Got a few emails this past week about a new e-publisher, Shadowfire Press, opening its doors on August 1, 2008.  Don’t know anything about it, except to say that judging from what I’ve heard and three “personal squicks” I got from looking at their site, I’ll be staying away from this one until and unless they can prove they know what they’re doing–which shouldn’t be hard for me because I don’t write the kind of books they’re interested in publishing.

What are the “personal squicks”, you ask?  Well, let’s start with the fact that the owners are both authors and as we’ve seen in the past with author-owned e-publishers, they aren’t the best bet for a new writer–or an established one, for that matter.  They seem to have a tendency to neglect the books by authors who are just “plain authors”, while concentrating on promoting the books of the author/owners.  Not saying Shadowfire will be the same way, but I’ve been down that road with one publisher already and I’m not looking to go that way again.

Second squick, their covers.  Now this probably is just me, and I’m not an art critic by any stretch of the imagination, but I wasn’t impressed with their covers.  Too…I don’t know, amateurish. I guess.  The same goes for the masthead on their web site, which they seem to be really proud of in their introductory letter, saying it’s a “done deal.”  Umm…you might want to re-think that one, but like I said, that’s just my opinion.

Third, this little snippet on their contest page:

The only way to become a Shadowfire Press author is to win a publishing contract through one of our contests. Please do not send any stories that do not fit our current contest guidelines as we will not be accepting anything that is not suited for the contest.

The thing is…I’ve noticed quite a few e-publishers engaging in this “enter our contest and win a publishing contract” crap.  I say crap, because if they’re holding a contest, there should be the possibility of winning…something.  Else, why call it a contest?  Granted, this e-publisher isn’t open to submissions and that may up the ante a bit, but for me it wouldn’t be enough.  Why would I want to write for someone who has, IMO, such an elitist attitude?  I mean, come on, you’re a new business, an open call for submissions would only benefit you.  There are untold numbers of authors out there who would probably love to submit something to you–but they have to enter a contest to do it?  And if they do enter the contest, they get nothing for winning besides what they would get from submitting to any other publisher?

Makes me think of dangling a carrot in front of a mule.  Hey mule author, look at this, here’s a bright orange carrot contract!  Looks yummy, huh?  Come on, you want it.  You know you want it.  All you have to do to get it is work your butt off writing a book for us and be sure to follow all our rules and guidelines while you’re at it.  If you do that, we might, just might let you have the carrot contract!  Then again, we might not, but well, you gotta try, don’t you?  Sure you do!

It should come with a warning label attached, doubly so when it comes from an author-owned publisher and even more so when it’s one that’s just starting out:

Author beware, winning the contest isn’t enough.  Sure, it’ll get you a contract–which you could get elsewhere, but now you get to put all your blood, sweat and tears into promoting your work.  And please, don’t expect us to help, because hey, we don’t do that for anybody but ourselves.  So…enter at your own risk!

Sad to say, I used to be okay with this kind of thing, even defended the idea of publishers running a contest with the prize of a publishing contract, because if you win, it’s a publishing credit, something you can include in your query letters to other publishers.  But I’ve seen way too many new authors get burned this way.  Sure, they got a contract, but more often than not, that’s about all they got.  So, if you have a book you want to see published, my advice is don’t sell yourself short, do your research and try for one of the established e-houses.  Then, once Shadowfire gets up and going, you can take a look at them again.

I realize this may not be fair to Shadowfire and I’m not saying they’re doomed to go down before they even start, or that they won’t actively promote their authors who are not also owners.  What I am saying is I see a few red flags flying already.  If Shadowfire does become one of the top-selling e-pubs at some point in time, I’ll be more than happy to offer my apologies and eat my words with a smile on my face.  I wish them all the best and believe me, I’d love to see them prove me wrong!  After the horrible year e-publishers and their authors have had, it sure would be nice to have a reason to celebrate e-books again.