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21 Questions to Ask a Publisher

If you are an author looking for a publisher, it is important that you reach out to the publisher and find out if you and the publisher are a good fit. This goes beyond whether they publish similar types of books. As with most relationships in life, how you get along with the publisher is just as important and can be just as fraught with danger. Asking some basic questions up front will help you decide if you and the publisher will mesh. (This is not an exhaustive list of questions, but should get you started and covers many of the basic questions.)

1. Do you have to pay anything to the publisher? If yes, how much and what does this money cover? (Be aware of vanity “pay to publish” presses and use caution with hybrid (subsidized) publishers. Ask a lot of questions with these publishers.)

2. Does the publisher pay an advance? If so, how much is it? Ask if the book sales don’t cover the cost of the advance, what happens? Will you be required to pay money back to the publisher?

3. What percentage of royalties do they pay? How does the publisher calculate the amount of royalties? How often do they pay royalties and is there a minimum payment amount?

4. Will the publisher make their accounting books available for you to review, or do they provide sales summaries with their royalty payments?

5. Will you receive any author copies for your book for free, or must you pay for these copies? If you must pay, do you receive any discount?

6 .Do you retain the copyright for the work?

7. Does the publisher have their own set of ISBNs that they will use for the book?

8. How will they determine how to price the book? Do you get any input into this?

9. What size will they print the book in (8x5, 6.x9, etc.) and do you have any input in this? You should also ask what formats (hardback, paperback, ebook, etc.) they will publish the work in.

10. Do they perform copy editing/proofreading of the manuscript? If so, is it done in-house or do they use a freelance editor? Do they cover the cost of the editing?

11. Do they perform any type of content edit (i.e. looking for continuity problems, plot holes, character development, etc.)? If so, are these edits recommendations or required changes? Do you get a chance to make the edits and provide clarification if an editor's comments are off the mark? What sort of relationship does their editor(s) have with the author?

12. How do they handle cover design? Do you get any input for the cover design and layout? If there are costs associated with cover art, does the publisher cover those costs?

13. Do they write the book blurb in-house, or do they expect you to write it? If they write it, do you have a right to review and approve the blurb?

14. What ebook formats will they publish the book in? Is there a separate royalty amount for ebooks?

15. Does the publisher offer audio production to make the book into an audiobook? If so, how are costs of production handled? Is there a separate royalty amount for audiobooks?

16. What kind of marketing do they perform for the book? Do they want you to complete a marketing questionnaire or provide details to help in their marketing program?

17. How long is the time between acceptance of a manuscript and publication? What does the publisher do during this time?

18. Will the publisher submit the book (either finished work or as an advance reader copy (ARC)) for reviews? If yes, what reviewers do they generally submit the book to? If there are costs for reviews, does the publisher cover these costs or the author?

19. Will the publisher enter the book into awards contests? If yes, which contests? If there is a cost to enter the contest, who covers the cost – the author or the publisher?

20. What sort of distribution network does the publisher have/use? Do they handle everything in house, or work with a distribution/warehousing company?

21. Do they require that a book series be exclusively published by them? Does their contract include any “right of first refusal” or similar clauses?

Bonus Question: What amount of self-promotion does the publisher expect you to perform? If there are costs associated with this, will the publisher cover any of them?

Being ready to ask questions of a publisher will allow you to better understand if the publisher is a good fit with you. A publisher that is cagey or refuses to answer even basic questions about their business and their relationship with their authors should be avoided. A good publisher/author relationship is a partnership with each party working towards the success of the book.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Geoff Habiger