Wednesday 17 March 2021

Anna Vaught, "Red Flags and Green Flags in Publishing"

By Anna Vaught

Having spoken to all the wonderful MA Creative Writing students at Leicester the other week, I thought I would answer a question here that folks were keen to ask, in case my answers are helpful or interesting to anyone contemplating publication, or wondering about the route they are already on. 

So my fifth book is just going out on submission and I am editing my sixth and seventh. I know the indie presses but I am agented for future work. Thus, I've a range of experience. I was asked what, for me, were red or green flags when you are offered publication by an indie press or representation by an agent. This is what I said based on my experience and working closely with others. As you can probably tell, many different things happen to people! So here we go with the red flags:

1. When there’s no dialogue offered or you try to open up dialogue and find it’s not possible, it ought to be a warning sign, because you have to be able to understand what is happening. I had a publication date change three times without my being told. That sort of thing. You shouldn't have to go through this.

2. If you can’t get answers to key questions, then that's a red flag - questions that seem key to you, that is. It is perfectly reasonable to talk about schedule, publicity and so on. This is art, but it is also commerce.  

3. Do some looking about. Do you see that there’s little parity (in terms of exposure) between the publisher's or agent's authors / clients when you look at social media feed and elsewhere? Of course it won’t be totally consistent and I don’t see how it can be, but probe and research if some authors are invisible.  

4. If it is a small press, check that at least some of their back catalogue is available. If it is not, try to find out why. Because at some point you will be back catalogue. If you are published and then forgotten about, that would be sad. Also, it should give you pause.

5. Oh - this might be contentious, but I think referring to a business relationship in terms of your being part of a cohort or a family can be problematic because, while you’re united by your love of books, it suggests a blurring of lines somewhere ... and that might not be to your advantage in terms of commerce, because the connection has become too emotional. Also, it might be a highway to exploitative behaviour. 

6. If the person or publisher you've been offered a contract with is frequently and vocally critical of other parts of the publishing industry - say on Twitter - I think that's a warning light. I DO NOT mean those great folk aiming to improve diversity and make sure all voices are heard; I mean those who criticise agents, big publishers, other publishers. It may mean fewer options and choices for you as a writer because some avenues are closed off. 

7. With an agent or a publisher, make sure there is a good contract and that it is explained to you. If it isn't or any concerns are waved away, I'd be very wary. Also, on this topic, get any contract vetted by The Society of Authors and also let me pass on that it is my understanding that, unless you get a multi-book deal, an insistence from a publisher that they have first dibs on your second book with them is not as clear cut as some writers have believed - even if it is in your contract. You have the right to negotiate here and that includes not publishing the book. 

... Green flags? Everything that's the opposite of all this! 

About the author
Anna Vaught is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, editor and a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor, mental health advocate and mum of 3. 2020 saw the publication of Anna's third novel, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose), which has been longlisted for the Barbellion Prize, and a first short story collection, Famished (Influx). Anglo-Welsh, she splits her time between Wiltshire, Wales, and the Southern US. She is currently finishing a new novel and working on some non-fiction, while a further novel and second short story collection are on the desk. Anna’s essays, reviews, articles, and features have been featured widely online and in print. She is represented by Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agents, in New York City. Her website is here. She is also on Twitter @BookwormVaught and Instagram @bookwormvaught6. 

Anna gave a masterclass at the University of Leicester as part of the MA in Creative Writing in March 2021. You can read about her novel Saving Lucia on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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