Writers have so many options when it comes to publishing these days. When just starting out, many get quite confused on the differences in Traditional and self-publishing.
It’s easy to get confused! I’ve talked about these differences in the two a lot, but for now, let’s focus on the Traditional model, and whether a small or large house is right for you.
The question from the outside may seem a bit deceiving. Writers have dreams of being published by Random House, or Simon & Schuster, or any of the big conglomerates in NY, under whose umbrella myriad imprints abound. But going with a smaller house has many perks, and can often—even for seasoned authors—be a better way to go.
Yes, the prestige comes with the big boys. We all know that. A galley review coming from any of the five major publishers does get noticed more quickly, whether from Publishers Weekly or the local paper and every review outlet in between. And usually (although even this has changed drastically in recent years), you’re also looking at more advance money. But after that, unless your last name is King or Clancy or Rice or any of the list of bestselling authors, the benefits pretty much fizzle from there.
With the death of the mid-list author came the reality that everyone else is pretty much left to promote his book himself. Advertising dollars go to that list of well knowns. So either way you’re left to do the promotion.
That small publishers have much fewer promotional dollars is a fact. But, they’re quite willing to help you to promote your book, and guide you through the process. Sometimes you’ll work with a good book editor, sometimes not, but often at a big house your manuscript has to be camera-ready before submission as well.
The main thing is, rather than a minnow being bashed around publishing’s treacherous seas within a big house, you’ll be a fish on equal footing at smaller presses.
And the small press is much more vested in seeing your book become a success—its success depends upon it, rather than a couple of huge-selling authors who are keeping the entire boat afloat.
Small publishers are usually operating out of a labor of love, and want to see what they consider to be “good” books being published. Especially in fiction, where small presses may come out with 10 or 12 titles a year, they publish what they truly believe has merit. Novel development still matters to them. Characterization makes a huge difference. The craft of book writing remains paramount.
One of the biggest plusses of a small house is that it will keep your book in print. The shelf life at the big publishers is about six weeks (although a lot of editors are telling me now that we’re looking at four weeks).
Six weeks, you say? My Lord, how on earth do you build an audience in six weeks! Well, that’s a problem, even if you start way ahead of pub date. But if the book doesn’t sell in that amount of time, it’s pulled from the shelves, remaindered, and dead.
A smaller publisher, on the other hand, will keep the book in print, sometimes for a decade or more, backlisted but still available. This gives authors (new and old) the time to promote and build an audience, and often books sell well for many years, even if they’re not bestsellers. I still receive royalty statements on books that have been out for a decade. And in a recent case, I Just Came Here to Dance keeps selling—3 years after first release, then sold to a nice small house (White Bird Publications) and re-published 1 year ago. Had it been published by a big house, the book might have been dead years ago, and not based on sales, but print runs. (It’s a complicated formula!)
So don’t sell the small presses short. Often, they’re a much better option for any author, even those with many books to their resume. The point is to find your audience, and often that isn’t in the mega-sea!