Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Small Press Options

One outlet for publication many authors don't consider is small presses. They start swinging away in big leagues (pitching to traditional publishers) and then if they strike out, figure there's no other option but to skulk back to the dugout and settle for self-publishing.

Wrong! (On both counts: I believe self-publishing may be the best option in some cases, and read on for another great idea!)

I was fortunate enough to have my first two novels, The Distant Shore and Billowing Sails picked up by Vintage Romance Publishing, a small press from S. Carolina that at the time only dealt with clean romance-oriented historical fiction. VRP later started a non-fiction inspirational line (among other lines; check out their website) and accepted Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, the book that spurred this writer's blog.

The bottom line was: as an author, I was not ready for the big time publishers. It was an honor and a thrill to be accepted by any publisher who thought my work was good enough (with a bit of editing, of course) for print.

A thrill, incidentally, that sucks many novice authors into self-publishing. Some self-publishing companies or vanity presses don't advertise as such and the budding writer thinks they are submitting their masterpiece to a traditional press. They don't realize that everyone's work is "accepted" by these less-than-upfront companies until they are hit with a hefty fee.

Please note: legitimate traditional publishing houses and small presses DO NOT charge the author a penny! Their money is made only upon the sale of the book, which is why they're picky about which work they choose to produce.

In general (not true for every small press), small presses produce 12-30 novels each year, most with small print runs (ave. 5,000) or POD (Print on Demand). Most are trade paperbacks and graphics, cover art and editing is handled by the publisher. Translation: you don't have to seek your own editors or cover artists; they do it for you.

Several notable small press glitches: there is often no book distribution or marketing system in place, so that is left to the author. Get your running shoes polished up and ready to roll. Plus, if your book is POD, chain bookstores won't carry it and you'll have difficulty getting prestigious review sites to look at it.

But the good news: I was able to get my POD books in many gift shops, independent bookstores, and even some chain stores on consignment. And I found plenty of second-tier review sites who were happy to give me excellent blurbs for my PR notices and book cover. The average Joe doesn't have a clue about level A vs B publishers and reviewers; as long as you have a quality product, that's all they'll notice.

There are usually no advances offered by small presses, and royalty rates are relatively low compared to larger presses, but take my word for it, it's a great place to get your feet wet. Editors are motivated to help you and are intimately interested in the success of your book (because it's their bread and butter, too).

In my case (and that of many other authors with whom I've become acquainted), my small press books were an excellent hook for snagging an agent, who then was able to open the door to larger publishers and more lucrative contracts.

So when you're weighing your options, don't forget small presses! Sometimes ya just gotta knock a few grand slams in the minor leagues before you reach the majors.