Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Writing For Small Independent Publishers: The Yin and Yang
Many writers have asked what it’s like working with a small independent publisher, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been a wonderful experience. My first mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, about a newspaper obit writer who stumbles across an unsolved murder on the microfilm, was released in October from Mainly Murder Press. Like most independent publishers, MMP has a niche – in this case, New England-based mystery novels, serving authors and readers who especially enjoy mysteries set in the Northeast (New England plus New York and Pennsylvania).
Industry reports indicate that as larger publishing conglomerates narrow the choice of books that they publish, small specialized presses have stepped in to fill that gap with literary offerings often equal in quality, if not superior to, mainstream publications. These niche publishers know who is reading their product and how to reach them, which is good news for talented authors seeking a home for their work.
Although independent publishers maintain high standards of excellence and the submission process is competitive, writers don’t necessarily need an agent to submit. Should their work be accepted, small press authors will likely receive more individualized attention than authors published by a large conglomerate – for example, they might have an opportunity to give cover input and they may be kept more informed about the marketing of their books. As with any publishing contract, however, writers need to do their research before signing.
I first heard about my publisher when Mainly Murder Press announced over the Sisters in Crime listserv that they were accepting submissions. Sisters in Crime is an organization that promotes the professional development and advancement of women crime writers to achieve equality in the industry. I liked that MMP belonged to both Sisters in Crime and the Independent Book Publishers Association, as this reflects a high level of professionalism. I studied sample book contracts on-line, asked questions of published Sisters in Crime members, and read one of the publisher’s previous books. Satisfied that it was a terrific opportunity, I signed my name and celebrated.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when conducting research: What is the publisher’s distribution network? Does it include distributors such as Ingram’s, Amazon.com, Baker and Taylor, and Barnes & Noble.com so that bookstores and libraries can easily order your book? Does the publisher offer strong discounts and other attractive terms to distributors, retailers and libraries to encourage stocking and special ordering? How often are royalty payments issued and are they based on industry commission standards? Are there any fees to contracted authors? Are authors required to purchase a minimum quantity of their own title? Several small publishers (vanity presses cloaked as legitimate publishers) demand that the author purchase a minimum quantity of books, which can be as many as 500 copies or more. Because it's not a "fee," some writers fool themselves into thinking this is an industry requirement, but it most assuredly is not.
Writer Beware, the public face of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Committee on Writing Scams, offers a great deal of information through its web site, http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/. This is a good place to begin your research. Once the contract has been signed, small press authors should prepare to take an active role in book promotion and marketing. In fact, many independent publishers require a marketing plan as part of the submission process. As a start, I established a web site, http://www.stacyjuba.com; created a Facebook page; visited mystery author web sites and jotted down the publications and book web sites that had reviewed their novels; compiled a database of local media, reviewers, and book clubs; created and distributed bookmarks; and researched email addresses for bookstores and libraries.
Working with an independent press lets you experience the Yin and Yang of the publishing industry – the creative side of writing balanced by the business side of marketing. I’ve had a lot to learn, but hopefully by the time Mainly Murder Press publishes my second mystery suspense novel, Sink or Swim, in Fall 2010, I’ll be an old pro. More information on Mainly Murder Press titles can be found at http://www.mainlymurderpress.com.