Monday, July 6, 2009

Publishing with a Small Press

I knew fairly early on after completing my novel that I wanted to publish with a small press. I'd run the gauntlet of submitting to major publishing houses before and, having some idea of the massive slushpiles and phenomenally long response times, didn't feel up to the task this time around. Agents, of course, are another route, but the first agent I queried (a big name in the speculative fiction markets) said that he thought the world in which my book took place was too unbelievable. Worrying that other agents might feel the same way, I began to seriously consider an alternative.

The obvious place to begin looking for a small press was the Internet. The first thing I discovered is that there are a lot of small presses! Some of these I immediately rejected because they weren't very established: their author lists were quite short and their name recognition seemed to stretch only as far as the boundaries of their web page. Others didn't print speculative fiction. When I came across Mundania, however, I found that it met all my criteria. It had a history of publication with many authors, it was well rated on the writing advocate websites I checked, and its authors produce quality, award-winning work. After researching the company, I knew I'd found a place to submit.

Not that submitting to a small press is a sure-fire guarantee that an author will be published. Like the major houses, small houses like Mundania receive a significant amount of queries. And the numbers of submissions keeps increasing. Right now, Mundania estimates that it only accept one query in five-hundred. Anyone assuming that a small press does not have high standards and therefore will publish anything is wrong. When I received an e-mail from the publisher letting me know that my novel had been accepted, I was thrilled. I knew that I'd accomplished something major.

Since then, my experiences have been very positive, and I like that I've been able to cut my publishing teeth with a small press. The editors are very easy to work with and the publishers work hard to keep their writers happy. There is ample opportunity to network with other Mundania authors. I've been able to give input into such things as my cover art and am allowed to ask questions and offer opinions. Perhaps most importantly, there have not been major turnovers in staff and therefore I have not been passed around to people who aren't familiar with my work.

I am finding, however, that there are stigmas against publishing with a small press. Some people seem to think that "small press" and "vanity press" are the same thing. This is not true. Mundania passes the vanity press litmus test with flying colors. That is, they pay me for my work; I do not pay them. And although I was not given an advance, my royalty percentages are the same as those given to authors at larger houses. In fact, Mundania's royalties on e-books are significantly greater than those offered by large publishing houses.

Another difference between larger houses and a small press is exposure. This seems to be a sticking point for some people who think that, because a small press author is expected to promote her books, she is somehow being taken advantage of by the publisher. However, authors in larger houses - especially new authors - are expected to do this as well. Bookstore signings, speaking engagements, public appearances, maintaining an author website and blog are all tools that all authors must to use if they want to promote their books and boost sales.
For writers who are unsure of whether or not to try a small press, I would highly recommend it but with a caveat. Do your research to make sure that the publishers you are interested in are reputable. Check their booklists and publishing records. Definitely read a few of the novels they have published. Finally, realize that you will be responsible for promoting your work. But if you are willing to put in this effort, a small press may be just what you're looking for.


alan said...

If Mundania is a gem for the 'newbie' author, of which I am one, then why are they only open for 4 months of the year to unsolicited submissions?
I will certainly give them a try, but not until September it seems. Oh well, at least they are approachable. I don't mean to be confrontational, your advice is good and I will definitely look into it.
Congratulations on your success, I assume you are reveling in the moment; I would. Any tips on other small presses willing to take a look at newcomers. By the way I may be a newbie, but I'm in my fifties, got a couple of Earth-bound, alien contact kind of books completed.

Elle Scott said...

Good for you!! I consider myself a newbie, too, in many regards. There's so much to learn from the writing business, isn't there?

The practice of having a reading period for submissions isn't unusual. Many publishers, especially magazines, have begun using this as a way to control the amount of submissions they receive.

One of the best things about Mundania is that an author does not need an agent in order to submit. There are still some markets out there who do not require an agent, but they are few and far between.

Best of luck to you and your novels! And thanks for reading my blog : )

Jessica said...

Hi Elle,
Very informative post. Thank you! I agree, there are definitely reputable small presses that can work very well for an author. Congrats on selling your book!
And thank you for stopping by my blog today. :-)

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Congratulations on having your book published! And thanks for the information on this small publisher as well:)

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