Most writers, when they think of publishing through traditional channels, think of the big guys: HarperCollins, Random House, and the like. And to get in those doors, you do need a literary agent. But what happens when you start hearing a lot of “No” from agents? Or hearing nothing at all? Is your reaction, “Well, then I guess I need to self-publish!” Hold off, because there is a vast area in between. In my video this week, I talk about three reasons you should very seriously consider going with a small press before turning to self-publishing.
There are an estimated two thousand publishers in the United States. Many of them belong to the Independent Book Publishers Association (which is why it has been confusing for self-publishing to start calling itself “indie publishing.” There already have been independent publishers around for decades.) Many if not most small publishers do accept unagented submissions. Many have very targeted publishing focuses, which can make it easy to find the right publisher for you. They can take more risks, and you can be a big fish in a small pond instead of the reverse. Small presses might have a regional bent, might be not-for-profit, might be affiliated with a university, or might be on the verge of growing into a major player.
When looking for a small publisher that might be right for you, keep these three questions in mind:
- Who does their selling and distribution? There are a number of distributors for small presses, and those distributors are very important in allowing the small presses to get appointments with and sell into the bookstore chains, major independent bookstores, and libraries. Their warehousing and shipping consolidation makes your publisher seem more like one of the big guys. You want to be sure your publisher’s relationship with their distributor is strong and firm—and not likely to change right after your book has released.
- What other books do they sell? Who will be the other books in the catalog next to yours? What books will your book be next to? Is their publishing philosophy one your agree with across the board? This isn’t the time to get desperate and go with the first offer that comes your way—check out their other books and see if you think the editorial and production values are what you want, that the website is up to snuff, and that they give the professional feel you are looking for.
- Is this a stepping-stone or are you looking for a lifelong relationship? Plenty of authors stay with the small publisher that believed in them and gave them a chance, while others move on to greener pastures when they have the clout to do so. Which future you prefer should affect the contract you sign with the publisher. If you will be unagented, read carefully the options clause and see if you’d like it to be more narrowly defined. Or you can try to get a two-book deal. When you don’t have an agent you need to read up on the aspects of a publishing contract and fully understand the various clauses and what they will mean for your career.
So before you give up on your dream of being traditionally published, you need to fully understand everything that falls under the umbrella of traditional publishing. This is not a business for the impatient; keep submitting, keep researching, keep trying, as there are hundreds more options than just The Big Five. Small press publishing just might be right for you.