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Why I love my small-press publishers

I'd like to state again how pleased I am with the small presses who have published me, Central Avenue Publishing and The Wild Rose Press. I've met more authors over the years, and read more about their experiences, and increasingly I'm coming away with the impression that those published (or formerly published) with the big houses often felt ignored and unloved. The attention from their editors/agents was being devoted far more to those couple-dozen huge-name writers who made all the money for the house, with little time to spare for the lowlier names.

As to advances and royalties: small presses don't pay advances as often. True. But that's always been fine with me, as an advance is only that: an advance against future royalties. So you earn no royalties until the book has "earned out" its advance, and, according to the experts, the majority of books take years to do that--if they ever do. And your advance isn't likely to be a cool million bucks. Heck, no. Try a couple thousand dollars. To last you a few years? I'd rather just take the modest quarterly royalties I rightfully earned. In addition, royalty rates with big houses are usually smaller than ours in the small-press world.

So between the personal attention, the input we're allowed on cover art (again, almost unheard of in the big publishing world), the no-worse-than-average royalties, and the way e-readers have taken off lately, I'm getting happier by the year to be involved in small-press publishing.

Also, in the small-press world, we're far less likely to have movies made of our books. That's actually a blessing in disguise. Let's be honest: 9 times out of 10, doesn't the movie adaptation suck? And the writer usually gets no say in it. I mean, even with Twilight, which had the most gigantic following in the world and should have been able to afford doing everything perfectly, they couldn't get the makeup right and ended up making Robert Pattinson look like a powdered donut with lipstick.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2012 10:30 pm (UTC)
It's very good to hear such a nice report -- I will look them up. I've been thinking of going into indie publishing myself. The time appears to be ripe, as the traditional houses are so cheap on advances, it's really better to look at them as advertising (per Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch) than as a viable income source. Their recommendation is to blend the two, use trad publishing for exposure, award noms, and advertising, and indie pubbing to make some money on the way-better margins.

I'm curious, and will know more when I follow these links, how these pubs differ from self-pub (which I'm also looking into, me as the publisher), and why you chose to go that way. What makes an "indie" publisher different from small press? I had one experience with small press, and it was terrible.

I can't agree that the reduced likelihood of having movies made of our books is actually a blessing in disguise. I look at it as "money for nothing" and would be delighted to get some. On the plus side, you'll probably get a lot more foreign sales, which are probably more likely. Hmm...
Aug. 5th, 2012 10:49 pm (UTC)
Okay, I've looked you up! I was wondering how happy you were with your margin? $3.99 for a novel seems a bit low. I know there's a great debate about pricing, but have you noticed any difference in sales for that vs. your $4.99 and up books, where I assume you'll get a better return per book? Feel free not to answer if you don't wish, but some authors have actually seen sales improve with a slightly higher cover price. I'm thinking the $5-$9 range for a digital novel is about right.

Your other Ghost and Geeks one appears shorter, yes? Hence the lower price? Does the house set it, or do you get input on that? Also, I see "The Man In The Rain" with no price. Is that a teaser giveaway? Sounds like that could be a good strategy; get them to like your writing so they'll want to buy your book!

As I said, just getting into this epub bit, so very interested in your experience. Cheers!
Aug. 6th, 2012 12:25 am (UTC)
Hello! Hah, I actually was remembering your unfortunate small-pub story when I put this post together. (Oh, and I use "indie press" and "small press" interchangeably--though on thinking it over I'm not sure that's accurate.) We should indeed add the caveat that not all presses (small or large) are created equal, and authors should do their homework, just like you're doing--ask writers published with the house in question, and check reports on sites like the Absolute Write Water Cooler or Piers Anthony's Internet Publishing list, and probably other sites I'm not even aware of. I've also gotten good leads from the high-rankers on the Preditors and Editors poll, informal though it is.

Yeah, I have to admit I'd still be thrilled at any offer of a movie deal, even with the 90% chance that I'd cringe at how it turned out. Excellent publicity, if nothing else, as you say. But then, I also don't really want Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling's life of being hounded by millions of insane fans. I did once, but honestly, I don't now. Midlist sounds awesome to me. :)

Self-pub has become so respectable that I might've gone that way for some of my titles if these presses hadn't picked them up. Pros and cons of self-pub, as far as I have thought about it:

Total control over everything--formatting, font, cover art, pricing, etc.
100% royalties!
Freedom of pulling it off the market and reworking it as you see fit, without having to invoke contract language with another party

Usually some upfront fees
I am not at all sure I'd be able to create a good cover
Having to do the boring stuff like file conversion for the various ebook formats, figuring out shipping problems, and other bookkeeping
Having to do 100% of the marketing and review-seeking, rather than perhaps half of it in the small-press world (hard to say on the actual proportion; that's an instinctive guess)

You likely already know self-pubbed authors and can ask them their experience. But if you need more, I know at least two smart and lovely women in the Seattle area--Pam Stucky and Cyndi Tefft--who have done a great job self-pubbing their first novels lately. I think they each used a different venue; Amazon vs. Smashwords, or something like that.

$$ issues: we are still talking modest amounts for sure. But it's gone up from me bringing in around $20 a quarter a few years ago, to more like $150 a quarter these days, with the huge majority of the sales being ebook, not paperback. So I like the trend, though the figures are still nowhere near enough to live on. :)

I don't get to set prices; the houses do that. But I can't see a clear pattern in terms of sales vs. prices. The Ghost Downstairs has always sold best, and Summer Term has always sold worst, though they're about the same price (and are the two highest-priced generally of my titles). I can only assume paranormal romance is still the popular thing. Relatively Honest has been selling better than What Scotland Taught Me, which I will guess is because I put a lot of effort into having YA book bloggers review it, back when it was released. But I may never know for certain. Maybe people just liked those covers and blurbs best?

Of Ghosts and Geeks is a novella, yeah, so a lower price because of that. And yep, "The Man in the Rain" was a short story intended as a free read--a promo thing the house set up.

Probably if I learned to read animal entrails, it would all become clear. Am hazarding a guess there.
Aug. 6th, 2012 12:56 am (UTC)
I'm starting actual work on a novel I hope to aim for publishing one day, so this is a timely reminder for me to not set my sights terribly high. I have some other contacts with more small/indie press and epub places, so at least I'll have some options when I'm ready to start shopping it around!

Also: ended up making Robert Pattinson look like a powdered donut with lipstick

*DIES* That's the greatest description ever.
Aug. 6th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
I remembered you posting about your novel idea, so just went back and found it. Dude, m/m is totally hot right now, and there are some *great* e-publishers (often with a paperback option) that specialize in it. Dreamspinner Press comes to mind--I've read a couple of their books, and they're really cool, and the authors seem to love them. Plus they aren't just romance-formula or just erotica; it can be any fiction dealing with male/male love. Other small presses with a similar focus have popped up lately too. So yeah, keep at it!

Hee, I can't entirely take credit for the powdered donut remark. It was in m15m's sum-up of New Moon. ("I AM A GROWN MAN, NOT A POWDERED DONUT, AND THESE CONTACTS HURT, OKAY? I AM DONE WITH THIS.")
Aug. 6th, 2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
It's Dean here btw...
I have to raise my glass to your sentiments Mol. I couldn't have asked for a better collaborative relationship with Central Avenue and am so glad I took the chance that was presented to me.

I have observed many authors in waiting who have hedged all their bets on a big name publisher and might never see their book on a shelf.

Michelle at C.A.P. quite literally made my dream come true.
Aug. 6th, 2012 11:23 pm (UTC)
Re: It's Dean here btw...
Hi Dean!
Yeah, it's common to encounter writers who are holding out for a big NYC agent and Random House, and won't "settle" for less. Best of luck to 'em. In the meantime, we're actually getting readers, many of whom even love our books.

Also, it's worth noting that accepting a small-press contract early in your career is a perfectly respectable stepping stone toward the bigger deals, if a person wants to do it that way. I used to view it like that myself, but lately it's occurred to me that this indie world is a fine place to sit down and take root. Maybe we could ask Michelle to ignore us more, so we could feel like authors with big-name publishers? :)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 10th, 2012 11:01 pm (UTC)
Re: It's Dean here btw...
Haha--no, I wouldn't think you a stalker at all! Go ahead and email next time, and we'll set up a coffee (or cookie or whatever) date if possible. Glad the post made your Friday. Have a great weekend. :D
Aug. 10th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
Michelle Here!
Well first of all, let me say thank you and tell you how humbled I am to read these words. I now work with over 30 authors, all of whom are awesome people, both you and Dean included.

For us as a small press, the recipe to success is staying the path. I have seen authors come and go, hoping for us to treat them like we're some sort of assistant and others who think we're not doing it right. But for the authors who've stayed (the majority of them), they are doing two things right. Sticking with and believing in us as I grow this press, and riding the wave of rising ebook sales, (and btw, we have barely started on that, if the music industry is any indication.)

I'd like to touch on the first point. When we first started out, we were ahead of the digital book curve and no-one knew what the heck was going on. While I had a lot of business experience, I was new to the industry. I made lots of mistakes, but learned from every one of them. But I knew I was going to take this somewhere and for those who have stuck with me, they're along for the ride. We have several authors who sold nothing for a year and then took off. As we matured, we've gotten better at attracting high quality writers, editors and the book blogging community to our better and better books.

That said, not every small press is as dedicated as this one. I've seen many come and go, trying to jump on the old bandwagon. Not us. We have realistic expectations and we exponentially grow our sales every year, aside from the seasonal normal industry dips. Our books are reviewed every week somewhere and some of our books have reached sales that mid list authors at big houses hit. While no-one is making a living of their books yet, some of our authors make enough to have great vacations and treat themselves to nice things.

My advice to authors looking to publish is to consider what your strengths are. If you like running a business, then definitely self publish. But if you don't like doing ALL the bookkeeping, taxes, cover design, web building, distribution, editing, proofreading, marketing and legal stuff, then seek out a publisher to help you with all that. You'll still have lots to do on your book, but it frees up time for doing the things you like doing, like writing. We look for writers who are professional, hard working but most of all kind and easy going. I pick people to work with that I would want as friends.

And one last point, while we aren't accepting submissions from other authors for our Central Avenue imprint, if you write romance, we are accepting it for our Everheart Books imprint. All the best, and great post Molly, thank you...
Aug. 10th, 2012 11:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Michelle Here!
You have done well compiling your list of authors. They are indeed lovely people, and many of them have become my friends too. A great bunch!

It's exciting to think that the epublishing world is only just getting started. I've loved seeing so many people get hooked on ebooks lately, and indeed, the popularity is only going to rise. I bet Everheart is going to get some fun submissions and see a lot of success. Romance seems to sell well all the time. Looking forward to the next newsletter!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )