About two weeks ago, I posted an update on progress with my novel, Ojibway Valley. In that piece, I told how I’d decided to give up on the traditional model of querying agents and small presses, and my frustration with the process, and that I was going to go ahead and self-publish.
Well, it only stands to reason that after posting that article I should hear back from one of the many small presses I had queried. I queried this press last July, so six months had passed before they replied, expressing interest in seeing my entire manuscript. I looked them up on the internet, remembering that I’d found them through Duotrope, and that they were fairly new, having been formed in 2012. I figured what the Hell, I haven’t self published quite yet, so I sent them a copy, with a note saying that I’d give them two weeks to respond, and went back to the process of performing the final edit on my manuscript.
Exactly one week later, last Friday evening, I was working at my computer when an e-mail showed up in my in-box. It was from the same small press. I opened it, expecting another rejection letter, when much to my shock I found a short note saying they were happy to inform me that they wanted to go ahead with publication, and that they’d attached a generic contract for me to review.
I was stunned. I quickly called my wife into my office and had her read the note, and she was stunned, too. It was the moment I’d been waiting for since sending out my first query, about fourteen months earlier.
But that old Groucho Marx / Woody Allen joke played in my head. It goes like this: “I would never belong to a club that would have somebody like me as a member.” I looked a little closer at the publishing company, and at the contract they sent me, and I found some discouraging items.
The first was that the guy who sent me the letter had the title “editor” next to his name. I also noted that he was an author of two of the four fiction titles listed on their webpage. So far, so good. I clicked on his first novel, and was taken to a Goodreads review which blasted the book. Again, nothing wrong with that, until I got to the end of the review, where the reader commented on the errors and typos that were all over the published work. This made wonder about his skill and experience as an editor. If I wanted to publish a book filled with errors and typos, I’d self publish – one of the advantages of having a small or big press publish your work should be the professionals available for review and design.
Then I took a closer look at the contract. Nothing jumped out at me; it all seemed to be legitimate, until I noticed that in the header of the word document, it indicated that it was a contract between them and an author whose name I recognized from the only non-fiction title on their web page. They had obviously copied his contract but forgotten to clear his name. This struck me as a little careless at best, and as a breach of the other author’s privacy at worst.
Then I looked up the non-fiction work of the other author on Amazon, and while its title denoted that it was a serious book about a serious and topical issue, it was only 56 pages in length. I don’t know how one writes a comprehensive book about such a serious topic in only 56 pages.
So I had enough doubts about this press to second guess having them publish my book. To be clear, I don’t believe they’re up to anything crooked or unethical, I never got the sense that they were trying to scam me. It’s just that I didn’t get a warm and fuzzy feeling that they would add enough value to my work. In the end, I decided that I would stick with self-publishing. This morning I wrote them back a very respectful and sincere e-mail, telling them with regret that I’d chosen other alternatives. In return, I received a very nice note wishing me luck.
Lesson learned #1 – shame on me! All the research I did Friday night I should have done prior to submitting to them last July. I would have saved both their time and effort and mine. Submitting query letters is hard enough work; submitting them to the wrong audience only wastes their time and adds to the backlog I complained so much about in my previous posting. We wait months and months for a positive response; when we finally get one, it is a true shame to decline it.
Lesson learned #2 – contrary to lesson number one, before you sign a contract with anybody, you owe it to yourself and all the work you’ve put into your book to make sure you double-check everything and that you are comfortable with what you’d be getting into. While I regret the wasted investment in time and energy, I remain the strongest advocate my little novel is likely to ever have. I have to trust my instincts, and do what’s best to protect my work.
So the update – I just finished my “final” edit and have re-submitted my changes to Create Space. They’ll package my changes by tomorrow sometime, and I’ll review it again. If all goes well, it could be out on Amazon available for purchase by the middle of this week.
Next step – put the finishing touches on a marketing plan I’ve been playing with.