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Submit Direct to a Small Publisher?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by adriandiglio, Jul 23, 2013.

  1. adriandiglio

    adriandiglio Scribe

    There are multiple roads that lead toward getting published, so I guess I am asking the community: "What are your thoughts about the path of going direct to a small publisher?"

    For those that have experience on other paths to getting published (i.e. self-publishing, getting a literary agent first, etc.), what are the pros & cons of your career path vs. starting small at a small/independent publishing house?

    I guess it also depends on what services/expectations you're looking for from a publisher (i.e. Marketing, Editing, Cover design, Distribution, etc), but we can all accept that a small publishing house won't have the total package. However, I've heard of authors having success at a small publisher, only then to get noticed by a large publisher, which is why I think a small publisher is a great stepping stone for a new author's career. What are your thoughts?
  2. phillipsauthor

    phillipsauthor Minstrel

    My novel, "The Quest of the Unaligned," went direct to a small publisher, and the process has had both upsides and downsides. For me, personally, they are as follows.

    -Actually getting published(!)
    -No waiting time for getting an agent first. (From submission to the publisher to actual publication date was 20 months)
    -No "agent cut" coming out of your profits.
    -Contact with the people who are actually putting your book together, so less bureaucracy
    -More involvement with the layout, pricing, etc. (example, I got to choose my own cover artist)
    -Freedom to do pretty much whatever you want in terms of marketing & strategy

    -Less marketing budget than a traditional firm (I've had to spend a lot of time on marketing, and the publishing firm hasn't done as much as larger firms do)
    -Nobody's heard of your publisher, so no brand-name recognition to build off of
    -Sometimes things fall through the cracks if the publisher doesn't have all the staff they need

    For me, I'm very glad that I went the small-publisher option that I did - it meant that I got published much sooner than I would have otherwise, and the text of my book is very much the way that I wanted it to be. (The publisher only wanted very minor edits done.) Of course, you don't get the support and funding and marketing and hype that you would with a big-name company. Next time, I'm going to try to go the traditional agent-->large publishing house route, now that I have a book published by a real press to give me more credibility. But as a debut author, I'm glad that I took the path that I did.
  3. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    What would be your take on the upsides/downsides compared to self-publishing?
  4. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    My experience of small publishers is more or less the same as phillipsauthor's with the exception that despite one fairly successful book, I am yet to see the big publishers come in for me.

    It's always been hard to get published in the mainstream...now it's almost impossible.
  5. phillipsauthor

    phillipsauthor Minstrel

    Since I've never self-published, I can't speak from personal experience, but from what I've read about self-publishing, I'd say...

    Upsides of self-publishing:
    -Absolute control over the entire creative process. Editing, layout, art, etc. All of it is determined by the author, so the final result is exactly what the author intended.
    -Control over the timeline and logistics. You publish when your book is ready, and you don't have to wait for a publisher to do things, or try to fix things when a publisher does them wrong.
    -Greater percentage of profits. As in, you get all the profits.

    Downsides of self-publishing:
    -No promotional help from a publisher. You have to do everything yourself.
    -No budget to work with except your own. If you're planning on doing a big-scale type of launch, this can be very risky.
    -No "vetting" to validate your work. No matter how good your self-published work is, or how bad some "traditional published" books are, trad-published books get an automatic validity boost because a company that's out to make money thought that the book was good enough to invest in. There's also still a thought that self-published = vanity press, and that turns a lot of people off.

    Comparing the two, it really depends on what your goal is. For me, the benefits of small-press publishing outweigh the benefits of self-publishing. I don't have the time to invest in self-publishing, and I want the legitimacy of already having a trad-published book for the next time I take a book to market. Yeah, I don't get as much money, and I have to deal with the problems of small presses, (I don't get to do everything I want, and I have to wait on their timelines), but what I do get is the knowledge that they're taking care of the logistical end of the book and the satisfaction of being able to tell people that my work was accepted by a real publisher. For me, that's important. For others, the coefficients corresponding to the variables in the cost-benefit equation of how to publish might be different, leading to a different choice of publication route. And that's good too.
    Devor likes this.
  6. In general, working with a small press has most of the disadvantages of working with a major press and loses most of the advantages of self publishing. It's a poor middle road - with some notable exceptions.

    The bottom line is pretty simple.

    With a major publisher, you get distribution to physical bookstores. Not worth what it once was, and fading in value daily, but still worth quite a lot. With a major publisher, you know ahead of time how much you will make for the book (your advance - 90% of books don't earn out advances), but average advance for genre fiction is mid-four-figures.

    With a major publisher you need to contend with agents in some cases, and hire an attorney for ALL contracts. Contracts have become career-ending, in some cases, and the non-competes are deadly sometimes. Rights reversion is now pretty much locked at 35 years.

    Indie publishing is almost the reverse. You set the price, get the artist, get the editor, upload the book... You earn 70% on ebooks instead of 14.9%, and earn generally 2-3x as much on trade paperbacks. You have to do your own promotion, but that's true of ALL publishers. In fact, darn near everyone I know who's done both a major press and indie pub has said they're equal on promotion requirements, sometimes worse on the major press end.

    The downside of indie? It's VERY hard to get bookstore distribution (brick and mortar bookstores). And you're responsible for your own success or failure - no publisher to blame for a book bombing when you're the publisher.

    Small press generally lacks the advances of a major publisher, and lacks the distribution of a major publisher, but still keeps 3/4 or more of book earnings. They're sort of a worst of both worlds. They tend to barely promote their books, and often have promotion from the writer written into the contract. Their contracts DO tend to allow rights reversion sooner, and don't tend to have non-compete clauses. They're also as a rule more willing to negotiate contracts.

    There are exceptions. A few small presses out there actively promote their books VERY well. Those publishers are well worth working with. And they're *easy* to spot. Go check out the last six months or so of releases from a publisher. Go to Amazon, and check the ebook ranking of each book.

    A bad publisher will have rankings that look like a shotgun blast: 20k, 60k, 140k, 280k, 600k, 1.2m for example is a BAD publisher. They're not promoting the books at all, or any promotion they are doing is utterly ineffective.

    A good publisher will have rankings something like: 5k, 8k, 17k, 50k, 80k, 120k. No good publisher should have ANY recent release above 200k in Kindle rankings (that's less than one sale per day). If they do, it's a clear sign they are not effectively promoting their work.
  7. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    Disagree with some of this Kevin (although I'm in Australia which may be a bit different to elsewhere).

    A small publisher gives you cachet and gets you into the bookshops. A small publisher gets you reviewed in influential places. A small publisher gets you taken seriously by the mainstream because someone has been willing to invest time, money and their reputation on your work.

    A small publisher also means you'll be working with a professional editor who has a vested interest in getting your work up to a particular standard (as opposed to a freelance editor who might be trying to fob you off as quickly and cheaply as possible - I've heard some horror stories).

    Downside is definitely the lack of marketing clout. I spent some of my own money on advertising and a local launch party for my first book.

    But you can still do all the stuff you might do in a self-publishing context.

    I've now worked with three small publishers (one has gone out backwards) and have my third book coming out next month. My dream is to be part of the reason a small publisher becomes somewhat larger.
  8. Might indeed by a regional difference then, Dark One.

    In the US, *most* small presses get zero or next to no bookstore distribution.
    Small presses don't get reviewed anywhere that SP books can't, except for a handful of exceptional small presses.
    Self publishing *is* mainstream over here - a solid chunk of the bestsellers are consistently now self published, and many people estimate we have more writers making a full time living self publishing fiction than traditionally publishing fiction in the USA, at this point.

    There are a few exceptions. Some small presses are truly outstanding. And like I said above - you can tell the outstanding ones from their results. If they're selling lots of books for their writers, they're excellent. If they are not, then take a pass - they're worse than useless.
  9. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    That's really interesting. The whole market in the US must be so different to Australia. The stat/claim about more self pubbers making a living than trad is incredible. To the best of my knowledge there's nowhere near that level of self pub success in Australia, but isn't it strange that in a supposedly stateless milieu (the net) regional differences are still so strong.
  10. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Kevin makes a number of good points with respect to small presses, especially pointing out that some small presses are better than others. Being published with by a small press does have advantages over self-publication. From personal experience, the opportunity/invitation to author events and some speaking/panel events at conferences and conventions I've attended wouldn't have been available if I were self-published.

    Maybe that'll change in the future. For example, I was asked by a coordinator of a book festival about inviting self-published authors in the future. I said that there were some excellent authors and works being overlooked. From the experience of other events they were familiar with, the deluge of requests by self-published authors, many with very poor quality works, especially content and editing, was a strong deterrent. Unfortunately a legitimate concern for their selection process. Adding to this, the Ohioana Book Festival, for example, as it is, considers and are forced to turn down many many authors each year. There just isn't enough room at the event for more than 80 or so authors (they've increased the venue, but still there are limitations). And being able to be ordered/returned through Barnes & Noble, which provides the copies for and assists with the event, is another factor as well. Something which my small publisher, but not necessarily others, offer. Even that's been worked on to be more accommodating.

    There are other things, such as a network of other authors published by a small press, things like the publisher paying for dealer/author tables at conferences and conventions, things like that, are an advantage of a small press. One might easily argue that a self-published author can adequately network and if a self-published author earns more because of a greater return per novel sold, the funds expended by the small press publisher on behalf of its authors isn't a concern.

    To be certain, a large publisher would be much better in many ways I've discussed, compared to a larger press.

    The statement that:
    ...I guess there are some small publishers that might do that, but if they do, then they're the ones to avoid. But saying generally, implies a large majority. Of the small press authors I know, that's not an accurate statement.

    Just as contracts and agreements with large publishers can be detrimental to an author, so can signing with a small publisher. But there are benefits with going either of these two routes.

    Self-publishing has its own pitfalls that an author has to be aware of, including the current struggle for a talented self-published author who does everything right (quality editing and formatting, a good cover, a reasonable price) to successfully separate from the self-published authors that put out poorly written, edited, formatted works.

    In my experience at book events, it's not unusual for readers to look at a book's publication information pages at the front or ask the author if it's self-published, and if it is, then politely put the book down and move on. On the other hand, with ebooks potentially being a large portion of a self-published author's sales/readership, and with savvy potential readers...the 'look inside' feature on Kindle, for example, I think this can change. Even so, I've recommended some self-published ebooks, and I still get the statement from everyday Kindle owners and avid readers, "I've tried those free and self-published books before. They're not worth my time (even looking at)." Sometimes I manage to convince them to give a certain self-published book a try, but often get a polite, "I'll look into it," which (through nonverbal cues) they're saying, "Thanks but I probably won't." Most of the students I teach who have iPads, Nooks, Kindles, or read novels on their cell phones strongly tend to avoid/rarely read self-published works.

    Self-publishing is more mainstream than it was even two or three years ago, but it has some way to go to be fully mainstream, as Kevin suggests. Maybe it's going that way but not there yet in the USA. At least as I see it.
  11. IF appearing at major conventions to speak on panels is something you really want, then *some select* small presses have more cachet in this regard than self publishing. Most do not. FWIW, my self published work is all published by a small press: I just happen to own the small press! ;) It's not going to make a difference which small press the convention organizer has never heard of you used - they're all about equally useless.

    Again, select small presses are worthwhile for this. IF that is a major thing for you (you enjoy paneling, which I do), then a major publisher is actually a better bet. But if you don't enjoy paneling and signing at conventions, please spare yourself. They have negligible career-building weight, so if you're not having fun, go do something else at the con! :)

    My books can be ordered and returned through B&N. Ingrams now offers returns on POD books for select retailers, which means all Createspace and Lightning Source books.

    I would certainly argue that self publishers can network. I regularly chat with Mike Sullivan here; on another forum, I've discussed ideas with Hugh Howey. I think that networking is most effective when you are networking with *successful* writers. If you're networking with a bunch of other writers who are all selling a copy a month of their book because the small press you all publish through is doing diddly for marketing, the networking can actually be *harmful*, not helpful!

    Again, a great small press would have this as a solid benefit. A mediocre of bad small press, not so much.

    Most small presses are doing the same 25-75 split on ebooks as the major publishers. Some are doing 50-50. However, most of the better known ones are doing 25-75, so it's hard... Do you give up most of the earnings? Or go with a small press nobody has ever heard of? It's something to watch for. Put it this way: if a publisher is keeping 75% of the earnings, they need to be promoting my book enough to sell four times as many copies as I would by myself, or I am wasting time and energy working with them. And as I said before, it's not hard to see which small presses promote their books, and which are just sending them out and hoping the writers will promote. Look for consistently good sales ranks among their recent releases.

    This is irrelevant. Nobody looking at my book on Amazon knows they are self published, unless they know me. I have a business name listed as publisher. My books look better than a lot of stuff coming from NYC publishers, let alone coming from small presses. (I'll add - got a couple of early covers I need to re-do that do NOT look as nice, but the recent stuff is solid. Learning curve IS a drawback for going indie, but it pays off, IMHO.)

    Ebooks are already something around 50% of fiction sales in the USA. They're still growing here, and catching up in other countries. Your handful of sales at a con are a pittance compared to what you're selling in ebook form on the major retailers - this is pretty consistent.

    Again, my ebooks and print books don't look any different from any NYC published book. Better than many, in fact. I have a registered business name for my company. I use ISBNs on the print books. I have LCCNs for novels. My frontmatter looks professional.

    If you are producing books and ebooks which even make a potential reader ask "is this self published?", then you're doing it wrong. And you likely WILL fail.

    Self published fiction represents about 40-50% of all ebook fiction sold. Ebooks are about half the fiction market in the US today - which means about one in four fiction titles sold in print AND ebook combined in the USA is self published. Self published work IS mainstream.

    Most readers just never know the work they are reading is self published. Crap doesn't sell, and if you want to compete in the same market as the big dogs, you need to be every bit as good as they are.
  12. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Kevin, I knew your position before I posted.

    We could go back and forth, point by point (most of that information is available via other related threads here at Mythic Scribes). I posted my view on this here, which doesn't completely contradict your view, but offers additional information for the readers of this thread to consider.

    I've done well with a small press and what it's provided for me. My first novel has well surpassed a thousand copies and working toward two thousand. The sequel is moving steadily toward its first thousand. My short story collection hasn't done nearly as well, but short story collections often don't. All of the stories had already been published in magazines, ezines and anthologies and the rights had reverted back to me. Yes, those are pitiful numbers in comparison to sales with major publishing houses and the with very successful self-published authors. Compared to a couple authors with my small publisher, my sales are anemic. But they're better than the sales of a lot of small press authors and self-published authors.

    Maybe I'd have earned more not going with a publisher and self-publishing. Maybe not. I'm more than satisfied with my choice, and see nothing wrong with others going the small publisher route, as long as they're aware of what to expect and what to avoid--especially poor or lopsided contracts. Just as those who have decided to self-publish, whether or not they established a publishing company through which to publish their self-published works or not, can be equally satisfied.
  13. adriandiglio

    adriandiglio Scribe

    This conversation has helped me tremendously. While I acknowledge that there are some bad small publishers, I personally would prefer a publisher (big or small) over self-publishing because I want that team of people working for me. With self publishing, it is my opinion that there are too many tasks that are required of one person that all must be done at a high quality in order to be successful: Editing, book covers, marketing, etc. I would rather use that time to focus on writing and reading, etc. in addition, I value their industry knowledge which can be leveraged to help manage my career.

    Since each author has a different idea of what they expect/want out of a publisher, I'm looking out for ones that provide editing and some level of marketing. I do recognize all the benefits of self-publishing that Kevin provided, but for me, the time trade-off required to be a successful self-published author is too great. Since I don't think that the income of my books will overtake my day job, I would prefer the assistance that a publisher provides.
  14. I don't thing we're really disagreeing on much, TW. And your points are excellent and well reasoned. :)
  15. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    Just received advance copies of my new novel (published by a small Australian publisher). It won't be in the shops until September but it's getting exciting now. I've had some brilliant reviews as well (which are quoted on the back cover). Access to luminaries for prepublication reviews is also an advantage of going with a small press, but I suppose really motivated and connected self-pubbers could also arrange that.

    This new one isn't fantasy - it's more an offbeat specimen from the crime/thriller genre (the sort of thing Irvine Welsh might have written) - but I'll let people know when the ebook is available. (Those few Australians and Kiwis on here can purchase the paperback.)

    I tend to write in two genres (like Iain Banks). Maybe I should use my middle initial for my non-crime books which aren't exactly fantasy - more a blend of immediate future sci-fi with surrealist aspects - more preternatural than fantastical, but I think fantasy readers would enjoy them.

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