I’ve written several posts about how we have to figure out our goals. Do we want to be famous? How can we prioritize fast, cheap, and good? How important are bookstores to us? I touch on the subject a lot because we can’t figure out the right publishing path for us until we know our goals.
Recently, I’ve had several conversations with friends about the pros and cons of epublishing/small presses versus self-publishing. (I’m not trying to leave the Big 5 traditional publishing out of the equation. However, these conversations were about what to do after traditional publishing is a no-go.)
I know how I’d decide for their circumstances, but I’m not them. My goals aren’t their goals. And that makes it impossible for me to give specific “here’s what to do” advice.
Research Takes Us Only So Far
Last year, my friend Susan Sipal shared her advice about finding a small press partner. One of the things she mentioned was checking out the publisher’s listing on the Absolute Write Water Cooler forums. And that’s a great tip, but in a place like that, we’re always going to find people saying negative things about a publisher.
I think I’ve heard bad things about every publisher out there. The simple fact is that no matter how good the company, not every customer (author) is going to be happy. With small presses, the smaller numbers involved can make every complaint more obvious. That’s good for knowledge, but bad for getting an overall impression.
Many small presses struggle with keeping good editors (affecting perceptions of their editing quality). They often also struggle with growing their sales and providing marketing support.
Some on forums like Absolute Write will say those problems make small presses unprofessional—or worse, a failure. And certainly some epublishers/small presses are nothing but trouble, with fraud and non-payment issues.
On the other hand, some small presses have been around long enough to grow past those issues. But when they first started, those now-successful small publishers struggled too. It takes time to build up any company.
Big or Small, Every Publisher Has Issues
Whether we’re considering a smaller or bigger publisher, we’re going to see both good editors and bad editors. The question comes down more to the quality of the editor we’d work with, and the company’s track record for being able to hold onto their good editors.
Sometimes, the chances of a small press being able to keep their good editors depend on sales. Publishers need sales to be able to pay their people, either with a decent-or-better salary or with sales percentages/commissions.
That brings us to the second common complaint about epublishers/small presses. Just like with editors, we’re going to see questionable marketing support with big and small publishers. Obviously, big publishers have more clout, but most of their authors are teeny fish in a very big pond. That clout often won’t go toward helping them as much as they’d hope.
At a small press, we can swim in a smaller pond. However, if a small publisher hasn’t made a name for themselves, they struggle to be heard just as much as their authors. No matter how good their marketing intentions, they simply don’t have the platform.
It takes time to build up a name brand reputation. And the only thing that’s going to build that reputation faster (in my opinion) is quality. Just like we say with building our author name brand, write a great book, write a second great book, etc. Or in the case of a epublisher/small press, release a great book, release a second great book, etc. Yet even with quality, it will still take time.
Some are willing to be patient or to get in on the ground floor of new opportunities, and some aren’t. No doubt there’s risk involved with many newer publishers.
What Do You Think Is Important?
So when I talk to people about their options with epublishing/small presses, I first ask them questions to help identify their goals. How important is…:
- Quality (overall reputation)?
- Name recognition (readers have heard of them)?
- An established publisher (already past growing pains)?
- Editorial support (good editing)?
- An attractive book cover?
- Sales figures (check out Brenda Hiatt’s listing)?
- Marketing support (promotions and publicity)?
- The size of their platform (programs to reach new readers)?
- Broadening readership (their platform reaches readers we can’t)?
- Being able to say you have a publisher (rather than self-publishing)?
- Being able to say you have a “name brand” publisher?
- Percentage of royalties?
- Control over pricing?
- Control over release dates?
- Quick release turn-around?
- Having print copies (digital only vs. digital first vs. print publishers)?
- Being in bookstores (some have full distribution, others don’t)?
How Goals Dictate Our Answers
Personally, I’d look first at quality and their plan to reach readers. If a small press isn’t high quality, how could they build up their name? Without the name, how will they have a platform to provide sales/marketing support?
But my goals dictate that attitude because—just like my thoughts about traditional publishers—I want to know what they could do for me over and above what I could do for myself by self-publishing. I want a publisher who will add value. That’s my goal.
Yet even knowing that, my goals vary for my different projects. My novella is more likely to end up with a epublisher/small press than my novels. Self-publishing requires upfront money that might not be balanced out by a novella’s lower sales price and traditional publishers don’t usually work with novellas, so my goals for that project are different by necessity.
For novels, I’d want the selling platform of any potential publisher to be significantly larger than mine (implying they could trigger more sales than I could on my own) to make up for the difference in royalties. But for novellas, maybe the savings in upfront costs would outweigh the royalty issue.
Likewise, others will come up with different answers because their goals are different. There’s nothing wrong with having different goals. If we don’t, maybe we haven’t thought through our choices well enough.
So while forums can be helpful in our research for learning about specific problems or complaints for publishers, forums shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of our decision process. Some commenters are sure to say that everyone dealing with such-and-such small press (or any small press, or self-publishing, etc.) is “doing it wrong.” And that’s simply not true.
Only we can know what path is right for us. And before we can decide on that path, we have to know our goals. The right path for us will help us meet our most important goals. No matter what anyone else says. *smile*
Have you seen negativity or bashing of a publishing path or company caused by the person’s attitude? What other questions help you decide what’s important? How do you form an overall impression of a publishing path or company? Under what circumstances would you choose a new/non-established epublisher or small press? Do your goals change from project to project?Pin It