If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve seen this novel’s progress toward publication since I signed the contract in December of 2019 with Vine Leaves Press.
Both of my previous books — The Wind Thief and Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for the Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction — were published by small presses. Over the years — and especially that of my experience in these past months — I’ve become even more enamored of independent presses when they’re well-run.
By independent press, I’m talking about publishing houses that put out 2 – 15 books a year, are typically operating on a small budget, have a relatively small staff and operate as a traditional publisher. The last means these presses offer a clear and written contract that states they’ll publish your book within a certain time period and take a stated percentage of the profits. They DO NOT ask for money from authors.
If a publisher suggests you’ll have to pay fees up front, the company is most likely a vanity press that helps authors self-publish: for a fee, the company helps put the book together. The company may even help market the book for an extra cost.
Now for the 5 reasons why an independent press may be the road to your success:
The large conglomerate publishing houses like Random House and Hachette are literally closed to submissions by authors. To get your work considered by them, you need to get a literary agent who acts as a go-between.
Getting an agent can take a month or years and so adds to the publication process.
In contrast, authors can submit their work directly to small independent presses.
Here’s the process:
Find a small press that seems suitable for your work.
I’ve found NewPages.com’s Independent Book Publishers & University Presses guide from A – Z to be an invaluable resource. A few others are The Big, Big List of Indie Publishers and Poets & Writers Small Presses guide.
When you find a possible publisher, carefully peruse the company’s website. I read the “About” page that states the press’ mission, then go read through the company’s catalog of books to see how closely they resemble mine.
Follow Submission Guidelines
If I perceive a possible match, I follow the submission guidelines and send the requested information, typically a query letter that includes a bio, a synopsis and 1 – 3 sample chapters.
Almost all publishing companies take only digital submissions via email or Submittable or via another online submission management form.
Electronic submissions have greatly reduced the time necessary to collate a submission package, not to mention there’s no paper wasted nor money spent on postage.
Occasionally publishers will require a $10 – $25 reading fee, but that practice is, as yet, rare. If you don’t want to pay the fee, move on in your search. If you decide the charge is fair, given most small presses operate on a small budget, pay the fee.
When I first began submitting to literary agents in hopes of landing a contract with a large publisher, they would typically respond within a number of months. Nowadays agents get so many submissions, they stipulate in their submission guidelines that they won’t respond unless they’re interested in your work.
Since literary agents are the gateway to big publishers, you and your work can languish while waiting for a response. And what happens when you reach the end of agents who are suitable to query?
In comparison, I’ve found that small independent presses are reliably responsive. They’ll give you a yay or nay within the time period they specify on their websites. Most take simultaneous submissions, which means you can submit to them while also submitting elsewhere. If you get your manuscript accepted, the etiquette is to withdraw your book from the other publishers to which you’ve submitted so they won’t spend more time considering your work.
In the past, a publishing company would typically publish authors from the country where the company is based. Most of the books would be for audiences in that locale.
But times have changed and independent presses have been at the forefront of embracing what’s now commonly known: the reading public has gone global. People — like me! — love to read about other places by authors from those foreign locales.
The editor of Vine Leaves Press, for example, lives in Greece. The publishing director lives in Germany. The company is based in Melbourne, Australia, and the authors are from all around the world. I’ve had a marvelous time connecting with writers who live in other countries and who’ve had such different experiences!
Many independent publishers are nonprofit. Those that are for-profit are usually not in the business to make a lot of money. Instead, the presses are operated by people who love to read and want to produce books that further their particular vision that appeals to a specific group of readers.
Some companies are passionate about nature and publish works where nature is front and center. Others love mysteries set in the Wild West era. Others promote stories by traditionally marginalized people, whether due to sexual orientation, ethnic or racial heritage, or other reasons.
Because small presses are not looking for the next big blockbuster, they can be gutsy and take risks big publishers won’t touch for fear of not making enough money.
Connection to Audience
Because small publishers have equally small budgets, they require authors to play an active role in promoting their books.
This can include:
- putting together a media kit with a press release, photos, Q&A questions
- building and maintaining an audience via a dozen social media platforms
- pursuing publicity opportunities, such as guest blogging gigs, interviews on podcasts or getting articles or other work published
- creating extra content for their book, like the below playlist I made and circulated on social media and that reflects the tastes of Mary Donahue, the 15-year-old protagonist of Winter Light.
If you’re new to promotion, the above can be absolutely overwhelming.
But if you—
- take one step at a time
- pay for help that fits your promotional budget, whether purchasing Facebook ads, hiring a book consultant (as I did with Kate Tilton), or paying a pro to arrange a blog tour (as I did with Rachel’s Random Resources)
- share ideas with other authors
- all while describing the journey to your readers
—you’ll get to know those readers so well they’ll feel loved and willing to accompany you on your next book adventure.
A Last Note
Life is too short to spend it waiting, or worse, suffering from the repeated message your work isn’t suitable for a mass market.
Instead, consider looking for an independent press that seems like a good match to your book. If the editor extends a contract, and those at the helm respond to your questions in a timely, considerate way, consider going that route.
The best moment in my life was when I no longer sought the favor of agents and large publishers, but instead moved toward the independent presses — and their authors and readers ! — that enthusiastically embraced my work.