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Yesterday, I was reading another of Chuck Wendig's fantastic "rambles" about the publishing industry. One of his topics was "Beware the Small Press." He isn't entirely opposed to small press, but he advises the author to proceed with caution. Given that many indies go the small press route, I thought it a topic worth exploring.
What is an indie/small press?
They come in all shapes and sizes. For the purpose of this article, I'm going to say it's almost any press not associated with the "Big 5" and not any of the top-notch houses like Angry Robot.
Why do some authors choose to publish with a small/indie press?
There are many reasons. Some good, some bad. A few common ones are:
-The author has failed (or chosen not) to secure a literary agent, and most small presses will accept submissions directly from authors.
-The author doesn't have the money to hire a cover artist, editor, book formatter...
-The author doesn't have the requisite entrepreneurial spirit or aptitude to independently publish.
-The author just wants to write.
-The author is independently published, but also works with small press in order to reach new readers, or to grow as an author by working with a different set of professionals.
-The author doesn't know the difference between a Big 5 publisher and any other publishing house (this happens more often than you'd think.)
-The author just wants the validation of "being a published author."
-The author has been taken in by a vanity press masquerading as a legitimate company.
-The author is in a hurry to see her or his book published by somebody, anybody.
-The author has done her/his research, found a reputable small press that does a good job, and is enjoying a positive working relationship with that press.
What can go right?
In an ideal situation, there can be many positive aspects to working with a small press.
-The small press bears the entire financial burden.
-Handles all the aspects of the publishing process.
-Highly responsive to the needs of the author. You don't have to wait days or weeks for a reply.
-The author has greater involvement in the creative process.
-Faster publishing schedule.
-Has cultivated relationships with capable professionals who will make your book as good as it can be.
-Has access to channels to which you might not easily gain access, or might not be able to access at all.
-Has a brand identity and an established audience.
-Will put time money into marketing your book.
-Flexible, willing and able to try new things.
What can go wrong?
Lots of things.
-The publisher has good intentions but doesn't know what it's doing.
-The publisher lacks the resources to do a quality job.
-The publisher ends up doing nothing for you that you couldn't have done for yourself.
-The publisher goes out of business (this happens all the time), or mismanages its money and can't pay you (also happens all the time) and sometimes won't release rights to your book even when it hasn't fulfilled its contract.
-The author's book wasn't very good, but (s)he stumbled upon a publisher that would publish just about anything.
-The publisher does a poor job on your book.
-The publisher sets the price of your book very high, counting on making money from sales to your friends and family. Perhaps it even pushes you to buy author copies at a ridiculous price, or tries to sell you "publishing packages."
What to look out for.
There's no complete answer to this question, but I'll hit a few high points:
-How long has the press been in existence?
-What is its reputation? A simple internet search should turn up problems if there have been any. And if there are problems, please don't ignore them. Don't tell yourself, "I'll be the exception."
-How well are its books selling? Know what the sales ranking mean and check to see how their books are doing.
-Assess the quality of their product. Good cover? Good editing? Is the price in line with other indie books?
-What does this press actually have to offer me? Am I certain that I want to give them up to half of my royalties for a job I can do myself?
-Has this press ever asked me for money?
-Has this press ever said, "We normally charge X but we'll publish you for free because we believe in you."
Overall, I think that the right independent press can benefit an author. If you've been following this blog and podcast, I suspect you have the indie publishing spirit, and are probably leaning toward doing it on your own. That's my preference, but I believe the right small press situation can be a good supplement to your indie publishing career.
Finally, examine your goals and your reasons for publishing. If, deep down, you want the validation of "being published" or you want to see your books on shelves, don't go with the average indie press. Keep aiming for traditional publishing.