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Wednesday, November 05, 2014

How to Evaluate a Publisher or Agent

I’m always on the lookout for a good writing opportunity.  Recently, I saw that a publisher needed someone to write a young adult book that combines both of my degrees, anthropology and history.  I googled the publisher before sending in my application and, after checking out their web site, decided not to apply.  This publisher failed one of the 5 criteria I use when checking out possible opportunities.

A Web Presence.  The worst offenders have no web presence.  In this, the electronic age, that is an unforgivable error especially if payment is in terms of a royalty.  How are readers going to find out about the books if the publisher doesn’t even have a web site?  If I can’t find a site, my search is over and I go work on something else.

Professionalism.  I also walk away if the publisher or agent doesn’t look professional.  If you write for children like I do, many sites have fun, playful elements, but they should still be professional.  You want the sense that this person is running a business, not a hobby.  Look at the site and their products.  If anything screams amateur, I walk away.

Transparency.  When I’m looking at agents, I want to know who they represent and what they’ve sold.  For publishers, I need a feel for their books and their authors.  Believe it or not, I’ve checked out publishers who have slick web sites but make it almost impossible to get a feel for what they do. I walk away.

Philosophy.  Look for publishers whose philosophy is similar to your own.  You don’t need an exact match, because that can be impossible to find.  After all, I’m Christian who writes science, including evolution, and also writes about other cultures.  This means I avoid liberal publishers who trash religion and conservative publishers who trash science or other cultures. The publisher of the anthropology/history book had some anti-books on their list, so I walked away.

Gut Feeling.  My last criteria is almost impossible to explain.  If, in researching a publisher or agent, I get a bad feeling, I close the tab. Sometimes something just feels, to quote my New Jersey friends, hinky.  I never take on these jobs and I’ve never regretted it.  In fact, I’ve been relieved a time or two when I hear that they aren’t returning client calls, have pulled down their web site and are in bankruptcy. 

These are the things that I look for when researching publishing opportunities.  Do you have anything to add to the list?


Find out more about SueBE and her writing at her blog, One Writer's Journey.


  1. Sue, this is a great list. I usually look to see if I know anyone on the list or the agent's clients. If I do or I am cyber friends or something, I'll write and ask what it was like working with this person or company. Authors are usually the most honest with other authors, especially if you are sincerely asking.

  2. Excellent list, Sue! I'm not sure that I have a checklist, per se, but I AM sure that I do my homework--and I've walked away from ventures when I get that "hinky" feeling. (We say that in the South, too.)

    Sometimes, I'll check a writers' forum (like SCBWI's) to see if others have had experience with a publisher. Like Margo, I'll rely on fellow writer's recommendations.

  3. Margo and Cathy,
    Checking with our fellow writers should definitely be on that list because they are a great source of advice.


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