FAQ, by Moira Allen: http://www.inkspot.com/epublish/articles/epublishfaq.html. The difference between the two types of publisher are defined and discussed.

As the most common form of e-publishing chosen by fiction authors is commercial, I will deal with commercial publishers for this article.

Build a list of possible publishers

I could give you a list, but because of the velocity at which the industry is growing, the list would already be out of date as you're reading it. You need to build your own:

1. Do you know any e-publishers at all? Write them down.

2. Raid the EPIC site (http://www.eclectics.com/epic/index.html). On the members page you'll find each author's e-publisher listed and hot-linked.

3. Plug "electronic publishers" and other related terms such as "e-publisher", "digital publisher", "e-books", in your favourite search engine. And brace yourself!

4. Also tap into Yahoo's listing of electronic publishers: http://dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Companies/Publishing/Electronic_Publishing/

Now cull:

Rate the ratings

Find websites and magazines that review e-books. Not all will review e-books. You'll recognize e-publisher names from your list if they do. Check the ratings for your genre. Notice which e-publishers get consistently good ratings. This is how I found my publisher -- they were getting five star ratings with national romance magazines.

Are they a subsidy publisher?

The quickest way to tell is: Are they asking for any money up front? Are there any aspects of the book's production that are up to you (such as art production, layout, editing)? They're probably a subsidy publisher.

Check free excerpts...and more.

Check the excerpts of books for sale, listed on e-publishers' sites. Do they consistently make you wince? Avoid this publisher.

But if the excerpts excite you, explore further. The traditional advice was always "read our current titles to see what we're looking for." This applies to e-publishers, too. Buy a couple of books and read them. Besides, shouldn't you be supporting the industry you're hoping to capitalize upon?

Check the published contracts

Many e-publishers publish a standard contract on their website, or else fully explain their terms of offer. Check:

a) if they pay advances? Unusual. This is not an industry standard.

b) what rights do they want? Many ask for electronic rights only, but some ask for print, print-on-demand and more. Decide what you want to sell, and shop accordingly.

c) the royalties they offer? E-book royalties vary wildly from a high of 70% to a low of 15%. The highest is not necessarily the best.

d) if they edit your book? This is critical. Some e-publishers are retailers in disguise. If you want your book published through the familiar process of submission, sale, editing, book packaging and release, then check the small print, or ask if you can't find the answer.

e) if they promote your book? Most fiction e-publishers work on the tightest of budgets, and the successful ones are experiencing enormous cash crunches. Promotion is not a given for any novel (including print novels!), but some e-publishers do whole-company promotion, and they have support systems for authors' PR efforts.

f) How long is the contract for? The standard is a year, often with options for either party to withdraw or extend the contract by another year. How long do you want to be committed?

g) Where's the out-clause? How can you get out of this publishing contract if you need to? Unlike print contracts, your book is going to be on the shelves for over a year. It's conceivable you might want to withdraw it (you might sell it to a print publisher, who insists on the e-book version being withdrawn, for example). Most out-clauses are very simple and reasonable -- usually 30 to 90 day's notice in writing is all it takes. Make sure there is one in the contract. You never know what is around the corner.

Talk to authors

Ask those authors who've sold to publishers on your short list for a candid opinion of the e-publisher's services. You'll receive some insights into the pros and cons of each publisher.

Most e-authors have email hotlinks on their publisher's site, and they adore getting mail from readers. (I speak from experience.) You might try asking them what they think of their publisher, one writer to another, but their answers will be extremely cautious and diplomatic.

You will get more open and frank answers from authors you know, or know from email discussion lists or newsgroups. If you're actively marketing your novel, then you probably already belong to several author groups and associations and know a few e-authors already.

Gut instinct.


How does the site feel? Do you like the way it looks? Do the titles appeal to you? What promotion do they do on the site? Would you feel happy with your book listed amongst their ranks? Is there only one or two books for sale? Are their submission requirements impossibly long, detailed and demanding (indicating imperious power monsters)? How long have they been in operation? Do they have their own domain, do they take credit cards, do they have shopping cart software, do they have full contact details for lost customers?

In other words, do they operate like a professional business?

If, despite consistently high rankings across all your most important criteria, you just aren't happy about the "feel" of a publisher, cross them off your list. You have to work with these people for nearly two years if you sell, so you have to be happy with what they do.

There you have it: a short list of e-publishers that suit your novel and reassure you with their professionalism and quality. They will have submission guidelines on their site. You know what to do next.

Go for it.

And good luck!

Copyright Tracy Cooper-Posey 2000


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