Your book is almost finished, and you are giddy with excitement. More than that, you just want it to be done. But who will help you get it out into the world? Independent publishers, hybrid publishers, and wolves in sheeps clothing will all dangle contracts in front of you with promises of a best-selling book. Are you getting a good deal? Here are 12 questions to ask your publisher, before you sign a contract.

The most important question for your publisher: Who owns my copyright?

This is the single most important of all questions for your publisher. Why? Some predatory publishers will take ownership of your work. By retaining your copyright, you’ll be able to publish other work based on your book. This may include presentations, workbooks, handouts, audio books, online courses, and much more. If you are a professional speaker (or aspire to be one), your intellectual property is your biggest asset. Do not give it away. If you have any questions about your contract, take it to a reputable attorney that specializes in intellectual property for review.

How will you protect it?

Keeping your copyright is important. Equally important is protecting it by registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. The process is neither expensive nor especially complicated. You can absolutely do this yourself if it’s not included in your publishing package.

What is included in your fee structure?

Getting an apples-to-apples comparison from multiple publishers is nearly impossible. Ask your publisher to list everything that is included in their service packages. If you’re not sure what items are essential, consider A Page Beyond’s free webinar, “What Every Author Needs to Know Before Hiring a Publisher,” available on demand.

What is missing from the package?

This is one of the most important questions to ask your publisher. They shouldn’t have any trouble telling you what’s not included. If there are steps you have to do yourself, what education, tools, or support will the publisher offer?

How much will it cost to order my own books?

If you’ll be ordering your books from your publisher, ask about pricing and margins. A small order fee or per-book markup is reasonable to cover administrative and accounting expenses. If your publisher will be marketing your book post-publication, those costs may show up here. Consider the value of the service, relative to the costs.

If I want to make changes to the book later, what will that cost?

Inevitably, you will find errors, omissions, or mistakes in your book once you have a printed copy in hand. You may also decide to add or update content, such as contact information for your business, later. Know in advance how much you’ll pay for these changes. Be reasonable in your expectations. Even minor changes can take several hours of work, especially if your page count changes.

Do you charge ongoing administrative / advertising fees?

Some publishers may charge a monthly, quarterly, or annual fee for managing your title post-publication. If you’re paying for administrative overhead in royalties, don’t pay for the same work twice. If you’re able to get your books for cost from your publisher, expect those fees to show up somewhere else. Again, consider the value for your money.

What is the cost to fix errors I find after I publish?

If you’ve paid for editing services from your publisher, any errors you find post-publication should be corrected for free. Read your contract carefully.

How long is the contract in effect?

Your goal here is to determine whether you’re engaged in a transaction, a business partnership, or something in between. You’ll want the nature of your relationship with your publisher to reflect your goals, not theirs.

Under what conditions can I cancel the contract?

Look for reasonable exit clauses. This is another good question for your attorney. The last thing you need is an expensive, time-consuming legal battle if you get a bad deal.

What is your publishing imprint?

Of course, you’ll want to ask for references. This question allows you to go deeper.

An imprint is the name under which a publisher releases its titles. By asking for the publisher’s imprint, you can search Amazon for all the titles from that publisher. You’ll see all the authors that used the publisher’s services and can contact them directly to ask about their experience. An author who had a great experience won’t mind recommending their publisher. The others will tell you what to look out for.

If multiple imprints, how do you segment your books?

One publisher may have several imprints to appeal to different market segments or to delineate different lines of business. Knowing how a publisher segments their books can help you see if you’re a good fit for their services. You’ll also be able to find fellow authors whose circumstances are most similar to yours.

Other Considerations

There’s a lot to consider when selecting a publisher. Be sure to reference these questions for your publisher throughout your search. To learn more about your options as an independent author, view our free webinar, “What Every Author Needs to Know Before Hiring a Publisher,” available on demand.

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