On indie press: Patty Jansen

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Patty Jansen, whose stories have been finding homes with many indie publications, and who has recently started self-publishing some of her work.

New authors and indie press: a few thoughts on publishing venues

When Tehani asked me to write about my experiences with indie press, it occurred to me that the term ‘indie press’ is the most incorrectly-used and loaded in publishing at this point in time.

As far as I’m concerned, indie press means small press not associated with any of the big guns in publishing.

Indie – small – press in Australia is very healthy. Not only do small presses publish almost all Australian SFF short fiction, they also publish the majority of new writers before they make it big, and often continue to do so afterwards, with special collections and boutique editions and fun projects that aren’t commercial enough for the big guys. I’ve sold a number of stories to Aussie small presses, most of them to Russell Farr at Ticonderoga Publications. Australian and overseas indie presses gave me my first sales.

Lately, the term indie press has become a euphemism for self-publishing as a way for an author to say that they’ve self-published without saying so. What are those authors afraid of, really? Do they want to sound bigger than they are? I will say it out loud: my name is Patty Jansen. I have self-published. OK, that wasn’t so hard. Where is the stigma?

The pro market for SFF in Australia is miniscule. If you write short fiction, you will need to go overseas for the vast majority of submissions at this level. Ditto if you write Science Fiction novels. I’ve sold enough short fiction at pro level to be a full member of SFWA, but none of it in Australia. When you submit at this level, you’re competing with many, many people and your chances are small, even when you’re an established writer.

I mention these three avenues – small press, major press and self-publishing – because I think they’re all valuable tools in a new author’s toolbox. Much as you may dislike the marketing lingo, the words audience and platform are mere synonyms for readers. Which sensible writer would willingly ignore opportunities to get more readers?

People who primarily buy their mass-published books at brick-and-mortar bookshops are different from those who will buy many of their, small press, books at cons or mail order them from the small press’ website, and both of those groups are very different from people who buy most of their books as ebooks. Like a Venn diagram, there are overlaps, but each group reaches into demographics the other groups don’t.

Small press in Australia is uniquely excellent. Small press can give you a leg-up or can give life to projects no one else wanted to tackle. Small press wins awards. Good small presses aren’t grabbers of rights. You may sell print or e-rights only, or rights revert back to you after a certain period. Small press often puts out books that are really beautiful, crafted with love and not conforming to a single publisher’s template.

My experiences with small presses worldwide have been mixed. For an author, it is definitely a try before you buy situation. Small presses are often run by single individuals and, being human, they overcommit, get sick, develop a severe hatred for accounting and lose enthusiasm. They don’t tend to warn their authors if this is going to happen. They may be skilled in certain areas and not-so-skilled in others. They may be simply too busy to give your work enough attention. Or they may be wonderful and do none of these things.

There are a lot of overseas e-presses springing up, and while as new author it may feel good to say I’ve been published by so-and-so-[never heard of]-press, it definitely pays to do some legwork and check out the press’ editing and marketing efforts. You probably won’t be the first person asked to sign a crap contract asking for rights the minuscule press will never use, for a crap return, with crap marketing and no efforts from the publisher to get reviews. And that is if the press honours all its commitments and actually publishes your material. I suspect that in some cases you’d be better off publishing the manuscript yourself.

Apart from the fact that self-publishing is a great way to keep out-of-print material available, and that it’s simply a lot of fun if you like the hands-on approach, I have discovered that the greatest advantage of self-publishing is the ability to give stuff away in formats that, with a bit of effort, resemble professionally published ebooks. You can do this for promotion or fun or whatever reason. Industry people can – and do – check out these give-aways. The chance that anything self-published will make it big is probably the same as landing a major publishing contract, but an upcoming author no longer risks damage to a future career by self-publishing. It is all about–and I’ll use another hated marketing term–exposure. In other words: readers.

Patty Jansen is a writer of hard Science Fiction and daft fantasy.  Find information about her fiction and the science behind her stories at http://pattyjansen.com/  She is currently giving away free e-copies of her collection Out of Here, which contains short stories which have been published in various small presses. Patty is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and her story “This Peaceful State of War” won the second 2010 quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest, for which she recently attended the annual workshop in LA. She has also published in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and Redstone SF. In Australia, she has most recently published in Dead Red Heart, Midnight Echo, Belong and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. While she continues to seek traditional venues for her short stories (watch this space), she has temporarily abandoned the agent search in favour of self-publishing novels, because it is a heck of a lot more fun.