Over the past year there have been several ePubs that have gone under, been in the news and/or behaved badly or wonderfully depending on one’s POV. In considering some of the brouhahas, I’ve formed the opinion that a number of these ePublishers have been their own worst enemy. Problem is they drag not only themselves through the mud, but the rest of us as well.
Some ePublishers are lousy at communication, have a less than stellar editorial process, can be disorganized, can be arrogant and in-your-face with their reactions to reader/author complaints, they can be vindictive, and they can promote images that do little to enhance the ePublishing industry. At times they can even detract from the respectability of ePublishing in general. Some ePublishers have been said to use intimidation. Based on some emails and/or posts I’ve seen, I’d have to say this is true. I’ve been fortunate not to be the target of such emails/posts, but I like to think that’s because I’m diplomatic when it comes to my dealings with people.
It’s About Respect
It’s not easy being an ePublisher. You’ve already got one strike against you from the romance community at large. Many romance writers outside of ePublished have this ingrained, and misguided, assumption that ePubs represent poor quality editing, nothing but sex, authors who couldn’t sell anywhere else, and poor business practices. Those assumptions are not always the case, and an argument can be made that some of those assumptions apply to NY press. I’ve seen typos, bad characterizations, wimpy writing in both print and ePub.
Getting respect and overcoming stereotypes is always hard to do and when an ePublisher behaves badly or goes under then everyone outside of ePublishing automatically assumes that ALL ePublishers (and its authors) are bad and unstable. Not true and not fair, but that’s the way it is. So what’s a “lowly” ePub to do?
Fix The Negatives
The following items are lifesavers in ANY business, but in the romance book industry, being savvy about how you run your ePublishing business brings you respect. And let’s face it, ePublishing, particularly in the romance genre, is still struggling for respect. So here’s advice from someone trained in Public Relations.
1. Be Proactive – Don’t willingly give anyone the ammunition to trash you. Firing off abusive, unprofessional emails reflects disrespect for the recipient and doesn’t make you look too bright.
2. Keep Communication Channels Open - If you communicate with your authors, they’ll forgive you almost everything, except maybe nonpayment of royalties, but most of them will handle you being late as long as you COMMUNICATE. That means constant updates.
3. Be Open and Honest - Tell your authors what’s going on with the business, whether it’s good news or bad. Even bad news can have a positive spin. You don’t have to spill your guts, but send a brief message that you’re improving a process. It keeps the natives happy, and you come off looking like a star.
4. Enhance the Editorial Process – This one is tricky. To not have an editorial process in place means a significant ratio of poor quality in the overall book published. At this point the domino effect happens. Poor editing leads to poor quality story lines because things get missed like wrong names, wrong colors, etc. , which leads to reader dissatisfaction which can equate to reduced sales (no one wants to pay for things that throw them out of a read). In turn this can lead to the company experiencing unstable times, which leads to your good authors fleeing to other ePublishers which makes readers flee. Good authors and loyal readers are the meat of a ePublisher’s business. Don’t believe that? Close your doors now.
Find a way to implement an editorial process, Find readers who can pass a grammar test and are willing to copy edit in exchange for the free reads. Trade co-op ad monies with authors willing to copy edit the works of others. Are these suggestions the best choice, hell no. In fact, it’s the publisher’s job to have an editorial process, but if you’re shorthanded, money’s tight, or whatever, then you damn well improvise to ensure the end product is the best it can be. Don’t just let it fall by the wayside. Your business will suffer because it.
5. Value Your Authors – Every ePublisher is going to have a rogue author. I’ve seen some real wackos of late. They rant and rave and stir up the natives. Whether they’re right or wrong doesn’t matter, what does matter is how the other authors perceive your handling of the matter. If you have one of these lunatic authors in your house, placate them as best as you know how. If they ask for something you’re not willing to give, find something they’re willing to accept. Saying NO and walking away from the negotiation table is more of a LOSE, LOSE situation for the ePublisher than for the author. You don’t have to cater to them, but negotiate, don’t ignore them. There will always be a blog that’s willing to use you as chum for the latest feeding frenzy. See Item 1.
6. Attend to Your Readers – If you have a reader contact you, I don’t care if your mother’s dying or for that matter if you’re on your death bed, you make damn sure someone is able to address that customer’s needs. If your author contacts you and tells you a reader can’t get customer service. Flay some people, but get that reader’s issues resolve. If there’s one thing I know, its customer service. Prompt responses or an apology for a delayed response is going to appease most people most of the time. Common courtesy goes a long way with most people, and for the morons who are unappreciative, suck it up. This is a business and you’re in the market to appease customers not make friends.
7. Learn How To Act In Public – If your company sponsors a party, has a presence at a large convention, or is hosting a book signing, show some decorum. Remind your authors through open communication that they represent the company as well. Explain what your expectations are in relation to their behavior. This doesn’t mean you threaten, but reminding them of your goals helps the majority of them act professionally.
A number of ePublishers get defensive when their behavior is questioned, or they don’t even bother to respond. No Comment is the kiss of death. ALWAYS, ALWAYS have a positive spin to put on something. Getting defensive or not responding to outside challenges gives the image that either one has something to hide, one is unrepentant about something that happened or worse the ePublisher doesn’t know how to run a business. From a PR perspective it’s just STUPID.
8. Point People - Have someone on your team who’s able to cruise the net and make posts that are a) favorable to your company b) that defuse situations c) that monitor the blogosphere in a way that ensures your house ALWAYS presents a sane, logical, reasonable position on ePublishing.
Angela James from Samhain automatically comes to mind when I think about this point. I really admire her ability to comment on different blogs in a logical, rational manner with information and POVs that aren’t aggressive, belligerent or defensive. She expresses her opinions about ePublishing and small press in a firm, nonconfrontational and polite way. She shores up ePublishing’s reputation and educates people about ePublishing. Model your behavior like Ms. James and you’ll be doing good!
9. Covers – I don’t see too many Poser covers anymore, which is good, but there are some that are poor quality. I’m not wild about the publisher name on the covers either, but that’s personal preference and I don’t see it as too much of an issue. However it does subtract from artistic space, and it does tell the buyer that it’s small press, not mass market.
Ensure that your covers are something more than just a pattern. I’ve seen some covers of late that I have to tilt my head to figure out what the hell I’m looking at. Samhain and New Concepts Publishing have some of the best covers in the business. Keep that in mind when you’re getting ready to hand off a cover for publication. If you don’t have an art director, hire one. Someone who has graphical design experience not just someone like me who has a knack for it, but isn’t superb at it.
Get the Picture?
So those are my thoughts on what ePubs can do to improve ePublishing’s image. It’s not just about the ePublishing industry; it’s about your company and your ability to get the respect you want. In order to get respect, you have to earn it. Of course I don’t run an ePublishing house, but I do have a PR degree, and I have run my own business. So it just amazes me that some houses DON’T SEEM TO GET IT. It’s your livelihood, why screw around with it???