Monday, September 2, 2013

Publishing Choices, Part One: Small Presses

Writers today are lucky enough to have a lot of publishing options. Most people dream of making it to the Big Six, the huge and hugely famous publishing houses that have their books sold, paperback and hardcover, in every market in the world, from online venues to mega-bookstore chains to small indie stores to Walmart.

If you don’t make it to the Big Six, you still have options, and there’s been a lot of debate online recently about self-publishing versus small presses. The writers here at Indie Ignites have taken both paths, and I’ll let my self-pub sisters tell you about that option because they’ve done a remarkable job with it. I am in no position to speak about all small presses and all writers’ experiences with them -who is? - but I can tell you about my experience in the hopes that it helps any pre-published writers out there struggling with the decision.

1.     My YA romance novella series, Snark and Circumstance, is the first work of fiction I’ve ever published. I knew very, very little about the publishing world beyond what most of us have read or seen in movies. I wasn’t even sure I had anything worth publishing (and had experienced enough rejection to doubt that I did).

2.      I knew even less about self-publishing, so little I wasn’t even sure it was a viable option.  Plus, I am a recent arrival rom the academic world to the fair shores of published fiction. I have published articles in the field of literary/cultural studies in academic journals and books, and I know that in the academic world, there is a version of self-publishing through what are known as “vanity presses” that you pay to publish your dissertation or book. The assumption made by most people is that you paid someone to publish it because no “real” publisher would take it. Snotty, I know, but at least in the academic world there is some truth to it. (Some.) So I come from a place that has long deemed self-publishing as self-indulgent, a path for someone who has not made the cut, so to speak.  But that’s just  the Ivory Tower – this perception is changing rapidly outside of it, as most of you know.

3.     If I had been more open to self-publishing, I was still clueless. And really busy. I barely fit in the little scraps of time I found to write the novel, and it took years today because I was parceling away stolen hours (minutes) like a squirrel hoarding nuts.  How was I going to produce a whole printed book with pages and a cover and binding and everything?

4.     I needed validation. Part of why I waited until later in life to publish than some of my sisters at Indie Ignites is because I was never really sure I could do it. It’s been a dream since I was a child, but that doesn’t mean I would actually get to be a writer. Lots of people have aspirations that they can’t live up to. I need someone in the publishing world to lay their anointed hand on my head and say, “You are a writer. You are allowed to be a writer.” So, in other words, I had my own psychological crap to deal with aside from writing.

5.     I wanted some feedback and a little help from an editor. I had polished and honed and edited and fixed the manuscript as well as I could, run it through critiques, and there were still some places that felt so shaky to me, like a condemned house that looks good from the outside but if you go in you see big holes in the floor with raccoons sticking out. (I needed, perhaps, someone to make me stop with bad metaphors like that one). I was a novice novelist and I knew it. I also knew that editors are not there to hold your hand or correct your grammar or spelling or turn your crap prose into gold. But they make suggestions, and I hoped for some.

6.     I got an offer. An editor at a small press called and actually sounded excited about the book. She said she had cancelled dinner plans the night the “full” (manuscript) came in because she wanted to keep reading it. She loved my characters. How could I not love her? (And I do). Some people cautioned that I should wait and see what else comes around, to use the fact that one person loved it to convince me that other people in the pub world would, too. But my editor’s enthusiasm won me over.


Almost a year later, the book is out there, in parts, because the press decided to publish it as a series of e-novellas. It was an experiment that I agreed to and I have mixed feelings about it, but mine is a unique case, so I’ll just stick to the general small-press experience.

1.     If you think you will have a lot of editorial guidance, you might not.  I don't have as many revisions as I had thought I would.  My original editor is off my “team” and on to other projects and my new editor is overwhelmed with lots of projects. I’m not saying that this is a tragedy. I’ve learned to be more ruthless and critical with my writing (I hope) and that is probably a good thing.

2.     You will still have to do a lot of marketing and promotion yourself (which is true for even Big Six writers). My particular press loves social media and I had a great blog tour when the first installment came out. I learned to use Twitter -- and could learn to use it to market myself better, I am sure. I have a blog that I love and it actually has followers, but I should probably invest in a professional website, though it’s hard to tell if it’s “worth it” to do that if you’re not sure anyone out there is reading it. But through social media, I have met so many wonderful authors and have developed “virtual” friendships that I value as much as my in-person relationships. I may never meet the ladies here at Indie Ignites, for example, but their help and support and good humor has been invaluable to me. 

On the other hand, through my small press, I had an instant group of authors for support.  Through Google groups we share successes and learn who's been signed recently. Then you can follow them on Twitter and they'll follow you and you can help promote each other's stuff.

3.     You will not become JK Rowling overnight. I hope you already know this, but I thought I should say it. I never wanted that, myself. I just wanted to be able to call myself a writer and have people read (and like) my books. But I can’t quite my day job any time soon because

4.     You will not get rich. Probably not, though I hope I am wrong, and if I am in your case, feel free to send a charitable contribution to the Snarky Small Press Writer’s Circle and just make the check out to me. My first quarterly statement made me, well, sad. I wasn’t expecting to buy a yacht or anything. But I thought I would maybe make enough to buy TWO books with it.

5.     If your book is released solely in e-format, you will be limited in some things you can do with it. The most obvious one is book signings, though I hear there is new technology that allows Kindle/Nook autographs. My press encourages its writers to go to schools and libraries and I believe them when they say it’s the most effective way to sell books. But if you have an ebook, that’s hard to do. I can’t walk in with a box full of Snark (except metaphorically). I suppose I could bring in my laptop and have people line up for me to take them to the site as I say “Click here and here” and then “Now go home and look in your Kindle. Love you! Bye!” So I am working on that (I’m going to try to do a young writers’ workshop at local libraries). Also, conferences, which are another way to get to meet readers and sell some books, occasionally ban those of us who have only e-material either because we can’t bring that stack of books or because they have the same snort of snobbery about publishing that I mentioned exists in academia. And that is a bummer because I really want to go meet some writers/readers at these events but can’t afford to go just for my own fun.

6.     You won’t get to control much. (Again, true of nearly every writer everywhere). My release dates change all the time and while I got to say “yea” or “nay” to my first cover (based on the images they to me, not chosen) I had no say in the second cover (which people seem to like) and I can only assume that’s going to be true with the next two.

As I said at the top of this post, there are lots of options for writers these days and we’re lucky to be able to make these choices. Make your own decision an informed one. There are advantages and disadvantages to any route you choose.  Being able to call myself a “writer”, having a book out there, and being part of this community is a wonderful thing. People I don’t know and will never meet have said lovely things about me and my writing and the people I do know (even lots of the people I had lost touch with) have been proud and supportive.

But just don't take my word for it.  Here's ST Bende on her experiences with small press publishing:

Like Stephanie, I chose to go the small press route for my first series, the New Adult Norse mythologies of The Elsker Saga.  Stephanie summed up the small press experience brilliantly. Like any publication option, my choice had its pros and cons. But I chose to go that route for many of the same reasons Stephanie did. Namely, I wanted someone to hold my hand through my first publishing journey.

I’d never published fiction before -- in fact, I had no intention of publishing when I wrote the Elsker books. I wrote Kristia and Ull’s story in my journal, just for fun. One day I looked at my journal and realized I’d written several hundred pages of ‘fun’, and I wondered if anyone else would like my imaginary friends as much as I did. I queried agents and small presses, and ultimately landed a handful of small press offers. I chose one and crossed my fingers. A year later, the world could read my journal.

I came to the publishing table with very little experience -- I didn’t even know the writing-community existed. (Sin from my lips!) I wasn’t on Facebook, I’d barely heard of Twitter, and I knew maybe one person who had self-published a book. I wouldn’t have known where to begin if I’d wanted to self publish, and the entire thing seemed overwhelming and really, really scary. I wanted someone to guide me through the process, and a small press provides an editor, cover artist, and some degree of publicity. For a newbie, this was a very reassuring deal.

I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and forged amazing friendships with writers who have taken every conceivable publishing journey. The great thing about the writing community is the genuine desire of its members to help each other out. I wouldn’t be afraid to self publish a project now, because I know I have a veritable village to learn from.  And I’m writing my WIP with a completely open mind -- I’d love to see it go the full traditional Big Six route (don’t we all!), but if that doesn’t happen I’m open to going small press or self pubbing. Because I know I’ve got this amazing network of writer-friends behind me -- and those friendships are one of the best parts of any publication path. Don’t you think?

Look into your options and make the choice that’s right for you.
You can leave a comment or ask a question below to keep the conversation going. On Wednesday, Jaycee will tell you about her experiences self-publishing and on Friday, Nazarea will weigh in as someone who has an agent but is self-published. We'' keep you covered.

Happy writing, and publishing, whichever route you choose.

No comments:

Post a Comment