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Game, 101 - Publishing.

There's a theme that's run through a number of conversations I've had with my peers over the last couple of weeks on the business of horror publishing. Most notably from one of my mentees (as an HWA mentor) was on what considerations I have before I submit work to a publisher. I've spoken previously about Game 101; the basics of game - the savvy in how you do what you do. Detailed as it might have been, it was pretty high-level; so didn't go too deep on such things as dealing with publishers.

There's an American phrase I love to refer to: 'your mileage may vary.' In other words, I'll tell you what works for me and how well it does; you might see it differently. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I can tell you what I'm looking for. Not necessarily absolutes, but the more of these boxes a publisher ticks, the more likely I am to do business with them:

1. CONDUCT. Beyond how much you might pay or how you may promote the work, etc., how do you conduct yourself in business? How do you conduct yourself as a person? Are you articulate and respectful? Diligent? Mindful of deadlines, conflicting priorities, etc.? Open to listening and sharing ideas? Or are you dismissive? Lazy, e.g. leaving promotion to the author? My craft has now evolved to the stage where it truly keeps me busy; the writing, beta reading, mentoring, studying - since I devote more time to studying the business aspects of the craft. Even if I had time to waste, I wouldn't waste it. So how you treat an author, myself or otherwise, is key. If I don't want to engage with you as a person, I don't want to engage with your business either.

Now you might never get the measure of a publisher until you work with them BUT odds are good that someone else has. The likes of Writer Beware, word of mouth and demonstrated behaviour, etc. will help give you an idea of just who exactly you're thinking about working with. If they're not decent people, I don't engage further. That said, even if they are decent people (which is the norm), that doesn't mean they're decent in business. Which leads me to...

2. PAY. Arguably the bottom line of the agreement - how much are they paying me for my work? What's the rate per word? Is the royalty split down the middle? The less it's in my favour, the less likely I am to do business with them. Is there an advance? If so, how much is it?

I'll also add in author copies. Why? Because even if the publisher doesn't do conventions, I do. Which means I'm more visible, mingling with my peers, doing readings, discussion panels, etc. - and more likely to sell the books that I've probably brought to the convention for that reason. Plus, I also do online giveaways and readings to help promote the work - so author copies are a valuable add-on. I don't write for free, unless it's for a charity. If the payment is 'exposure,' then the answer is 'no.'

3. RIGHTS. In particular over recent years, I keep a close eye on what rights publishers ask for beyond print (books), electronic (Kindle/e-books) and audio (audiobooks), as well as the First Publication rights (since most of the stuff I sell is new and not a reprint). With film/TV rights, I do not want to sell those unless the publisher can show they can actually get my work into film/TV, e.g. have they done that before with other works they published. If they can't build a solid argument for it, I've no intention of giving those rights up. In a nutshell: I only want to sell the publisher the rights they're going to use.

How long the publisher holds onto those rights - e.g. a year for short fiction - will also be a deciding factor. Just because I sell a story to you doesn't mean I won't sell it to someone else afterwards. If your intent is to keep those rights for donkeys years, I'm less likely to do business with you.

4. ARTWORK. I'm aware there's an adage to not judge a book by its cover - but good cover art will definitely help sell that book. I've said this countless times: the same way you'd want a professional photographer to cover a wedding, you'd want a professional artist to do the book's cover. If you've dabbled in artwork and slap that on the book, that's exactly what it'll look like - you've dabbled in artwork. Nothing more. Which is shooting that book in the foot before the reader has a chance to pick it up and look at the blurb.

For me, this a good test: if you saw that book on the shelves at the likes of Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, etc., would you buy it? Would you willingly dig in your pocket and part with hard-earned cash to buy it? If you can't honestly say 'yes', that will show you the level of quality you should be aiming for.

5. WEBSITE. The shopfront of the publisher. What they need to have here is evidence of professionalism and serious intent. Does the website URL have 'wixsite' in it for example? If so, it's a hard pass. Ditto if it has poor artwork, isn't regularly updated, is cumbersome to navigate, isn't secure. Also if it's lacking basic info about who the publisher is, what they do, how they do, their latest news, who their staff and their authors are, their submission policy, how to contact them, etc.

6. SOCIAL MEDIA PRESENCE. Mostly the same as the website. I say 'mostly', because what I'm more mindful of here is how they engage with a potential audience: be they authors, fellow publishers, readers, or none of the above. Do they discuss what they bring to the table? Promote and applaud their authors and works? Communicate their achievements as a press? Give commentary on the state of the genre, e.g., taking a stance on the use of AI in creative writing or artwork? Or do they make too many jokes to be taken seriously? Or show themselves to have a bias which is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. - whether deliberately or not? Or maybe they don't have much of a social media presence at all? Things that are more likely to warn me away from them.

7. CONVENTION PRESENCE. I'm aware that there are costs involved for publishers to get to conventions. Not only for them to attend, but also to set up in the Dealers Room if they're actually planning to sell books. Still, given that I make to more conventions now, on both sides of the Atlantic, a publisher's attendance means they're more likely to engage with an audience, which means I'm more likely to engage with that publisher. Plus, if you get the chance to meet in person, you get a better measure of who they are as a person. The more my craft evolves and the more I travel for it, the more peers I've met: not just publishers, but authors, reviewers, artists, et al. By and large, a decent community; gracious, good-humoured, dedicated, etc. All the good stuff.

Of course I appreciate that not everyone - publisher or not - can make it to a convention at all. Conventions can be pricey. Tickets for the convention itself, tickets to travel to the convention, accommodation for when you're at the convention. A fair undertaking if it's just in your country, let alone on the other side of the world. There may be additional concerns beyond money. Family/parenting responsibilities. Scheduling conflicts. Poor physical/mental health. Etc. But this is where engagement is important - maybe even more so. How are you connecting with that audience? What value are you bringing them? Author interviews? Q&A sessions? Teasers? Cover reveals? Online launch parties? Etc.

There it is; a deeper dive into another aspect of game.



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