by Nancy Martin
Getting published the old-fashioned way is hard. (A writing friend of mine used to counsel new writers by asking, "If you know it's going to take five or ten years to get published, would you keep trying?" She was right. It does take most writers between five and ten very difficult years to succeed.) Nowadays, many frustrated writers have given up pursuing the traditional route to publication and are turning to small presses.
Not all small presses are created equal, however. When making your choice, here are some questions to consider:
1. The money. Does the press pay an advance? Usually, an advance is the publisher's vote of confidence in a writer's ability to sell books. Does the press pay a royalty rate about the same as other publishers? If not, the press is passing along its risk to the writers. Ask yourself why.
2. Money that flows the wrong way. Does the press ask for money from the author? This is a sure sign the company isn't on firm legs yet. If you're asked to contribute a "marketing fee" or a "buy-in" or to pay "editing costs," think twice. Asking the author to buy a substantial number of her own books is another way of disguising the same issue. Do you want to spend your time selling books out of the trunk of your car?
3. Not all marketing is worthwhile. Most presses crow about doing plenty of "marketing." But what does that mean, exactly? Do they have a good website, prepare catalogs, and send emails to a mailing list of a few hundred industry people? That's nice, but it's the kind of effort that doesn't cost a lot of time or money . . . and doesn't result in significant sales. Do they send ARCs to all the important review outlets? (The SinC Summit team heard over and over that librarians and bookstores are flooded with promotional materials, so when ordering stock they tend to pay close attention to a few trusted publications: PW, Booklist, Library Journal and Kirkus.) If the press doesn't print ARCs, do they participate in NetGalley? Do they pay personal calls on distributors and bookstores to create relationships? If it's an e-book company, do they perform more marketing tasks besides posting on Facebook? Do they participate in online forums? Make your books available in formats that work for all devices? Do they do more than simply put your books up for sale and stand back to wait for the money to roll in?
4. Distribution requires trucks. If the books are printed on paper, does the press regularly place stock in distributor warehouses like those of Ingram and Baker & Taylor? Just making books available to distributors via a catalog isn't the same as actually stocking.
5. The details of distribution: Does the press offer books to distributors and booksellers at the standard industry discounts? Are the books returnable? Are the books priced about the same as other books of their type? If not, the press may be passing along its cash flow problems to booksellers.
6. Everybody needs an editor. Yes, even you. Does the press employ editors who edit your book for content as well as copy editing? Or must you hire a freelancer?
7. Contingency plans. If the company is owned and operated by one or two people, what is the secession plan? (In other words, what happens if the owner becomes incapacitated?)
Maybe you just want to see your words in print and none of these issues matter to you. But if you hope to make your living at writing some day, these are some things to consider. Can you think of more red flags? What other information might help a Sister in Crime make a wise choice?
Nancy Martin has been writing and publishing books since 1982. She has written nearly 50 pop fiction novels, including the Blackbird Sisters mystery series and the Roxy Abruzzo series. Her most recently released title is Sticky Fingers. Nancy serves on the board of Sisters in Crime and edits SinC Links.