An email from Kimber An has inspired a new feature: Publisher Reviews!

When someone asks me to review a book that is through a publishing house I never heard of (not that Kimber did this), I have distinct criteria. I decided to go public with these criteria in the form of Publisher Reviews. I will review two types of publishers here: Small Presses and E-Publishers. (I will not be reviewing my own publisher, Carina Press.)

Rather than tell you how I’m going to do this, I’ll illustrate it with my first victim: Small Beer Press.

Disclaimer! I have already agreed to review novels through Small Beer Press. I was familiar with them when I accepted the review copies, and I was familiar with the editor. I didn’t vet them like I would an unknown. Therefore, I am going to put them through the process now. However, my initial impression is already highly favorable.

Here are the criteria I look for:

  • Website geared toward writers or readers? My answer: Readers.

If it looks like the website is trying to attract writers instead of readers, then that’s a big red flag because it could mean that their customers are writers instead of readers. If they’re just launching, that’s different. But once they have a product to show, I expect it to be front and center.

  • Visibility of submissions link? My answer: Nonexistent. Submissions link is buried in the About page. Furthermore, no submissions are accepted — writers must query by mail.
  • Submissions – terms, exclusivity, rights purchased, etc? My answer: Unknown. Publishers usually don’t make all this available, but sometimes they have a FAQ. I don’t see one here.

The harder a publisher is to submit to, the more impressed I am. This tells me that they get lots of submissions, so they must make the writers jump through some hoops in order to submit. Of course as a writer, I find this irksome, but as a reader, it impresses me, and in this case, I must act as the reader.

  • Does it look like a serious business venture?  My answer: Yes. This is definitely a professionally designed webpage, and a lot of thought went into it. Also, the fact that they also run a well-respected magazine — Lady Churchhill’s Rosebud Wristlet — is highly in their favor.
  • How well are they publicizing their author’s work? My answer: Could use improvement. They pack a lot of information on the page, including a bunch of blog posts. The three most recent releases are at the top, followed by a blog posts, and then a lot more books. I almost overlooked those books on the bottom.  However, there is a Books link at the top of the page, and I didn’t miss that. I would be happier to see another row of books along the top. They appear to be trying to cram too much “above the scroll”.

Also, in this case, the editor contacted me about reviews. This is an automatic plus, because the bad publishers would never do this.

  • Covers – Professional or Amateur? My answer: Professional. It looks on par with literary books by major publishers. Were I one of their authors, I would be pleased with their artwork.
  • Availability of books online – On Amazon and elsewhere? My answer: Readily available.

Books should be available in more places than just the publisher’s website.

  • Price of books – my answer: Typical to a bargain.

Lots of POD novels are overpriced. Small Beer Press had some excellent prices for trade paperback and hardcovers.

  • Is an excerpt available? My answer: Occasionally.

If a publisher is unwilling to put any excerpts online, then I tend to conclude that there’s a good reason for this — they don’t want you seeing it until it’s too late.

  • Is the excerpt professionally written and presented? My answer: Well written, but presentation unknown. The two books I have now have crisp black text that is easy to read. However, I cannot get a sense of the typography and layout from the website alone.

This is not necessarily a red flag, I’m mainly looking at the quality of the writing, here.

  • Random Impressions: I think the link to Kelly Link’s site on the front page ought to be removed. It looks out of context here, and it’s also available in the About page.

Rating

I’m going to be rating publishers on a five point scale:

Highly Approved – I would review one of these books.

Approved – site meets my stringent requirements.

Cautious – has red flags, but nothing onerous.

Disapproved – You don’t want to associate yourself with these guys.

Avoid – I don’t even want to send web traffic to these guys, they’re so bad.

With Caveats – This will enable me to give a higher score to a publisher, but to add a caveat. For example, I might rate a publisher Approved, With Caveats.

My rating of Small Beer Press:

~*~ Highly Approved ~*~

(Now I need to make graphics for these ratings.)

I had a great opinion of Small Beer Press from my first contact with them, and my scrutiny of them for this post has not changed that initial impression. You could be proud to have your book published by them, and I would be willing to bet that they put out some well-written, thought-provoking novels and nonfiction books. In fact, you’ll know for sure next month, when I post my first review.

They also have an imprint for children’s books (age 10 and up) called Big Mouth House.

~*~

Publisher Reviews will be an irregular feature, but when I get a few of them done, they will appear automagically on the sidebar. My next review will be coming quite soon, and it won’t be nearly this favorable.

Check them out: Small Beer Press