Independent Press Publishing Part 1

I believe I have stepped into quicksand with this one. Michele Barrow-Belisle's recent guest article on small or independent publishing was quite interesting and it is still racking up the reads. Awesome. What else happened? Reading her article caused numerous readers including myself to ask another question. Brace yourself, I am winding up the Jack in the Box ...

What is an independent press and what do they do? 

I don't pretend to know much, here is a subject proving the point. Michele wrote a very informative piece on the benefits of "indie" publishing, but some of us are not quite sure exactly what we are talking about yet. I can't say I even knew enough about independent publishing to ask the right questions.

How many times I have stated, I don't even know yet what I don't know. 

Here is another example. I found something else I am clueless about so at least I am looking. As I mentioned in Michele's post, I sent about six letters at that time to some of these small press outfits inquiring whether they might like to comment on the role they play in publishing, something like that. Not a single response back. (Still.) Author friends I asked have responded, her article is an example. I have done some of the ultra scientific research I take such pride in, reading stuff on websites and assuming it is accurate. I heard long ago if its on the internet it must be true. I thought the Dukes of Hazzard was real when I was a kid too. So let me start with what I have learned and blend it with my ignorance to see where it leads.

Independent publishing is not the same as "vanity" publishing. I understand vanity to be a company which takes money from an author to publish, print, possibly even promote their book. While this may be a valuable service, it is not the same as independent. I understand an independent publisher still signs a contract with an author, an agent may not be a mandatory component. The publisher agrees to pay the author a percentage of sales. The details are still more than a bit fuzzy but in general I think this is what is going on. Michele did note editing, artwork and promotion are also part of the independent deal. I am sure there is more to it. But we are making progress.

They do exist. There are publishing outfits outside of the conglomerate "big house" companies. They publish every variety of book out there. Here is my next vague learning point. These independent publishers tend to have specific genres they work within. This makes sense even to me. First I looked at one of the presses' website. Right off the bat they don't publish works with profanity, graphic violence or sex. That's cool, I love wholesome especially when it comes to multi-grain bread and especially beer, but I can barely pump gas without profanity much less write as I do. Not likely a good fit. I keep digging, and find numerous pages where someone has accumulated links to assorted small press outfits. Scratch off the ones which are dead links and look at the rest. The companies are fairly specific in what they are looking for. On the better lists, the accepted sub genre is included, this saves some wear and tear on my 1995 Dell mouse.

I need to narrow it down. My genre, I have been told is horror, so I logically trim it down to horror. Gotta start somewhere. I already know horror includes everything but history, cookbooks, foreign language map collections or something else I don't exactly recall. I have found no shortage of link lists in this category. Fortunately the publishers within horror get even more specific about the type of writing they will accept. This I suppose is very helpful, some for example don't mind monsters, others specifically prohibit them. At least I can narrow down the field up front. I don't have a monster but...

I have visited numerous sites at this point where I navigated directly to the submissions tab. It might not be a surprise how many of them quite prominently display something to the effect, "we are not accepting unsolicited submissions". Stop turning the crank, this is the part where Jack just popped his head out of the box.

Boy was I surprised. The process is still outlined even on most of the sites not accepting submissions. I will take it, we are still making progress. I think the verbiage goes something like this- Send a cover letter, a bio, a synopsis and a couple chapters. We might get back to you in a few months but don't call us, if we are interested we will contact you. (A friend of mine recently described a date which ended up just like this, its been four years and he is still waiting.) Also don't bother submitting to us unless we are the only publisher you are contacting and we will not under any circumstance send your stuff back. It all adds up.

This is beginning to sound quite a bit like querying an agent. I don't mean this to sound negative, it is not, but it does make sense. Anyone can write a book right? So why not thin it out and find a product which might be a good fit for their niche or specific market. Same idea so far. I get it. I will assume any of these companies are a business at their core. Typically businesses are looking for profit and reputable ones will be careful to guard that which makes them reputable. They should have an idea of what works for them. Opening the submission door to every person with internet access and an ability to process words would be a huge waste of time. I am however having a tough time finding information. One of the bigger well known companies I researched boasts taking on one new and one old project per year. Awesome. I think I might like to be that "one" new project. Sounds pretty elite. It would not surprise me if publishers are overwhelmed, especially those working in genres overflowing with budding artists and aspiring bestsellers.

To wrap it up for now, I keep seeing the statistics about self publishing becoming more predominant.  All the articles I read point in the direction of this trend continuing, as far as I know it has not quite achieved world domination. The world domination date I predict is October 17, 2017. In the meantime, I can't help wondering how the small press fits into this whole publishing process. It further makes me wonder how much better a submission must be to find its way to the top of one of these piles and how does anyone ever get there?

As always I invite you to join the discussion. If you have first hand knowledge of this elusive process, lets talk.


Unknown said...

First, I need to make it clear that I am not published yet. Like you I am looking over the waters and trying to figure out where to dive in. I can only give you what I have found as a result of my research.

People talk about "The Big Five" (Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster ) and Indie Publishers like there is nothing in between. The reality is there are publishers like Baen, that aren't big five, but still have hundreds of books in your local Barnes & Noble. I would call them midsized. There are also the truly small publishers that only publish a few authors and don't have the contacts or the money to place books in bookstores but do publish ebooks. There are a lot of them. They will do covers and editing, but you end up doing most of the marketing. On the other hand, they pay higher royalties than the bigger publishers, but no advance.

Then, of course there are the rip-off houses that pretend to be small publishers, but can cost you thousands of dollars in "services" they offer. These guys you avoid. There are sharks in those waters.

It really comes down to what you want to do. If you want to talk to the big five or some of the "midsized" publishers, get an agent. Figure on a year to find an agent and have the agent find a publisher and another year for the book to be published. Minimum.

The smaller houses will take direct submissions. But they don't do much that you can't do yourself. The choice here is, do you have the money to get a good cover and editor, or would you rather that someone else foot the bill and then take the money (and then some) out of your sales. These publishers are also far less likely to turn you down and they don't get that many submissions, so they can turn things around much more quickly. But, if they turn you down, it is time to do some more revising.

Whatever you choose to do, I hope it works out for you.


Gordon A. Wilson said...

Carol- I appreciate your in depth commentary. I agree there seems to be an abyss of the unknown between self publish and traditional. Thanks for putting in some more details.

Jim Brown said...

Interesting article, Gordon! Might I offer myself for some in-depth insight into independent publishing? I've been in the industry since just after the Millennium and providing services to independents and authors. I'd love to chat to you about this! You can contact me on Twitter @JimandZetta (I just followed you after your tweet about this) or email me jim (at)