Major publishing houses are responsible for producing most of today’s published works. Unfortunately for most writers, these companies do not always substantiate themselves as the best route to publish one’s writing. Authors are discovering that these large publishing houses cannot offer them the benefits they were expecting, and have sought out alternate ways to publish their works. Two alternative ways to publish in which writers are finding success include self-publishing and publishing through a small press. This article will explore these two alternatives, and also the situations in which they work best for an author, along with excellent references for each.
Self-publishing itself has been around for ages. Its practice was used all over the world until the twentieth-century, when according to Cyndee DuHadaway, “large publishing houses consolidated the elements of editing, layout, printing, marketing, distribution, and capital.”
Some of America’s best known authors got their start by publishing their own first works. Benjamin Franklin self-published his first piece of writing, called The Lighthouse Tragedy, to people walking around Boston in the afternoons. According to The Literature Network, Stephen Crane also self-published his first book, Maggie: A Girl Of The Streets, in 1893; paving the way for his most famous novel, The Red Badge of Courage, in 1895. After hearing the stories of these great writers, any writer should feel empowered to publish his or her own book.
In The Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book, Dan Poynter takes the reader on a journey through the self-publishing world. The realm of self-publishing spreads out larger than it may seem, and contains many aspects. As a self-published author with years of publishing house experience, Mr. Poynter brings a wealth of experience to the advice he gives aspiring self-publishers in this manual. This book makes an excellent reference for any person interested in writing and self-publishing a book.
Mr. Poynter ascertains to aspiring and experienced writers alike that publishing lies within the grasp of anyone who has the motivation. He also establishes that self-publishing a book can be a feasible goal, as he published this book himself. Although Mr. Poynter’s book encapsulates only self-publishing specifically, he does a remarkable job showing a brief overview of all sides of the spectrum. In the chapter entitled “Your Publishing Options: Why You Should Consider Self-Publishing,” the author presents big publishing firms, medium-sized specialized publishers, subsidy publishers, literary agents, and self-publishing as options for a prospective author. This chapter demonstrates Mr. Poynter’s research and knowledge on the topic of his book, and also showcases his ability to write some material helpful to all prospective authors, not just those interested in self-publishing. The research Mr. Poynter has completed on various types of publishing makes his ideas credible, and potential authors have more confidence in his advice.
For those writers whose interest he has peaked, the remaining eleven chapters of The Self-Publishing Manual do not disappoint. The necessary information has been shaped into categories newcomers could easily follow. The book provides information on every possible topic fathomable to self-publishing, leaving readers confident that they will be able to conquer any problem or step they may encounter along the way. Potentially ignored topics of self-publishing include: typesetting, book production materials, getting listed as an author or publisher, pricing your book, “Making the Public Aware of Your Book Without Spending for Advertising” (159), and even what to do as an author after your book has been published. Mr. Poynter has managed to capture everything an aspiring self-publisher needs to know about self-publishing in a compact, easy-to-follow book.
There are downsides to completely self-publishing your own book. As an alternative to a publishing house, sometimes self publishing becomes just as expensive a way to get your book on someone else’s bookshelf. Unless you are confident that your book’s topic will sell well, you may be not be able to make enough profit to cover expenses, or you may not want to print as many copies of your book as the printer requires. Beth Bakkum’s article entitled “A New Way to Self Publish,” deals with an alternative way to publish in the self publishing industry, which attests a much more cost-effective way that better fits different types of writers than simply publishing a book entirely on their own.
Bakkum finds cost-efficient self-publishing in BooksByBookends, a small “mom and pops” version of a self publishing company. BooksByBookends has stepped in to fill the void between the publishing house and large self publishing companies. By offering affordable prices and smaller orders, this new company keeps a healthy clientele.
BooksByBookends customers can purchase ten of their own books for $175, a feat unsurpassed by larger publishing industries. Rates drop for repeat customers as well, so BooksByBookends can enjoy continued business with satisfied customers. First time writers may find this much more appealing, because they most likely won’t be left with a stack of unsold books, making it much easier to turn a higher profit from the sale.
Who are these services right for? Writers who want to publish a novel for the first time are prime candidates for the services of small companies like BooksByBookends. Other candidates include writers whose books have been deemed a “nonseller” by other publishing companies. Even families who wish to publish such sentimental items as cookbooks can find what they want at BooksByBookends. This company in particular was founded so that self-publishers could have their needs met: “There is nothing like seeing someone hold their book in their hands for the first time. We’re making dreams come true,” says Timothy Harper, founder of BooksByBookends.
A middle ground between a large publishing conglomerate and a writer self-publishing his or her own book would be to publish the book through an independent publisher. If this becomes the route a writer chooses to publish his or her book, the writer will find that this route does offer many advantages, and justifies itself as to be the very happy medium for writers in the publishing world.
There are many reasons to consider an independent publisher. Maybe you’re a first time novelist who has already pitched your book idea to the major publishing house of your choice, and have since discovered your sealed fate, as no other publishing house seems to be interested in your book either. But you’ve never tried an independent publisher, and when you do, your book soon finds itself in print. Maybe you’ve gone the large publishing house route and have been unhappy with creative or marketing decisions made by the editorial team. If you as a writer fit into either of those categories, independent publishers are worth looking into.
There are three main areas of benefit that a writer may obtain from publishing his or her work with an independent publisher. These areas of benefit include creative control, independent spirit, and personal attention.
Creative control deals with the authority a person has involving judgments about his or her texts. Jordan Rosenfield talks about the idea of the “commercial” and its role in major publishing houses in his article entitled “Think Small and Prosper.” Rosenfield follows the account of Terri Brown-Davidson, a writer whose book was deemed too “literary” by major publishing houses and agents, meaning the book was thought of as having no selling potential. Instead of either rewriting her book to what Davidson considered to be “the publishing house’s lowered standards” or giving up after these failed attempts at publication, Ms. Brown-Davidson decided to try a different route for her novel (entitled Maria, Maria, Hold On Tight). She sent her manuscript to smaller presses, with impressive results. A small independent publisher in California, Lit Pot Press, agreed to publish the book. Ms. Brown-Davidson stands by her decision to publish with a small press. She continually receives positive reviews for the book, and didn’t have to sacrifice the original plot of the book to make it more “commercial.” Ms. Brown-Davidson became an essential part of the publishing process, as her input was not just allowed at Lit Pot Press, but welcomed. Had she been able to publish at a larger house, she would not have been able to have so much say in this process. Ms. Brown-Davidson finds another advantage to her situation: “It looks like I’ll even make money.”
Independent spirit involves whether or not a publisher wills to take a gamble on a book or manuscript idea. This exemplifies another area where it pays to have a small publisher, because smaller houses are more likely to print unique novels, or a more specialized literary topic, and any book requiring a specialized audience. Large publishing companies tend to prefer books that relate to a mass audience, so if an author’s book aligns with a special audience, they should choose the small press route. Larger publishing houses lose much originality by taking the “middle of the road” approach, because seeking books that appeal to a general audience doesn’t always work out, as the public likes a good intrigue as well. Because larger publishing houses are looking for material they can sell, and small companies are keeping their eyes open for this fresh new talent and exciting new topics, the smaller companies are holding their own. Larger companies are heading straight for the “big” books, because books that are accessible to the general public can easily turn a profit. Unfortunately, larger houses are losing profitable books in this way, while smaller companies are continuing to print them. Smaller publishing companies have better access to little-known markets than larger companies do, and have been reaping the benefits of this knowledge.
Scott Walker, the founder, editorial director, and publisher of Graywolf Press, poses a few questions to readers at the beginning of his essay “Editing for a Small Press: Publishing the Way It Used to Be.” The questions are: “When should an author seek to be published by a small press, rather than a large one? What can a small press offer a writer that a huge one can’t?” His article aims to explain to readers why small presses might be a better option for authors than large publishing houses.
Mr. Walker states a few situations in which a small press would be better for authors than larger publishing house. “Ten or even five years ago, the small press might have been the last resort for some authors; now it is the first and best option,” he says (260-61). The situations Mr. Walker describes elaborate on some complaints authors have had about large publishing houses in the past. If they publish with a small press, authors can be assured of more personal attention, the ability to better reach their audience, and a long shelf life for their book(s).
Authors are concerned that if they publish with a large company, their book will be “lost on a massive list, in which only three or four command most of the publisher’s attention.” Walker states that small presses have no ranked list of books, therefore a book in the publishing process cannot be ignored: “To a smaller house, all of its books are equally important, every title must sell well” (261). Because every book remains so important, smaller houses are unlikely to concentrate their efforts on a single “potential best-seller,” or to even concentrate on one area of the book market, as “the small publisher will chase down every nook and cranny of a book’s potential audience, because it must” (261).
The final reason why small publishing companies are better suited for serious writers stems from the personal attention given to each writer during the publishing process. Editors and publishers at large houses tend to handle many clients and change jobs or projects quickly, and are known for not keeping in close contact with their assigned authors. A large company may have many employees, but they also have many clients, and as a result cannot spend much time on each of these clients. Smaller presses have few employees and a smaller list of clients, but with their emphasis on literary quality over sales, they allow themselves to spend most of their time working with their authors to ensure that both the author and the publisher are happy. If authors would rather have a more “nurturing, ongoing relationship” with their editor (who sometimes may also be the publisher at a small house), they should choose a small press. Editors at small presses value every book they publish and tend to keep very close touch with their authors to ensure that every aspect of the process continues to be satisfactory to both the press and the author. Ms. Brown-Davidson received much more personal attention at Lit Pot Press than she would have at a larger house.
An advantage to publishing at a small press that authors don’t often think of lies in the long-term marketing of the book. Not only will a small press market a book furiously when it first comes out, the press will also continue to print the book over a long period of time. Editors and publishers of small presses know that sometimes books don’t reach their intended audience in the first year they appear on booksellers’ shelves. Small presses have enough faith in the books they choose to publish that they will print and market them for a few years. Larger houses will stop printing the book in one year if sales are unsatisfactory, and therefore miss out on the late sales booms that small presses have. Mr. Walker uses the example of North Point Press’ faith in Beryl Markham’s West with the Night, a book that reached the bestseller list-seven years after publication (264). North Point Press recognized the book’s potential, and kept the book in print until they felt its potential was reached.
Rosenfield and Walker are firm believers in choosing a small press over a larger one for many reasons. If authors are concerned that their book will be “lost”on the long list of books being published at a larger house, they should take their book to a press where their book is made a priority. If the author’s book reaches a specific audience, they should take the book to a company where those audiences are cherished instead of ignored. If authors are afraid of having their books go out of print after being available to the public for only a year, they should choose a publisher that will truly offer their books a chance to sell. If authors would rather have a close relationship with their editors and publishers, they need to find a place where every individual author becomes recognized as valuable. In any of these cases, authors will find what they want and need within the walls of a small publishing company.