Thursday, January 23, 2014

FAQ About Publishing: Small Press v. Indie

I haven't done a Q&A in a while, and I thought this time I'd focus on the "business of writing" questions I get asked. Often. Maybe I'll even eventually put some of this post over in my FAQ/About section, since these kinds of questions come up quite a lot. This is part one in a three-part series; the others will focus on the writing life, and then questions about craft and the nuts-and-bolts of the process.

1. How did you get your publishing deal?

First, let me say that my publishers are the greatest people ever. Somebody Up There was really watching over me the day they got in touch. It hasn't always been a bed of roses- nothing in this business ever is, and anyone who tells you differently is delusional or a liar- but they are made of solid awesome. They've gone from a very small operation to one that signs agented authors who have NYT bestsellers and big 6 deals under their belts. And they just sold subsidiary rights from eight of their authors in "a very nice deal" to Audible, a subsidiary of Amazon. And they're placing books in Barnes and Noble, too. On actual shelves. But most importantly, they're just really great people who care about their authors, and we CQ authors care about each other. That may sound Pollyanna, but that's been my experience. Really.

What's that, you say? Back up a minute. They got in touch? With you, and not the other way around? Um, yes, that's exactly what happened. The Angel's Edge books had been out for a bit, outperforming my wildest dreams, and I kind of didn't know where to go next. Most of us didn't, in those days. I was thinking about agents, and thinking about publishers, and thinking Indie, too. I posted a kind of rambling, where-do-I-want-to-go kind of blog post, and Lisa Gus of Curiosity Quills Press got in touch almost immediately. She loved my writing, she said, and had a fledgling publishing company- small, hybridized, innovative, with a lot of collaboration between authors and staff, and would I like to give it a shot? I'd been studying with Ann Crispin, co-founder of Writer Beware, who drilled caution into all her students like a boot-camp sergeant. So I asked a lot of questions. I mean, a lot. At one point, Eugene (one of the owners) spent at least five hours answering every question under the sun. I asked around and got no red flags, and when the contract came, I made sure to run it by Ann, who had said she would read it for me. Ann, who had been very anti e-publishing up until that point, didn't see any red flags, and actually signed with an e-press herself later that year. Her experience wasn't as positive as mine was, sorry to say. I've been with them for what? Three years? I currently have no Indie titles. Everything is signed with them.

2. Do you plan to publish any more Indie titles? What are some of the advantages of going with a small press?

I'm lumping these together because a lot of the answers are the same. I miss having Indie titles. As much as I love my publishers, I like having books that are wholly mine, and wholly under my control. Want to change the cover? Done. Want to run a sale, a contest, drop the price or raise it, put it in a box set with similar Indies, upload an entirely new version? Done. There is joy in logging into KDP and seeing in real time that I have readers in Japan and Germany. There is a real sense of community and camaraderie in the Indie community. And, let me be honest, the money is better, if you manage halfway decent sales. Which I did, as an Indie.

But. There are a lot of costs, and therefore risks, that you assume as an Indie. The market for Indie titles is way more saturated than when I started, and in many ways, it's a whole 'nother ball game. You have to find and pay for your own editor and proofreader, your own cover, your own PR. And you have to do this upfront, not knowing if you will recoup your money or not, let alone make a profit. I currently have teenagers and an eight month old, and I stay home with her, leaving us with one steady income and whatever I bring in. I'm not as poised to take risks as I once was. Then you have to market the sucker, and even though you would want do at least some of this even if you do go with a press, it's much less painful if a press has got your back. Publishers have more reach, too. You will almost certainly not get shelf space at national bookstore chains, or deals with Audible, tables at conferences, or space on Net Galley on your own, or at least not out of your own pocket. My publisher gives me these things, and more. But they're a really good publisher, and many are not. Be aggressive, ask questions, don't be afraid to negotiate, and ask to get in touch with other authors. Any press not open to these things is one I'd pass on.

To make a long answer short (too late!), I do plan on having Indie titles again. Not sure when or what they will be, but I like the experimentation and control that goes with it. And I definitely plan on sticking with CQ, and maybe other small presses, if they'll have me. And maybe I'll work with more than one. Who knows? A good, successful model for this hybrid approach is Jennifer Armentrout. She's been wildly successful, and has been with small presses, big ones, has had Indie titles, and somehow manages to make all this work with an agent. Plus she's funny. That's always a plus.

So this is all I can think of on the two or three most common "business" aspect of writing questions that I get. Hope it was helpful. Next mail call, I plan on addressing ways that I make writing work as a lifestyle- finding time to write, working with and around family, balancing work and family and writing, and that kind of thing. If anyone's got more questions, just drop me an email or a FB message, or leave a comment. Thanks!


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