Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Publish With An E-pub Publisher?

Like most writers, I started out aiming for the “big time”. That meant the New York based publishers. Like all newly minted writers, I wanted to see my book on the shelves. Like most of those starting out, I bought into the fantasy of expectations and presumptions that comprise traditional publishing. First, that it really wasn’t “that hard” to get into. Second on this list was that anyone who could write well had a shot.

There was also the unspoken third assumption – if New York’s publishers won’t take you, then you are not worthy.

What I didn’t know was the truth, although common sense about supply and demand ought to have kicked in. Most good writers don’t get in. Piers Anthony on his website puts the figure at one in one-hundred. Tom Doherty told me (met him at a local convention) a few years back that TOR was taking ZERO new authors that year and maybe one the next. When I had a chance encounter with him in Calgary last year at another convention, he simply said that things had only gotten worse in the industry.

The collapse of mid-lists is old news. A few imprints of the few actual publishers left in New York are not even taking on new talent this year. They are, however, reducing staff. Sure, there are authors I have met who still claim that it is easy to be published – but my own experience and the roar of so many other less fortunate authors tends to drown these voices out in my ear.

So where do these other authors go?

Enter the “Indies”. These are primarily the e-book/digital print folks. Unlike the large publishers, they are not hobbled by book returns and limited shelf space. This is a place where the editors still call the shots, not a marketing staff looking for the next Big Thing. Their industry is actually growing during a time where the major publishers are, as of this writing, losing market share and even collapsing. Or, to cut to the chase, this is a market that is still open to new writers and concepts. You rarely need agents. Response times to queries are often measured in weeks instead of months – or years. They also do not ask for printed manuscripts. Email – what a concept. There is no limit to shelf space, as your work will be presented through online bookstores.

Still, we are not talking the Promised Land here. One of the problems with these small presses is that they take very little overhead to get started. This can lead to scammers, publishers without a clue or business plan, and books on the market that show evidence of little or no actual editing. It is up to you to carefully select a publisher that is both financially sound and putting out good quality books. Hit their sites. Look for authors who have garnered awards – such as the EPPIE. Sterling reviews help as well. In other words, do your research. The Preditors & Editors website can help you sort the good from the bad, as can heading out to the Fictionwise Publisher List They only list proven publishers. Finally, check out their site for evidence that they carry a staff of editors and graphics artists. A small press should be organized the same as a large one – albeit on a smaller scale.

Once you have selected a publisher to submit to, make certain that you follow their submission guidelines to the letter. Assuming, of course, they are taking submissions. Smaller outfits can only deal with so many requests, and often close their doors periodically. You can expect to face a 92% or more rejection rate. This is not the publisher turning away good writers – this is the publisher turning away writers who are not ready yet, but were attracted by what they wrongly assume is an “easy” market. If the publisher is any good, trust me, they won’t be easy.

A word about prestige. You can often get on convention panels as a guest writer. Do book signings, and have folks gush over your work. You will also run into a lot of snobbery from the New York industry. Those folks are hell-bent to remain exclusively New York. From the editors, agents, trade magazines, and even unfortunately to the associated writing guilds, this industry surrounds itself with a moat of hogwash designed to defend their turf against the barbarian hordes. So, don’t set your expectations too high with this crowd. Sharpen your axe, and gaze patiently toward Rome.

A word about money. Don’t quit your day job after landing a contract with an Indie. With folks like Amazon and Fictionwise taking their cut, you won’t be getting bushels of money. Considering that few authors with traditional houses can live on their incomes, you are not in that bad a situation. At least you will get royalties, and some recognition. Just remember one thing. Money always flows TO you. Period. No exceptions. None. A publisher asks you for even one red cent then you need to run away from them. There is a wolf’s tail wagging beneath all that wool.

A word about promotion. You won’t be in the bookstores unless your publisher has made arrangements to list themselves or/and you can sweet talk a manager into some shelf space. Your world starts and ends with .com for the most part. You will have to promote your fool head off just the same. Author’s website. Reviews when you can land them. Forums. Conventions (great place to sell your trade paperbacks). If you don’t promote, they don’t buy. It is as simple as that.

Welcome to the Indies.

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