Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign

Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.

Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you. Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)

Source: Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign | Jane Friedman

Many prospective authors think seeking a publisher is passé because they (a) don’t want to go to the trouble, (b) see finding a publisher is a long, hard road, (c) prefer to self-publish their books in order to have “control.”

Most books don’t sell, but they’re more likely to sell with the editing and support a publisher can provide–even a small publisher. To get the best possible publisher/author match, Jane Friedman expects you so ask questions rather than saying “OMG, a publisher responded to my query letter, so the last thing I’m going to do is rock the boat by doing anything to ensure we’re in sync.”

This article is long because you have a lot of questions to ask about publisher responsibilities, book quality, bookstores, marketing, and interacting with readers. The article ends with a “cookie-cutter” example of a marketing plan.

All this is well worth a writer’s consideration before s/he rushes off to Kindle Direct Publishing or Lulu.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novel about racism in north Florida in the 1950s.


2 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign

  1. All too true. The joy of finally landing someone who calls themselves a publisher leads euphoric writers to sign all kinds of tosh, thinking that there’s a standard contract and this must be it. Over the ensuing YEARS, when their work is shackled to the publisher (that part is standard) they find out the rest of the contract was not standard at all.These outfits are not vanity publishers. typically they’re very small outfits. Perhaps they’re lazy. Perhaps they don’t understand what hard work publishing is. Whatever. They don’t behave like a publisher should. And nobody in their stables of authors ever seems to challenge the poor service they get.

    I have two friends who have been caught like this. Good work is under-represented – nay, let down stinking.

    I self-publish. It’s safer. And, to be frank, I don’t sell many fewer books than my two friends. It shouldn’t be like that! But it is.

    1. Two paths diverged in a wood, one led toward a “standard mainstream publisher” and the other to self-publishing. Both roads are fraught with peril. Most of us don’t sell many books no matter which road we choose. It shouldn’t be like that.

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