Would you take a job offer from a company you’ve never heard of without checking up on it? Would you accept a marriage proposal without knowing anything about your intended partner’s family?
But a lot of authors take the first book contract they’re offered, even though they’ve never heard of the publisher. Then, when the publisher disappears or doesn’t pay royalties or turns out a shoddy product, they complain – only to find that the publisher has basically gone out of business. This is often true of agents as well.
You know that you should have your contract reviewed, either by an NWU Contract Advisor (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by a legal professional, before signing it. That’s the first step, because our advisors not only make sure that you’re being treated fairly but also spot anomalies – like, for instance, a clause that says you’ll start getting royalty payments only after all the costs of the book have been recouped, one that requires you to buy two hundred books, or one that forbids you from writing on the subject for anyone else within two years – that we recognize as red flags. We’ve seen all these and more.
But you also have to investigate the publisher. Check first with the Grievance and Contract Division (email@example.com) to see whether our members have had previous experience with your publisher. After that, Google may be your best friend. There are also sites such as Writers Net (https://www.writers.net), Writer Beware (http://www.victoriastrauss.com/writer-beware/), the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler (https://www.absolutewriter.com), Glassdoor (https://www.glassdoor.com/), and even the Ripoff Report (www.ripoffreport.com). It’s also a good idea to look the company up in the corporation records of the state it’s in, and in bankruptcy courts. We can help you do that if you like. We just discovered that way that the publisher who hadn’t answered our member’s requests to end her contract hadn’t put out a book in three years, and that the company had been forced to discontinue operations.
Finally, ask the publisher for references. They may be rigged, but they’re worth following up with. You can also search library catalogs for books by that publisher. If you don’t find many, that’s another red flag.
If you don’t make the right choice, your book may be held captive in the hands of the wrong people. So do your homework first.
Barbara Mende is the NWU Grievance and Contract Coordinator