I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and are professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today, Angela Slatter shares some tips.
Let me start out by saying that over the past six years I’ve worked with and encountered a lot of small and indie presses, both in the Land of Oz and overseas. So, this is not directed at anyone in particular – although if you happen to recognise yourself in any of this … well, maybe consider pulling your socks up … or pat yourself on the back, as the case may be.
I’ve had good experiences and I’ve had bad experiences and I think the most useful thing I can do is outline some traps for young players. Even though I no longer work for a writers centre, I still have a burning proselytising zeal to make people understand that an informed writer is a responsible writer and vice versa. So, I give you information; convert it to knowledge and use it wisely.
The good stuff about small/indie press? This has included:
- fast turnaround times
- lovely interactions with people who are not faceless drones in a giant corporation
- the chance to have a lot more input on the appearance of my books than I would otherwise have had with a big publisher
- I’ve made friends
- Small/indie press is the home of the anthology!
- in the case of my two short story collections, I have two books that are beautiful and of which I am very proud.
One really good reason why the small/indie* publisher is a good place for a newbie author to start is that they will take the short story collections that the big publishers won’t unless your name is Miéville. Big publishers have an economic imperative – they need to make money and experience has shown that no-name authors with short story collections very seldom make money (at least not for trade publishers). I’m sorry it’s true – deal with it. No one gets to buy their beers with artistic credit.
A small/indie press is most likely run as someone’s night job – it’s a matter of passion rather than economics. So, there’s a good chance that a small/indie press will be more willing to take a chance on you than one of the mega-publishers.
Here’s another thought: in the current economic climate where the biggies are having trouble (a) making their business pay and (b) coming to terms with the ebook threat (cue dah-dah-dah music, attach twirly waxed moustache to ebook), the savvy small/indie publisher can find a warm cosy home with a fireplace, two wing-back chairs and several tortoise-shell cats purring loudly.
These are the highlights, things to be aware of, not an exhaustive list.
A book is a product. It is designed to be sold. It should look like something for which someone will willingly part with their hard-earned cash. There are still some small/indie presses who don’t get this. A book from a small/indie press should look no different to one produced by a trade publisher. No different.
It should not look self-published. It shouldn’t have tacky stock images on the cover with the world’s ugliest font over the top. The binding should not be wonky, the margins and spacing should look exactly like those in a book from Hachette or HarperCollins. The book should be proofread professionally – “infelicities” in the text must be taken care of – and if an author supplies a list of amendments to make because they’ve found spelling mistakes, then please, please, please for everyone’s sake, those changes should be made.
And a publisher should never, repeat NEVER, add typos in.
Small/indie presses don’t, by their very nature, have access to large sales and marketing departments, so you – I mean you ‘the writer’ and you ‘the publisher’ – need to work with what you’ve got. That’s pretty much word of mouth, social media, networking, launches and sales at cons, and your author’s efforts. Unless you want the book to sell to no one other than your mum, your author’s mum and your collective mates, then learn to market. Know how to write a press release. Work out what social networking channels can be of use to you – but please don’t blanket email everyone in the entire world to buy the book. (Can you say ‘alienating the marketplace’?)
Marketing doesn’t just happen. Authors and publishers need to take responsibility for the promotion and sale of the book. Authors, be prepared to do readings, interviews and appearances – and be prepared to organise a lot of these yourself. Even if you’re with a big publisher you’re probably not going to get a book tour. But you can do things to promote yourself and your book.
Publishers, if you’ve got a motivated, smart, talented, highly presentable author who is willing to go and do interviews, blog regularly, make appearances and basically pimp themselves out to promote their book then, FFS, take advantage of this situation. Thank all the gods, dark, light and plaid, that you have someone who is doing some of the hard yards and, here is the important bit, HELP THEM OUT. Make sure books are available if needed; send review copies to the places that can do the most good (yes, postage costs are an issue, so think carefully about a targeted rather than scatter-gun campaign); send the books to awards and competitions in a timely manner. Why is this under the Bad section? Because a lot of small/indie presses fall down here because they refuse to understand that the days of the Gentleman/Gentlewoman Publisher, when one did not stoop to anything as vulgar as marketing, are over. This may be your passion, but if you don’t run it like a business your passion will bite you on the arse.
Professional behaviour goes both ways and I’ve seen bad behaviour from authors and publishers. Small/indie press needs to be a collaboration betwixt author and publisher – it’s the only way it works properly. Why am I mentioning the below? Because it’s happened; all of it.
Authors: any time you feel a need to say ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ bite your tongue – go and sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done. You don’t get to demand cartons of Perrier or freshly peeled strawberries to be eaten off the stomachs of virgins. If you use the word ‘artist/e’ then go back into the corner and hang your head until I tell you to come out.
Publishers: do not stress your authors out by telling them ‘Maybe the books will make it, maybe they won’t’ a week before a book launch. Pay advances and royalties on time. Don’t try to “keep your authors in line” by belittling them. If you say you’re going to do something, fucking well do it.
Be a professional: if you want to stay afloat, if you want your business to grow, then behave like a professional.
Beware of the publisher who is a frustrated writer – this person will try to rewrite your story into the story s/he would have written if only s/he could write. Or they will tell you the story is great – but just add another 1500 words to it and change the ending a bit. In this case, run, run far away from this small/indie publisher.
In this arena, everyone gets to see everyone else’s psychoses. This is close quarters, baby! The thing is, your psychoses, your publisher’s psychoses, should not interfere with the business at hand: publishing books.
You may be a noob but there’s no need to get pwnd
If you want to try the small/indie press scene, here are some tips:
Who else do they publish?
If you’re thinking of approaching or have been approached by a small/indie publisher (or indeed a big one), then do some research. Who do they publish already? Check the internet; look at their site. Do you recognise any names? Do you fit in this list? Are you targeting them properly? Are they targeting you properly? Do your research.
What experiences have other authors had with this particular publisher? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Keep in mind the sanity levels of the person you’re asking, of course, and take everything with a grain of salt. However, if five out of five authors say ‘Worst experience of my life, haven’t been paid a thing, the book was pulped and the publisher ran over my cat’, then thinking to yourself ‘Oh that won’t happen to me’ is probably a sign you deserve everything you get. Be wary!
How do their books look?
Look on the website and go into bookstores – what do this publisher’s books look like? Indistinguishable from a trade publisher’s product? Thumbs up! Indistinguishable from a Grade 5 art project? Thumbs down.
In conclusion, Watson
You will not become rich with small/indie press, but it can be a great starting point in your career. And the small/indie press is not hurt by having been the first home of an author who goes on to win awards and makes deals with big publishing houses. So, publishers, try to stay on good terms with all your authors (professional behaviour again!). They may remember you kindly, and in later years you may ask them for a story and they may say ‘Sure!’ and having their story in your anthology may well increase your sales, and help keep your press going along. Better that than for them to say ‘No, screw you. You inserted typos into my MS, you did no promotional work whatsoever, sent no books to reviewers/awards – I still haven’t seen a payment from you and am beginning to wonder if you did indeed publish my book!’
At the moment, the small/indie press is a hub of activity in Australia. It’s picking up the stuff the trade publishers are ignoring. The books are getting better and better as products, both in terms of content and appearance. The pond is small and I would like to see Australian small/indie presses working together to take over the world rather than just fighting amongst themselves over the small market we have here. If ever there was a portable genre, it’s spec-fic. We are stronger if we stand together.
I’m just saying.
* Gods help me, I just want to write ‘smindie’.