Publishing Alternatives for the 21st Century–Part 3: Choosing a Small Press

Posted May 16 2010, 5:11 pm in , , , ,

Not all small presses are created equal or EVEN close to equal. Beware when picking a small press. Some are run as professionally as any large NY press, while others might be anything but. The owner may not have any background in publishing or even business. She may not have a penny to invest in the company, which means royalties may be late or non-existent. Protect yourself and do your homework before signing with any publisher. I hope the following suggestions will be of some use to you.

Choosing a Small Publisher (ePub)

There are a mind-boggling amount of small presses in cyberspace. Each day brings several new ones. At the same time, several existing presses close down and leave authors without a home for their books and often without the royalties owed to them, not to mention a long struggle to get their books rights back.
I’m going to assume you have a preliminary list of publishers you’re considering.
How does a person go about choosing the small presses that they wish to submit their works to?
First of all and foremost: RESEARCH. RESEARCH. RESEARCH. I can’t stress this enough. Here are some great ways to find out about a small press that interests you:
  • Google them. Do a web search on this publisher. Read everything you can find.
  • Ask for recommendations from writers loops and author friends.
  • Check out their website and contact authors published with them. Include authors not just at the top of their bestseller lists, but at the middle and bottom. Most authors will give you the straight scoop if you ask the right questions. If one author expresses displeasure with a publisher, but the majority love that publisher, don’t put much weight on one disgruntled author. If you find several unhappy authors, I’d approach with caution or not at all.
  • Run a business background check. Several Internet companies will do this for you for about $25-40. You’ll need to be able to find the publisher’s name and a physical address in order to do a background check. Check the background of the company and the owner. If the company doesn’t make its physical address available, proceed with caution.
  • Buy a few of their books, again, not just from their top sellers but from their mid-list and lower authors. You may find the editing very different for a top-selling author as compared to a beginning author. Also take note of how easy or difficult it is to buy a book from their website.
  • Find out about their editing process. Do you get assigned the same editor for one book or all of your books? Do you have contact with this editor to discuss improvements needed in your manuscript? How thorough is the editing? Do you see tons of errors in their published books?
  • If this small press offers print titles,  buy a few to see the quality of the print books.
  • Checkout review sites to see what kinds of reviews their books are getting. This may give you an idea of the quality of book they publish.
  • Do you like their covers? Covers sell. That’s a fact. If their covers are bad, chances are editing is substandard, and everything else about the company may be less than stellar.
If they pass your initial background check, consider what you want from a publisher. Some questions to consider:
  • What kind of distribution do they offer?
    • Are their books available from major distributors, such as Fictionwise, MobiPocket, Amazon (Kindle), Baker and Taylor, Ingram Book Group.
    • Do they offer print books? If so, are they available through major distributors such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble?
  • What do they offer financially to an author?
    • Do they pay an advance? This is very rare in ebooks and not a necessity.
    • What percentage of sales does the author get for each book? What do their books sell for?
    • How often do they pay royalties? Can you find out if they pay on time?
  • Do they offer any type of promotion?
    • Do they have a marketing department? A few small presses do have a marketing person available to assist authors?
    • Do they offer any free promotion, such as advertising?
  • What do you think of their website?
    • Is the website attractive, easy to navigate, quick to load?
    • Go through the process of buying a book. Is it straight-forward? Or is it confusing and awkward?
  • What about their publishing process?
    • How many months/years out are they scheduling slots? How long do you want to wait to see your book in print?
    • What do you think of the quality of their editing? Buy a few of their books and see for yourself.
      • What is their editing process? Do you get to work with the same editor all the time or do you get a different editor for each book? There are pros and cons to each. It depends on your preference.
    • Can you get a copy of their contract?
      • How many years is your book under contract? Five to seven seems to be the average. What happens to your book rights if the company is no longer in business? Do they revert back to the author?
      • Are you required to give them first right of refusal on any subsequent manuscripts? On books in a series?
    • How do they handle reviews?
      • Who’s responsible for soliciting reviews? Do you need to send your own book out for reviews? Do they send to a group of reviewer for you?
    • Are you provided with free copies for contests and to submit for reviews?
      • How many and what kind?
    • Do you get any input into the covers? How much do the covers reflect the story and the characters?
When I was doing my research, I made a spreadsheet of which items were important to me. Then I checked off which small presses offered what I wanted.
From there I read their submission instructions and submitted to the ones that interested me.
I hope this series has been useful to you. Please let me know if I’m missing anything or if you’d like me to cover other topics in the future.

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