On indie press: Richard Harland

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and are professionals in the field to write about their experiences. In today’s post, Richard Harland considers the differences between indie and pro publishing.

Most of my novels have been published by pro publishers (Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Scholastic, Allen & Unwin, plus Simon & Schuster and other overseas publishers for Worldshaker and Liberator), while most of my short stories have been published by indie publishers (in Australia, US, Canada and France). But The Vicar of Morbing Vyle and The Black Crusade were two novels that came out from indie publishers, Karl Evans and Chimaera; and I’ve had three stories that came out first in anthologies from HarperCollins, Penguin and Harper Voyager (as distinct from stories reprinted in pro anthologies). So I guess I’ve seen publishing from all sides—except one. I’ve been very very lucky with all my publishers and editors. I’ve heard some scary tales about high-handed, unsympathetic pro publishers, but I’ve never copped rough treatment myself. And I’ve heard scary tales about erratic, incompetent indie publishers, but I’ve escaped that too. Maybe there are differences that come out when things get ugly, but that’s outside my experience.

I guess the basic principle is that the more people pay you, the more you have to listen to them! Only my very biggest advance for a pro short story — novella, really — comes anywhere near my smallest advance for a pro novel, and that was for “The Heart of the Beast” in Tales from the Tower, Vol 1, published earlier this year by Allen & Unwin. And yes, in that case I did have to take in quite a few structural revision suggestions, as many as for my pro novels. But I’ve never encountered a pro editor who was unreasonable: suggestions are only suggestions, and while you’d be mad to turn them all down (for the good of your book, quite apart from the good of your future career), there’s always room for negotiation. American editors tend to be more blunt, Australian and British editors more
tactful, but nobody just lays down the law in my experience.

Indie publishers can sometimes be blunt, bull-in-a-china-shop blunt, but they’re not usually in a position to lay down the law. I think a good indie publisher tries to work with the writer; a pro publisher is more likely to say, we see a problem here, can you think of a way to deal with it?

I can’t remember a time when an indie publisher has said to me, this is great, but we can only publish if you make such-and-such major revisions. I guess that might be because my indie experience is mostly with short stories, and a short story either works or it doesn’t.

When it comes to copyediting and proofing, most indie editors really aren’t far behind most pro editors. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve found most indie editors very painstaking. Though nobody compares with the Americans — or at least Simon & Schuster in America — for sheer amount of care and trouble. Unbelievably thorough!

The worst thing about pro publication are the deadlines. Not so much the big first draft deadline as the little, later ones—for the various levels of revision to be completed, for checking, incidental material, etc etc. Everything is always needed by yesterday. I pride myself on never having missed a deadline, but hey, I can work all hours of the day only because I don’t have a second job.

The worst thing about indie publication — I suppose it’s the other side of the coin — is that publication schedules get changed and all sorts of unexpected things happen. I had one year when four magazines that had accepted my short stories all went down the gurgler, one after the other. I had almost nothing published that year. It’s nobody’s fault when publication gets postponed or axed altogether — it’s just the different conditions that indie publishers work under.

Actually, I wouldn’t blame any publisher, pro or indie, for anything—at least, not when I’ve had time to calm down and reflect! Indie publishers work for love—as an author, you just have to thank God they exist. For me, they’re my only means of getting SF and horror ideas out in the world. As for pro publishers, well, the people in the industry are there for love rather than money too, because no one in their right mind would put in so many hours of work for so little pay!

Richard Harland is the author of many fantasy, horror and science fiction novels, including Liberator, Worldshaker, the Eddon and Vail series, the Heaven and Earth trilogy, and the Wolf Kingdom quartet (winner of the Aurealis Award.) He lives in Australia. Visit him at richardharland.net.