Good as New: Evaluating Fledgling Publishers
I covered this topic back in 2016, and I think it’s due for an update. In the last four years, I’ve seen a lot of genre markets come and go (one that showed up and disappeared almost overnight), and there are some things I think you should look for when considering whether to send a story to a brand new market. I’ve broken that evaluation process into six points. Let’s take a look.
- Presentation. Does the publisher have a professional-looking website that’s easy to navigate? Obviously, this is the first thing you’re likely to learn about a publisher, so I put it at the top. I’m not saying every publisher’s site needs to look like they spent a million bucks on it, but a website says a lot about how prepared a market is when they jump into publishing. A clean, easy to navigate site says I’m organized and efficient (a good sign), and a messy, clunky one says maybe I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. The former gives me some confidence my work will be handled professionally, and the latter says I might not ever hear back.
- Guidelines. Are they easy to find? Are they clear and concise? This is one of the first things I look for, and, in my opinion, is one of the biggest indicators of whether a publisher knows what they’re getting into. If I see clear, professional submission guidelines that conform to industry standards (though I don’t mind a little deviation) and answer the questions an author is likely to have, that goes a long way to making me comfortable enough to submit a story. It also tells me the publisher understands the industry and what is generally expected of publishers.
- Rights. This is usually part of the submission guidelines, but it deserves its own mention. I need to know what rights a publisher will be acquiring when they accept a story. There shouldn’t be any mystery about that, and if there is, I get twitchy. If a publisher really wants to put my mind at ease, then using something like the SFWA model contract is just aces in my book. If I see huge deviations from the norm, like say a two-year exclusivity clause or ANYTHING that looks like a rights grab, I run the other way, fast.
- Editor(s). Who are they? Do they have any experience in publishing? After guidelines and rights, this is one of the first things I look at when I’m evaluating a new market. An editor that has significant experience in publishing always makes me more comfortable. That said, I’ve found that experience in an adjacent field or one that demands super tight deadlines and a breakneck pace can be just as good (maybe even better in some ways).
- Marketing. Does the new publisher market through social media, newsletters, and so on? I like to see a new publisher drumming up interest in their magazine and actively looking for ways to promote themselves and their authors. Marketing is kind of a you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours situation with new markets. New publishers often depend on authors to spread news of their publication (and the new market) far and wide, and, in my opinion, it bodes well when the publisher is set up to reciprocate.
- Payment. You’ll notice I put this one at the bottom, and in the original article I had it near the top. Why? Well, payment can be an indicator of a market’s professionalism and staying power, but in the four years since I wrote that last article, I’ve found it’s maybe the least telling of all the criteria I’ve mentioned here. I’ve seen markets that pay eight cents a word come and go in a year, and I know token and for-the-love-of-it markets that have been going strong for ten-plus. I’ve also received hands-down the most unprofessional rejection of my career from a new market that paid a good semi-pro rate. So, yes, payment can indicate professionalism and staying power, but in my experience, it’s not quite the litmus test some folks may believe it to be.
Now, of course, my six points above are not a pass/fail kind of thing, and there are fantastic markets that don’t hit all of them perfectly. For me, four and five are the real deal-breakers, and I can put up with a not-so-great website or token payment if the guidelines and rights are clearly explained. I’m also willing to give an editor without much experience in publishing a go if they’re hitting all the other criteria. Everyone has a comfort level when it comes to sending a story to a new market, and I think these six points might help you find yours. 🙂
Thoughts on new or fledgling markets? Got one you’d like to recommend? Tell me about it in the comments.