I’ve begun the process of reclaiming my 6 traditionally published books and republishing them myself. I thought it might be useful to document my reasons, particularly for those writers dawdling at this fork in the publishing road, trying to decide which way to go.
I published through a small press, and I don’t want to give the impression that this was a bad deal or that the publisher did anything wrong. It was, in fact, a valuable learning experience, especially for a new author and one as clueless as I. A small press may be the perfect publishing solution for many authors, especially if the words “traditionally published” carry personal weight.
Before I dig in, it’s important to state that – with a few exceptions – this was my experience. It reflects my personality, expectations, and quirks. What worked for me might not work for you and visa-versa. In addition, each publishing house is a unique entity represented by a staff of individuals. It’s reasonable to assume that my comments don’t apply to every small press!
So what was great about my small press experience?
I wrote a book without a blog and all the valuable online information available to authors. I did zero research on publishing, knew no published authors. Basically, I knew zip. Typical for me.
I can’t speak for mega-presses, but with my publisher, I received generous personal attention. I had tons of questions, sent daily emails, and received prompt replies. The process was laid out for me, contracts thorough and easily understood, my expectations set. It was comforting to know that my endless dumb questions and new-author anxiety were treated with respect and patience.
No Upfront Cost
When working with a traditional publisher, the professional services needed to bring a book to market come at no charge. This includes all facets of editing, proofing, cover design, formatting, obtaining ISBNs, and anything else you can think of. The publisher recoups the costs when the book goes on sale and they contractually take a portion of the revenue. For a writer with few financial resources, upfront costs may be a factor. Besides not having any idea what I was doing, I also had a pitiful bank account. This way, all I had to do was write.
When I “finished” my first book, I was part of a writer’s critique group. I applied all the suggestions of my cohorts, and my writing improved to the point that a publisher was interested. Yay for writers’ groups! Little did I know how much I still didn’t know.
The editing process commenced. The editor and I went back and forth for an entire year and made hundreds and hundreds of changes – literally. Working with a professional, I received invaluable lessons on the craft of writing. The process improved my book and armed me with a battery of tips to employ on future projects.
This process was highly collaborative, and I was grateful to be able to argue my case when I felt strongly about a point. I understand from a few colleagues that some publishers are less collaborative and some will exercise a contractual right to make the final call on changes.
As a clueless person, I had no resources for cover design. The publisher worked on the concept and sent me multiple drafts for comment. My contract allowed 3 changes at no charge though we made many small tweaks. I have heard that some publishing houses don’t request input on design and don’t allow changes. I know of one author who wrote a book about “coyotes” and the publisher put “wolves” on the cover. The author was stuck with the wolves.
My contracts were for one year from the published date. This is a relatively short period when compared to contracts that span 3-5 years. The shorter contract is a boon in the event the relationship isn’t working, or the author or publisher wishes to terminate. My termination requires a 90-day notice and there is no cost associated with ending the agreement.
My contracts are on a per-book basis with no commitment tying up future books. This is particularly important when writing a series or serial where a contract may commit future books to that publisher for the agreement’s term. An author may end up making due with the publisher or leaving books unpublished until the contract can be terminated. Contracts are important and they aren’t all the same.
Paper Book Quality
Publishing houses will likely use printing services of a high quality. Personally, I’m satisfied with Createspace and the quality of their books. However, printing houses will often have more size, style and color options as well as better quality paper and bindings. Many professional print houses are not “print on demand” so there will be a sizable minimum order or set-up fee that may exceed what the author wants to invest. This was a significant challenge in my case.
So, Why Go Indie?
For someone who knew squat, my experience with a small press was highly instructive. The editing process improved my writing. The service was professional and respectful, the contracts fair.
Yet, publishing through a small press has significant pitfalls. As my knowledge and experience grew, it became evident to me that the challenges outpaced the advantages. Would I accept a contract with a big publishing house with a huge marketing department and a tasty advance? Um…yeah! But in the meantime, I’m going indie.
In the next installment, I’ll explain why.