First I’d like to point out a great series of posts on what of my favorite author blogs. Ally Carter has a wonderful series entitled 101 Tips on Being a Writer. Ally is the author of the bestselling Gallagher Series put out by Hyperion. In this series of blog posts she covers everything from writers’ block to publishing to completing a novel. Great stuff and a must read. (This is the link to the first set of 101 and you can work your way through the rest via her sidebar.)
On to today’s post: What to look for in a small press.
Thank goodness for small presses. They diversify the type of books available and they are often more accessible to newer authors. So it’s no surprise that there are many good reasons for an author to pursue publication with a small press. An author may want a more intimate experience. If he or she is a new author, a bit of handholding on the part of the publisher can be nice. I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes it is better for a writer to build their career up from the ground floor. If you go with a big publisher with a big advance and flop, then your career could easily be doomed from the start. Better to exceed expectations. Also, working with a small press editor can be a great learning experience as their lists are smaller and they can devote more time to working with you to grow as an author.
These are all good things. But, it’s important to remember that not all small presses are created equal.
*Note: Deciding whether or not a particular small press is right for you depends heavily on your goals and expectations. So take that into consideration when reading this post.
1. How will your book be distributed? It’s not terribly difficult to get your book on Amazon. You could do this by purchasing an ISBN number. So, make sure if you want your book to be in brick-and-mortar stores, you ask the publisher if it will be. A lot of times you will get answers like, “It will be available for stores to special order.” That basically means “No, it won’t.” At least not unless someone goes into a specific book stores and asks for your book. If the publisher says, “Yes, it will be in stores” make sure you ask for a list of which ones. Small presses should be able to provide a list of stores where other authors’ books are shelved.
2. The Website: The focus point of a small press’s website should not be a call for submissions. Legitimate publishers–even small publishers–will be flooded with more submissions than they can handle without advertising how to submit manuscripts. Don’t get me wrong, you should be able to find that information, but a little searching never hurt anyone. The focus of the website should be selling books. They should be providing information on their current books to booksellers, to teachers, to distributors, etc. THAT should be easy to find.
3. Will your book be edited? Speak with other authors who have worked with that publisher. Usually you can find them by googling or even on MySpace. Ask how closely he or she worked with an editor. Was the editorial advice useful? Even the best authors need an editor. Be wary of a press that thinks your book is ready to go as is.
4. Advances: There are legit small presses that cannot offer an advance. However, it is something to consider. Do you want/need to be paid upfront for your work?
5. That leads me to my next point…royalties. If you aren’t being paid an advance, then you should be making royalties, right? But, royalties depend on sales. A small press should be very upfront about how many books you should expect to sell. They should be honest, but that doesn’t mean you can slack on your research. Again, contact authors. Ask politely about sales. You don’t need to be blunt, asking exactly how many books they have sold. Just inquire as to whether or not the publisher predicted sales honestly and correctly. No one should have a problem with that.
6. Are you encouraged to buy your own books? You shouldn’t be. No one should suggest that to you. In fact, something you want to look for is a fair amount of free author copies for you to give away to friends and family or for you to use to help promote your book. It’s fine for there to be an author discount in place beyond these free copies, but you should not be pressured into buying your own book and selling it from your garage. Further, a small press should provide a certain number of copies and/or ARCs for promotional purposes and you shouldn’t have to foot that bill. For instance, if you are going to have a book signing, the press should send you copies and you can ship back those that aren’t sold.
7. Books published per year: Small presses are small. Therefore, they shouldn’t try to overextend themselves. Very few titles should be published per year and a focus on a specific genre or niche market (such as libraries) is preferable. Titles by the same author should be published more than six months apart.
8. I hope this goes without saying, but you, as the author, should not pay ANYTHING. You get paid. That’s the flow of money…always.
9. Not a scam, but not a good idea. There are a lot of well-intentioned people that start small presses because they want to give the little guy a chance. That’s great, but really, the publishers should have some experience in some aspect of the publishing industry first. Owning and operating a press is not an entry level job. Check the publishers’ resume.
10. Contracts. A sample contract should be available upon request. If you want to see a great sample contract for a small press ask for one from Five Star Mysteries (not the vanity press, the traditional one–there’s two with similar names). You’ll notice that everything is spelled out for the author. There is even an author handbook to help you decipher. It tells you how many author copies you’ll get, how many promotional copies, what reviewers they will be responsible for sending books to. They are honest about their niche and how many books you can expect to sell plus they layout the advance and how royalties work. Moreover, they send you this contract and handbook upfront. They are really a shiny example of how a small imprint should work.
Finally, while this is not an exhaustive list, I want to give you some examples of great small publishers. I’m not saying they are perfect and they are all very different, but look for the things I talked about and then compare them to the press you’re looking at. Hopefully that will help you to better assess your options.
-Wild Rose Press (not Wild Rose Publishing)
Status: I’m getting ready to go to DC to stay with Nate’s family. They always celebrate the 3rd of July with the grandparents, so I will be going for my third time to celebrate with them! It is a two hour train ride and a great opportunity to get some work done on my graphic novel, SCOUT.
Also, when Ben gets back I plan on putting up some SCOUT artwork, so you guys can get a sneak peek!