When an editor is courting you and your project for publication, it’s pretty normal for them to arrange a phone call with you to have a talk. On this call, you can find out if your project is a good fit for the publisher, if you and the editor will work together well, and what their plans might be.
This a time, prior to putting down any commitments, to discuss the bigger picture and ask questions that may help you make a more informed decision. A lot of creators think that they’d sign with just about anyone if it would mean getting their work published, but doing this willy-nilly can spell disaster for you if you don’t take precautions. You want to find an editor and publisher who believe in you and your works to ensure that you don’t wind up producing a project that you aren’t ultimately going to be happy with at the end of it all.
You may or may not have an agent to help negotiate this all with you, so the questions will vary based on that. An agent will navigate the page rate, rights agreement, advance, etc. and handle most of the financial things. But if you are talking to publishers and editors independently, you’ll want to keep those things in mind to discuss yourself. That being said, here are some questions to ask when you’re having a conversation with editors and publishers.
- What format do you envision?
This can be a good question to ask to see if the vision of the final product lines up with what you have in mind. The editor or publisher may have a few different formats in mind too, which you can discuss. It also helps to ask this because it’ll give you an idea of how accessible the publisher will be making your book to readers.
- How much say and input will I have?
When working with the book market, the folks there will tend to have a more solidified idea of what the final product will look like, and sometimes you won’t have a lot of chances to have a say. But that really depends on who you’re working with! Despite this, you may still be able to give feedback on covers, book design, marketing, and other things that may otherwise bypass you.
- How many books are you currently editing?
You don’t want to work with an editor that has too much on their plate. I mean, a lot of editors will be juggling a ton of different projects, and working with a number of different creators (you have to be an excellent multitasker to be an editor…) but it’s still important to have an idea of where you fit into their schedule overall.
- What is your editing style?
Some editors will want to be in the loop for every step along the way (ie. outlines, rough drafts, etc.) while others really don’t mind if you only check in when you need to or when you’re turning something in. Finding someone who will work well with your needs and style is important, and getting to know how flexible your editor can be is important.
- What does the overall timeline look like for the project and when is the desired publication date?
Most publishers won’t have an exact date in mind for your book when you have a call, but they’ll be able to narrow it down to a year and season (ie. Fall 2022). Going into this call, having an idea in mind of how long it’ll take you to work on the book will be essential so you can figure out if this timeline and publication date is reasonable. The editor may be able to give you a sense of what each step will look like and how much time they envision being allotted – always also ask for them to follow this up with it in written form so you can look it over.
- Is this a work-for-hire contract?
- Is the script written?
- Do you want to see roughs or can I just hand in inks?
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE AN AGENT:
- What is the advance/page rate for the project?
Depending on the publisher, you may be able to get an advance for the book in a bulk sum. Other publishers assign page rates and you need to invoice for your work. Knowing what to expect and how to financially support yourself while you work on the project is vital.
- Will I receive any royalties for this project? If so, what would the breakdown look like?
In addition to the page rate and/or advance, it’s important to establish if you’ll be making more money off of the book once it’s published, and what you’ll be entitled to.
- Is it possible to bring on a colourist and letterer to the book?
With the book market, if you’re not asking for a colourist or letterer up front, most publishers will assume that the artist will do this themselves. Making sure that you can either handle those things on your own as an artist or negotiating for someone to handle those with you is vital to your ability to keep up with deadlines, and produce a book that doesn’t burn you out.
Something to additionally note is that if you do take a call to ask some of these questions, make sure to follow up afterwards in an email and have everything put in writing. Without a paper trail of what was discussed, it comes down to he said/she said, so having things put in front of you for reference is extremely important. You don’t have to be the one to jot it all down, but do make sure to follow-up to either outline your understanding of the conversation and receive verification or ask the editor you spoke with to give you a summary of it all from their understanding (thanks Bobby Curnow for pointing out this essential step).
Did we miss anything? What other questions do you think are important for creators to ask editors and publishers in advance of signing a contract for publication? Let us know in the comments below or feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.