Confessions Of A Literary Streetwalker: What Makes a Good Publisher?

by | November 10, 2012 | Confessions of a Literary Streetwalker | 4 comments

Before I begin (again),
a bit of disclosure: While the following has been written in an attempt to be
professionally and personally non-biased I am an Associate
Publisher for Renaissance E Books. 

Now, with that out of the way (again)…

The last time I wrote an intro like the above it was for my
Streetwalker column Self Or Not? – about why I feel that,
even though it can be very alluring, I still recommend writers work with a
publisher rather than go the self-publishing route.

After writing that column I’ve been thinking, a lot, about
what makes a good publisher … especially these days.  Not to (ahem) brag but I’ve been in the
biz for quite a few years and have worked with a lot of publishers – both when
books were printed on (gasp) actual paper, as well as in the new digital age,
so I think I can say a bit about what makes a good publisher.

As always, keep in mind that this is somewhat subjective:
what I like in a publisher may not be
what you like in a publisher … but
the somewhat is there because, tastes
aside, it’s a publisher’s job to get your book out so, hopefully, people will
buy bunches of copies.

The world – as I mentioned – as totally changed, and so has
what publishers not just can do but should be doing.  It may sound a bit … emotional, but I like a publisher I can
talk to – and who talks to me. 
Sure, many publishers are simply too busy to answer every email
immediately but that they get back to me eventually is more than enough to keep
me happy.  I’ve dealt with far too
many publishers who I have to write, write, write and write again to get an
answer to even the simplest question. 

Sure, I think its very important to work with a publisher
who respects you as an artist but more than anything they should understand the
business of publishing.  I’ve had some great experiences with
very supportive publishers – only to be disappointed that even though they tell
me I’m (ahem) The Greatest Writer Who
Ever Lived
they totally drop the ball in getting my books out.  These days it is absolutely crucial to hit as many sellers as
possible: amazon is fine and dandy, the publisher’s own site is expected, but
if they don’t get books onto places like Barnes & Noble – and especially iBooks
– then that can mean a serious cut in revenue.  The same goes for print versus ebooks: the cold reality is
that that print books do not sell as well as ebooks … so a publisher that
focuses on print rather than ebooks is, to be polite, way behind the times.

Publicity and marketing is a very sore point for a lot of
writers in regards to publishers. 
Not to kick a hornet’s nest, it is very important to have a publisher
that at least tries to get the word out about your book  – but that in no way means that authors
should just kick back and complain. 
Yes, you should be annoyed by a publisher that does nothing to promote your book but if they are working hard – or as
hard as they can – then get out there and add to their efforts. 

By the way, if the only thing a publisher advises you to do –
publicity and marketing-wise – is Tweet or join Facebook … well, let’s just
say that there are a million other ways to get the word out rather than doing
what everyone else is doing.  Yes, a
digital presence is essential – if anything to give you’re a place to see, and so
buy, all your books – but the simple fact is that your friends on Facebook are
not the people who will be buying your books.  A good, smart publisher will be working to reach actual
readers and buyers through not just traditional channels but through a wide
range of alternative methods.   

More than anything publishers are businesses and, as such, they have to operate effectively,
efficiently, and intelligently.  That
means that they can’t give their writers 100% of their time … mainly because while
they are trying to find new authors, getting books out, working on promotion
and marketing, but they also always keeping an eye on the bottom line.  Sometimes I feel if a publisher is
spending too much time with me – the
flipside of being totally ignored – I worry that they should be doing more for
the company rather than obsessing over just one book (even if the book is mine).

Experience in a publisher is essential, but only if that
experience has been educational: if a publisher tells me that my book needs
anything  –  (different cover art, new title,
different marketing strategy) – I will do what needs to be done, but only if I
feel that the recommendation comes from looking, and understanding, what sells
a book.  I hate to say this but
I’ve run into a few publishers that want to be PUBLISHERS (meaning they are in the business only to boost their ego)
and not a publisher (who is trying to create a successful company): the
former’s advice is usually based on trying to look like they know what works rather than really understanding the

I could go on – and will in my next column – but this should
at least give you some food for thought. 
If you have any comments about any of this, or want me to chat about
anything specific in regards to publishing, leave a comment or shoot me an
email: [email protected]
I promise to answer … though it may take me a bit of time.

Just like a good publisher should 😉

M. Christian

Calling M.Christian versatile is a tremendous understatement.
Extensively published in science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers, and even non-fiction, it is in erotica that M.Christian has become an acknowledged master, with stories in such anthologies as Best American Erotica, Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Bisexual Erotica, Best Fetish Erotica, and in fact too many anthologies, magazines, and sites to name. In erotica, M.Christian is known and respected not just for his passion on the page but also his staggering imagination and chameleonic ability to successfully and convincingly write for any and all orientations.

But M.Christian has other tricks up his literary sleeve: in addition to writing, he is a prolific and respected anthologist, having edited 25 anthologies to date including the Best S/M Erotica series; Pirate Booty; My Love For All That Is Bizarre: Sherlock Holmes Erotica; The Burning Pen; The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, and The Mammoth Book of Tales of the Road (with Maxim Jakubowksi); Confessions, Garden of Perverse, and Amazons (with Sage Vivant), and many more.

M.Christian's short fiction has been collected into many bestselling books in a wide variety of genres, including the Lambda Award finalist Dirty Words and other queer collections like Filthy Boys, and BodyWork. He also has collections of non-fiction (Welcome to Weirdsville, Pornotopia, and How To Write And Sell Erotica); science fiction, fantasy and horror (Love Without Gun Control); and erotic
science fiction including Rude Mechanicals, Technorotica, Better Than The Real Thing, and the acclaimed Bachelor Machine.

As a novelist, M.Christian has shown his monumental versatility with books such as the queer vamp novels Running Dry and The Very Bloody Marys; the erotic romance Brushes; the science fiction erotic novel Painted Doll; and the rather controversial gay horror/thrillers Finger's Breadth and Me2.

M.Christian is also the Associate Publisher for Renaissance eBooks, where he strives to be the publisher he'd want to have as a writer, and to help bring quality books (erotica, noir, science fiction, and more) and authors out into the world.


  1. Lisabet Sarai


    Let me provide my list of additional things to watch out for in a publisher:

    – The principals repeatedly use personal crises to make excuses for 1) not answering email; 2) not sending out royalties on time; 3) delaying the release of your book; 4) etc.

    – The principals try to do everything by themselves: submissions, editing, formatting, cover art, web site maintenance, etc. This may be necessary when a publisher is just getting started, but an effective publisher learns to delegate responsibility as soon as possible.

    – As an author, you don't know who to ask about a particular topic, e.g. royalties, release dates, editing, etc.

    – The publisher sends you a contract full of misspellings or boilerplate that doesn't make any sense.

    – The publisher can give only approximate dates as to when royalty statements will be available or royalties paid.

    – The publisher's web site doesn't work on every browser, or is otherwise unreliable.

    These days, it seems like it's a piece of cake to set up an epublishing company. Everyone wants to jump on the electronic publishing bandwagon. I've seen, from sad experience, that success in this business is a lot harder than it looks. It takes a professional attitude and a long-term perspective to be successful – as well as keeping a sharp eye on the ever-changing market and its many players.

  2. M. Christian

    Thanks so much, sweetie – I'll add your comments and such to the next installment of this!

  3. t'Sade

    My first (and only) publisher hit a lot of those warning triggers. Yeah, it was a bit before Twitter existed, but even basic website, typos in the contract, and a few other things should have told me I was about to have some trouble.

    Frustratingly, they went out of business, but I never found out until five years later (after sending letters, emails, etc). It was an eye-opening experience and taught me the difference between "getting published" and "getting published well".

  4. M. Christian

    It's always a learning curve – alas. And some might be good at one thing but bad at others. I've had something like two dozen publishers over the years and only one or two that I could say were perfect.

    Of course I also work for one of them 😉

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