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The Dangers of Bad Publishers

Last week I blogged about the different types of publishers.  Well over the last week, mainly the last two days, there is a blog post that is going viral in the writing community.  I thought I would talk a little bit about it, and in this community we all want to learn from each other (even our mistakes).

Mandy DeGeit published a post called “When Publishing Goes Wrong…Starring Undead Press“.  If you haven’t read it, please do.  The language is strong but if this happened to me, mine would be too.  In short, Mandy wrote a story called “She makes me smile” and it was excepted by Undead Press for their anthology Cavalcade of Terror.  Needless to say, Mandy rushed to read her work in this anthology.  She opened it up to find the title had a typo (adding an apostrophe where there shouldn’t be one).  I wish it ended there.  However the editor took out whole chunks of her narrative and even added a very poorly written paragraph.  Not to mention adding a gender to a genderless character.

Mandy contacted the publisher, which is a one man company run by Anthony Giangregorio (who also runs Open Casket Press and Living Dead Press), and she received a very unprofessional response.  One that included vague legal threats.  It appears this is not the only unprofessional issue he has had.  It appears a soon to be released Anthology World’s Collider had some issues as well (read about those here).

Long story short this was a very bad press, run by someone without much skill in the area of business relations.  It is a very unfortunate thing but fortunately writers and other independent presses have risen up to effectively cause some disturbances to Mr. Giangregorio’s businesses.  On the heals of DeGeit’s post, Undead Press announced it would only be accepting submissions from authors living in the United States (DeGeit lives in Canada).  I’m sorry Mr. Giangregorio, nation of residency had nothing to do with this.  Today, as I write this blog, I can no longer seem to find Undead press on Facebook.  Thanks to authors everywhere taking action and declaring this unfair and wrong, we can all hope Mr. Giangregorio doesn’t do business again.  I encourage you to read Mandy’s article and then tweet it, post it, and reblog it until we see nothing more of Giangregorio.

Your first thought might be to steer clear of independent presses all together.  While I can’t speak for DeGeit, I don’t think that was the intentions of her post.  It was a warning beacon to us all to carefully check out an editor and publisher before doing business with them.  I still champion smaller presses, in fact I am starting a magazine of my own, but we all have to be aware of what to look out for when we get ready to be published.  Here are some tips:

  1. Research the publisher before submitting.  See what they publish.  See if they have had any complaints.  If they are a new publisher, that is not a red flag.  Red flags include multiple name changes, no contracts to sign, poor reviews by other authors, and negative ratings on social sites.
  2. You take no risk by submitting your work to a publisher.  Remember, until you sign the contract you can walk away at any time.  If something doesn’t feel right, you don’t agree with wording in an acceptance, or if you just don’t like their publication any longer, you can walk away.  And you should.  No publisher, at least the good ones, want you to commit to something you are not comfortable with.  It is easy to be excited over that acceptance letter, but don’t let your excitement blind you.
  3. Read the entire contract for yourself.  Read every section of the contract word for word.  Look for things that are either vague or overly complicated.  Make sure the contract is something you can live with before you sign it.  If not, ask the company to make changes to it.  If they can accommodate you, or at least meet you half way, most publishers will try.  If they can’t or won’t you can walk away.
  4. Editing is important.  Nearly every contract has an editing clause in it.  It should only allow for punctuation, grammar, and formatting.  There should always be a line in there that says something to the nature of “All other changes must be agreed to in writing.”
  5. Always make sure payment terms are laid out.  When will you be paid, how much you will be paid, and how you will be paid should all be spelled out.  Typically pay times range from the day you sign the contract to 30 days after publication.
  6. When working with a publisher, MONEY SHOULD ALWAYS FLOW IN THE DIRECTION OF THE WRITER.  That means no reputable publisher will ever charge you any fees to publish with them.  Bottom line, no excuses.  They pay you for your talent and that is it.  I can’t stress this enough.  Do not pay a publisher a dime, or even a cent!
  7. Rights is another important area on the contract.  First Print and First Electronic rights are common (meaning your story is first being published with them).  Rights typically last for only 365 days on short stories (with an option to extend say for a yearly anthology).  Anything longer than that seems outrageous to me.
  8. Keep copies of any emails, letters, or other correspondence you have with the staff of the publisher.  This may be very important if something comes to dispute.  Keep a file cabinet for that stuff.
  9. It is not uncommon for an editor to ask for changes to be made.  Usually this is done before acceptance and contract signing (in the form of a rewrite request).  You don’t have to rewrite it and you don’t have to resubmit it to them even if you do rewrite it.  If you don’t like their changes don’t change it.  If requests are done after contract signing, you should be the only one to rewrite your story.  Again, all parties should have to agree to this in writing per the contract.
  10. Know your opt out clauses.  Know certain situation where it is okay for either you or the publisher to choose not to publish any longer.  This could be a mutual withdrawal, such as if publisher and writer can not agree on a change.  Or there could be other clauses thrown in there (don’t sign the contract if you don’t like it).
  11. I may have said this before, but if there is no contract then DO NOT PUBLISH, with them.  Contracts are in place to protect you, just as much as they are there to protect the publisher.

Most independent publishers are reputable businesses that work to help writers reach the goal of being published.  They share the desire to entertain readers.  Every now and then a publisher surfaces that needs to be stopped.  That is when we as writers and publishers unite to keep the problems out.  I have to thank Mary DeGeit for being bold enough to share this and sound the alarm.  I’d like to thank everyone else for taking her story and sharing it everywhere they can.