I got in trouble online the other day for pointing out red flags on a publisher’s website. Apparently, as an author who has been published for 16 years this week, and who has worked with 10+ publishers (and been burned by a few of them), it’s not “right” for me to point out things that were taught to us many years ago about red flags on publisher websites. (Writer Beware, a resource from SFWA, is excellent too in giving overview of things to look out for.) With the crackdown on adult material from Tumblr and now Facebook, talk is intensifying again about finding more distributors than Amazon or even the usual ones, in order to broaden our reach.

With that in mind, let’s talk distributors, though these things also can apply to publishers as well. (Remember, when it comes to publishers, money should flow TOWARD the author. If a “press” or “publisher” asks you to pay for any part of book production or editing, including a cover, then this is the new media version of a vanity press.)

1. Free website hosting or even using open source software without the branding smoothed out. If your distributor cannot afford a domain name and is using a site like Wix or Weebly to create a site, then how can it afford to properly market its services and drive readers? Even being hosted with a domain name, but having a website that says ‘Powered by WordPress’ or using zencart out of the box is problematic, as these items contain coding that hackers will use to try and penetrate the site. It’s totally okay to use WordPress or ZenCart, but if the distributor can’t afford or do the most basic of security processes? Not good.

2. No SSL certificate Google and other web browsers made changes earlier this year that even basic sites without ecommerce, like author websites or blogs, without SSL are penalized. They may not rank as high in searches. They will show an “unsecure” logo in the browser bar. No security? No sales. It’s that simple.

3. No solid about information. Who is behind it? Do they demonstrate enough experience not just in the publishing industry, but also with accounting and royalty distribution, that you trust they can do a good job? If they can’t tell you who is behind it, then run away.

4. Asking you to pay anything. Unless it’s for a concierge service (such as you pay them to set up your books when you could easily do it yourself for free), listing fees, setup fees, they’re all just ways for the distributor to take your money. Even Lightning Source charging you $12/year to keep a book with them is pretty sucky, because they should consider cost of storage for electronic files and cataloging in their business plan. That they make you pay for their business expenses? Not good business.

5. Not being clear on what’s paid out. Finally, if they are not completely clear (such as you get 70% of the sales price which you set) or use terms like “net”, there’s a good chance if they’re not asking you to subsidize the cost of their doing business (hint, this also applies to publishers), then they are probably going to be shady when it comes to payments.

6. Solid contracts. What rights are being granted, for how long, and can you get out if things go south? All of this should be spelled out.

I hope this helps. I’ve seen some new distributors pop up recently that don’t meet these guidelines, and it seems to me that you’re risking your IP and your hard-earned time and money, when you list with these sites. I’m not saying stick just to Amazon or the big ones. I am, however, saying be careful. It seems like the wild wild west of publishing is getting even wilder these days.

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