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  Judging a Book by its Cover
Part II
How to Evaluate Publishers Websites

by Tina Morgan

Our readers often send us email or ask on the Fiction Factor Forum if an agent or publisher is legitimate. When this happens, we start with the industry watchdog sites: P&E, and Writer Beware.  However, the publisher's homepage can tell you a lot about the business model that particular publisher is following.

When you find a site that looks promising, ask yourself one question: Does this site appeal to me as a writer or as a reader? Publishers are supposed to be in the business of selling books so they should display their wares prominently.

The first problem with publishers' websites is when the publisher isn't honest about the business model they're following. There are a few who claim to be "traditional" publishers. One even pays an advance of $1 (that's not a typo). These publishers claim to have a submissions and acceptance policy yet offer publication to anyone, regardless of the quality of the work: http://www.travistea.com/ - click on the "Making of Atlanta Nights in the menu on the left side for an explanation.

This particular publisher dedicates a third of their home page to enticing new authors to submit to them. Something you won't find on any of the "traditional" publishers' sites: Random House, Penguin Putnum, Scholastic. Even Baen Books, one of the few publishers to accept unagented material doesn't have a sales pitch to authors on their home page. You'll have to dig to find information about submitting. The other publishers don't bother to list an address for their slush pile as most simply discard unsolicited manuscripts.

Once we've made the decision to seek publication for our work, it can be easy to forget that we need to switch from creative to business mode. The publisher's website shouldn't stroke our ego or shore up our insecurities as a writer, but promotes the books it's publishing. Agents and publishers are in business to sell books - not to find a first-time author, regardless of how fabulous that author may be. This may feel a bit contradictory. After all, they have no product to sell without the author, but unfortunately for those of us seeking publication, our numbers are so high that lack of new material is not a danger for the business.

This is one of the reasons why self-publishing has become such a large industry. Most self-publishing companies are very straightforward and honest about their business model. An internet search for iUniverse displays a listing stating that they're a self-publishing company. The title to their website also states that they're a self-publisher. Xlibris and Lulu.com are the same. Their websites offer quick links to the packages they offer and the cost of those packages. If you're considering self-publication, these are good sites to begin your comparison shopping.

If you're considering seeking publication with a small or independent publisher, then be aware that the second major problem with publishers' websites has been exacerbated by the ease and lower expense of using POD printers. This dramatic change in print technology has allowed small publishing companies to spring up with minimal start up costs. As a result, many people who love books and want to be involved in the industry have started companies they really don't know how to manage. These are often well-meaning and dedicated fans of literature, but their inexperience in running a business can be detrimental to their business and a writer's career. Websites for small, independent publishers should be as well organized and geared toward selling the books they publish as any of the major publishing houses. If anything, they should be even easier to navigate and lead the viewer to sales pages as quickly as possible as most small publishers won't have the brick and mortar bookstore presence the larger companies have.

There's more to determining if a publisher is right for you than their website and you should be careful in your evaluation of any potential publisher. Take time to learn about the business before submitting.

When working with an agent, the writer will have little choice in the publishing house that accepts their novel, but when seeking publication with an independent publishing house or self-publishing, keep in mind how the publisher presents their products to the reading market. Evaluate the websites of potential publishers by looking at the following criteria:

* Does the site market to the reader?

* Does the site provide easy access to a sales/order page?

* Is the site professional in quality and presentation?

* Would I be proud to have buyers view my book on this site?

* If I'm self-publishing, will my publisher help market my book? (This isn't necessary if you're publishing a book for friends and family only but should be part of your evaluation process if you're seeking outside sales.)

A well organized website can be very beneficial to your sales. It can also help you determine the true business model of a publisher. There's nothing wrong with self-publishing or publishing with an independent publisher, but your publisher should be honest about their business practices.

Research your market, potential publishers and make certain your book will be easily purchased from the publisher's website.



  Copyright 2009 Tina Morgan. All rights reserved


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