Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Realistic Expectations from a Small Publisher by Diana Flegal

As the publishing model has changed, in large part to eBook sales and digital publishing, many of the larger houses have scrambled to learn a new way of doing business. Debut authors have found it harder to break into print. A plethora of small presses have popped up and authors often request their agents to try them when the larger houses have responded with a rejection.

Some of these forays have been successful, with debut authors getting their books into print that otherwise would have sat in a desk drawer and the author giving up on their writing dreams. Other times, sales have been dismal despite hard work by the author and the efforts of a multitasking publisher attempting to do it all.

But we have all learned along the way. 

What exactly are realistic expectations when working with a start-up small press?

  • Your print books will more than likely never see the inside of a bookstore. Bookstores require a deep discount and an unrealistic return policy small presses cannot afford.But some authors have been successful in getting their local bookstores to order their books, highlighting them in the 'local author' spot.
  • Your book cover might not be of the highest quality. Especially if the company is a start-up. Some authors choose to design their own covers.The small presses I work with have vastly improved their covers since the time they started.
  • The editing of your book might be nothing more than a run through spell check. I suggest my clients pay an editor to edit their book before the submission of their manuscript. Even larger houses are requiring this. Most publishers want 'camera ready' material only. 
  • Some small presses are eBook only. Print copies most often are POD (print on demand) and cost a higher price to produce, resulting in "pricing themselves out of the market". Some small presses require a certain number of eBook sales before they will offer the book in print.
  • Not all small presses will offer "free eBook sales". Many traditional houses will not either. They feel that book sales  have dropped because readers wait until the book is FREE. In publishing- there are often opposing opinions.
  • Small presses often can not afford to provide print copies for Beta Readers. But most will provide you a limited number of PDF final copies for promotional purposes and garnering of Amazon Reviews. Amazon reviews are Gold for an author. If you have read and enjoyed a book, please take a moment and write a positive review of it.
  • The marketing budget of small presses is very small. Your book's sales will largely be dependent on you, the author. This is the same with traditional larger publishers as well. The small presses we work with are go getters in the social media world and think ahead. But there are attempts and failures. Social media is a constantly shifting game. What I recommended my authors do six months ago might not be what I need them to do today. SEO (search engine optimization) is now being spoken of as old and out of date. Facebook hides our posts and plays with our averages and all we can do is keep at it, keep reading everything we can and be willing to try something new.
Small presses can be a very nice option for many authors. It is good though to have a realistic expectation of what they can and cannot do for you. As with all publishing houses, one press can have a strength another does not have and vice versa.


Audrey said...

Diana, thank you for this very informative blog post. I believe a lot of us talk about this subject constantly, but don't really know the facts. Now we do! Again, thanks.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

I know there are several small presses that are making inroads into the CBA and elsewhere, awards-wise...lately I've been impressed by WhiteFire's choices (Susie Finkbeiner's PAINT CHIPS in particular). With smaller presses, you do get the benefit of having someone work on marketing for you and shoulder some of the load.

But I think self-pubbing is a nice option, as well, because you can control your cover art, the editing process, the marketing strategies, AND (possibly the most exciting thing) when your book gets published. I think ebooks are becoming more and more viable options for serious authors. Esp. when debut authors aren't getting picked up as just makes sense, if you're willing to invest the massive amounts of time and effort to market yourself.

David B. Smith said...

Diana, your observations are spot-on. And thanks for the reminder to always, always, ALWAYS post reviews of the books we are reading. As part of the community of authors, this is for sure an invaluable contribution we can make, both in providing encouragement to shoppers but also gracious feedback to our peers.

Anonymous said...

Diana - Thanks for helping all of us keep things in perspective. One thing does occur to me. If small press books can't get into the big stores, maybe this would be a niche for small independent brick and motar Christian stores - "we carry books the big stores won't, ect." - and it could end up being trendy, especially with some sort of network among the book sellers to find high quality indie Christian books.


Caroline said...

Excellent article, Diana, and I certainly agree authors need to go into any publishing contract w/their eyes wide open. The author makes the choice, and if you choose a small press, go in determined to do all you can to advertise within your means.

I love the comments and Max's would make a good slogan, if the smaller bkstores would only catch on!

Thanks for keeping our eyes open to the writing world!

Timothy Fish said...

Anonymous Max,
It is unlikely that a bookstore would make money using that business model. Bookstores buy books based on how quickly they think they can move them off the shelves. The “books the big stores won’t carry” tend to be slower moving titles.

The exception would be specialty stores. If a store sold only science fiction, for example, a small store might stock titles the big stores won’t carry, simply because they have more shelf space dedicated to science fiction.

Diana said...

Max, how I wish that would be so. Such a great idea. Glad this post has been informative. And yes Heather, self publishing has and will continue to be a viable option for the authors who can afford it and the time it takes to find your reader.

Jeanette Levellie said...

I'm EXTREMELY happy with the small press that published my debut book. They work closely with each author to make sure we get the most market exposure for our "babies."

Although I'd love the prestige and large advance of a big publishing house, I'd not hesitate to sign with a small house for my second book.

Thanks for your wisdom, Diana!