How To Evaluate A Publisher for Your Book

Written by Caitlin Jans | April 17, 2017

When you’re finally ready to submit your book for publication, it can be overwhelming. There are so many publishers out there. There is so much information about some of them and so little about others.

How can you check the legitimacy of a publisher if you don’t know much about the industry?

Even if a publisher is legitimate how do you know that they will do right by your work?

All of these are complicated questions, but knowing how to evaluate a publisher, and knowing your own personal standards should make it relativity easy to find publishers that work for your needs.

This article gives you concrete steps to answering these complicated questions.

How to Make sure A Company is Legitimate

I have spent quite a lot of time evaluating publishers for our the manuscript publisher reviews in our weekly newsletter.

Sometimes I have already read several books that have been printed by a publisher I am reviewing, sometimes they publish in a genre I have never read, such as romance, and I don’t know a thing about the publisher before going into the research.

This lack of initial knowledge has actually proved very helpful and taught me a lot about publishing, and a fair amount about the romance genre.

The first time I encountered the phrase “Heat Levels”, I was deeply confused. Now it just part of my knowledge base.

Now, within two minutes of being on a publisher’s website, I usually know if they fit our standards for a review or not.

One or more of the following things usually eliminates a publisher in the first three minutes of visiting their website.

There is a mention of fees of any kind

Some legitimate publishers are charging reading fees now, but that doesn’t make it ok. If they mention a fee for editing or anything like that they are eliminated. Some companies talk about a cooperative payment approach. If they do that, run in the opposite direction.

They are trying to sell you something else (and it isn’t a book)

I have no problems with publishers encouraging interested authors to buy a book the publisher has already published. That is a good idea. But what I do have a problem with is a publisher whose website that is really pushing or promoting additional services of any kind. This website is a good example of what to avoid.

They have been around for under a year

Most presses fail in the first three years, so over three years old is ideal, but if you are a new author you sometimes have to take a risk on a new publisher. Sometimes these risks pay off, but there is no reason not to monitor that press, and not submit to them, during the first year.

They have been around for two years and have published less than one book

This is usually an indicator that they are 1) disorganized, and 2) struggling financially.

They have not published anything in the last year

If an older publisher has not published anything for a full year it is not generally a good sign.

If they have only published a few books, I make sure these books are not just written by the publisher themselves.

Lots of writers these days set up companies just to make it seem like they are not self publishing. Some of these grow into legitimate publishers, some do not.

Their website is not functioning properly

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this point.

The Next Steps

If a publisher makes it past those first easy to check hurdles I check the Writer’s Beware thumbs down list to make sure they are not listed.

I also Google them. This often is not helpful, but sometimes equals good information. If there is ever a listing from Glass Door on the Google list, make sure to read it. These reports are usually made by employees of the company, such as editors, not authors themselves, but if employees are unhappy, this is generally not a good sign.

If I was actually submitting to this company I would make sure that they publish in the same genre I write in.

How to Make Sure It Meets Your Personal Standards

Would you be happy if the publisher you submitted to chose to publish your book?

This might seem obvious, but often times writers get so nervous or start to think it is a numbers game in terms of submissions out, that they submit to publishers that are legitimate but do not meet their personal standards.

For example I know someone who submitted to an eBook only publisher and their work was accepted and they signed the contract. The only problem with that, was that they didn’t want eBook only. They wanted an actual physical book. So they were not happy.

I cannot set your personal standards for you because I do not know you, but I think it might help you to see mine, just to get a good concrete idea about what I am talking about:

I am only interested in a print publisher with good distribution.

If they have good distribution I usually know because they mention the distribution company, or I see their books in bookstores all the time.

That clearly eliminates a lot of publishers, even a lot of the ones I have reviewed, but at least I know that. That helps me eliminate even more potential publishers, even quicker.

But for every author the standards are different and the preferences are different. Just make sure you are are submitting to companies you actually want to publish your manuscript.


Bio: Caitlin Jans is a poet, a novelist, and the editor of Authors Publish Magazine. Her writing can be found in The Conium Review, The Moth, Labletter, Literary Mama, and elsewhere. You can follow her on Facebook.