Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Right Small Press

I'll confess. I'm on the hunt for the right "small press." Yes, even with the advent of Self-Publishing I'm still interested in a business relationship with a good publisher.

If you can't go big, why not go it alone? 

It's hard to believe, but I don't know it all. Fortunately, there are professionals out there who spend their days drenched in information and applications I don't have the time (or overwhelming desire) to learn. By partnering with them, I can focus on the stories and they can focus on getting those stories into the hands of readers.


I'm not going to sign with just any publisher -- big or small. As the "talent" origin of the product life-cycle, I have expectations. Most are reasonable. All separate putting a book on the market myself versus partnering with a one-stop-shop known as a publisher. Naturally, there are the common sense requirements that sort the imposters from the publishers (no, I will not pay you to publish my book; no, those rights are mine; etc.). I'm not going to dwell on those. Assuming the publisher is reputable, here are the Top 5 Things I expect a publisher of any size to bring to the table:

  1. High Quality Edits -- Content & Copy: Note that I refer to the tasks not the titles here. It is an important distinction because "Editors" have now become "Project Managers." Their primary task is no longer "quality control" or "talent management"; however, the need for a third-party to edit a story hasn't diminished within the industry. I'm not the sort of artist who needs coddling, but I absolutely expect my partner(s) in editing to prevent my story from reading like shit.
  2. Market Familiarity: I know enough about my target audience to understand they are a niche group. Do I know where they shop? Do I know their purchasing habits? Do I know which product designs encourage purchases? Can I anticipate their buying behavior based on region, income, or method of delivery? Hell no. Do I know which competitive products are being released, when, with what level of promotion, and under which title? Nay, nay. Do I expect my partners in marketing to be able to cough up this info faster than their shoe-size? Yep, and they'd better apply that knowledge to the product we are putting on the market.
  3. Sales & Distribution: What exactly is being sold to whom, where, how? E-book only? PoD? Hardback? Trade Paper? A mix thereof? Are sales direct to consumers or are retailers involved? What about buying clubs and bulk retailers? Domestic sales only? Is bundling possible? What about pricing? Any party owning the appropriate rights can slap a listing up on the leading US retailer of books, pay the fee, and sell a digital product. I'm partnering with a business, so I expect more avenues of distribution. Frankly, I want more than one format of the product too. Don't get me wrong, I don't expect to be involved in their sales and distribution plans; however, I need to know enough about them to know that they have distribution network.
  4. Reporting & Payments: I know, I know. P&Ls are the most mind-boggling business flaw of the Big Publishing Houses. How can a producer of a consumer good not know how many units they've moved at what price in what time period? Digital-first publishers have set new expectations among the talent pool because they have this information at their fingertips. Having this information means authors get paid more often and more consistently. Yes, I do expect to be paid without having to retain a lawyer or a temple-dog to hunt down the payment. Yes, I do expect a smaller press to be more nimble and on the ball when it comes to numbers and their P&L.
  5. Rights Protection: If some snerg pirates or plagiarizes my work, I expect the publisher's legal department to go after them with full fang and claw. I also expect the publisher to protect their interests (some of which overlap with mine, some of which conflict) in the face of technology developments (Google Books, e-books, Agency Pricing, etc.).
Not having first-hand experience with either a big publisher or a small press, I rely on word-of-mouth and research to estimate the advantages and disadvantages of each. At the moment, the best business decision for me is to tap the expertise of those who have a strong incentive to help me succeed. The fewer people who have a share in my success, the more accountable each of them is. This, to me, is the underlying advantage of a small press.

What about you, dear reader? What advantages or disadvantages do you see in publishing with a small press?


  1. Considering starting a "rent-a-temple-dog" service now...

    Really great post!

    1. I suppose it would be "temple-cat" in your case, eh?