Agency Lessons: Not all eBook publishers are created equal

Publishing is an ever changing beast, and I mean all the time. The cards were just shuffled again last week with the announcement that Egmont USA would be closing its doors, eliminating yet another avenue for writers to get their gems in readers' hands.

With all these changes, new opportunities spring up all the time. One of the more recent (as in the past decade) additions has been eBook publishers. Some love them for their streamlined, low overhead results. Some decry them for being fake publishers. But just like everything else in publishing, not all eBook publishers are the same.

 Here are a few of the different types of eBook publishers out there and my thoughts on the good and bad.

1. eBook first from major publishing houses
Almost all these contracts contain clauses that allow the company to print physical books, either once you hit certain numbers or in conjunction with your eBook release. In addition to top notch editing, cover design and layout, you get the promotional/marketing clout that can only come from the big guys. You're not going to get the huge contract that is more common with the older imprints at these companies, but you will end up with a quality book and the backing of the biggest names in publishing.

2. Niche market publishers
Some genres or sub-genres are just not cutting it in paperbacks yet. M/M romance and erotica is an area I can point to without even thinking. Customers just aren't buying these physical books in big enough numbers yet, which means if you want a publisher you'll almost definitely be going ebook. But don't let the smaller scale full you. These guys know their audience and they are committed to giving them the quality books they calling for. Many of these niche publishers are creating brand loyalty. Readers know what to expect from these publishers and are seeking out the books they publish. These guys don't have quite the clout of the big players, but they more than make up for it in quality and commitment.

3. The start-up
My advice, don't be first. Honestly, anyone (and I mean anyone) can hang out their shingle and call themselves a publisher. With POD and eBooks, folks can do it with almost zero investment. So before you agree to anything, take a hard look at the books they are putting out. What do the covers look like? Are they professional? How many reviews do those books have on the big sites (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads)? Is anyone reading them? Have you heard of any of their authors or titles? Every company has to start somewhere, but that doesn't mean you have to let your baby be their guinea pig. Some of these publishers are going places. Plenty of quality houses started out as small eBook publishers, but their dedication to quality have made them publishers that writers can trust. Give the new guys time to work out their kinks. Either they'll get it right and you'll see the results, or they'll simply fade into the night.

4. The frauds
There are a lot of vanity publishing houses still out there, but many authors have wised up. In an effort to draw first blood, some of these houses have re-branded themselves into eBook publishers that offer the full package (at the cost of your right hand and first born daughter). I actually met a woman who edits for one of these companies. Despite having no experience in cover design, they occasionally ask her to use Photoshop to create covers for their customers (which I'm sure they charge exorbitant prices for). Please, please be careful. Remember that in publishing, even with an eBook publisher, the money should flow towards you, not the other way. If a company wants to show you their publication packages, run. Run far, far away.

5. Your average eBook publisher
So I'm going to be honest here. Most eBook publishers don't have the market position to be a good solution. There is nothing wrong with these publishers. I'm sure they provide wonderful service to their authors and many of them offer generous terms that far exceed the big guys. And yet, I'm still not a huge fan. To me, this feels like giving away a permanent portion of your revenue in order to avoid paying the upfront costs of editing, formatting and cover design. I get that publishing a book on your own can come with a hefty price tag. It's not one that everyone can afford. So working with an eBook publisher may be your only recourse. When considering an offer like this, make out a list of exactly what you want from a publisher. Keep track of what this publisher can and cannot provide from that list and determine if the royalty share they keep is reasonable for the "can" items on your list. Only you can answer that.

Keep in mind that these are generalities. Everyone's path to publication is different, and if you're happy with yours then it was the right path for you. These are exciting times in publishing and authors have more choices now than ever before. Just make sure you know exactly what any publisher can and cannot do for you before you sign.