Guest writer Anne Goodwin shares her top tips and advice for writers considering publishing with a small press…
A first-time novelist with her feet on the ground will recognise when her novel might be insufficiently mainstream to attract an agent and big-name publisher. Unfortunately, I began submitting my novel, Sugar and Snails, with my feet high in the clouds. I could have saved myself a lot of time and disappointment if, like Sarah Armstrong, author of The Insect Rosary, I’d realised my novel was more suited to publication with a small independent press.
Publishing with a relatively unknown independent press feels akin to riding a mule: a peculiar hybrid of large-scale commercial and self-publishing. With no big name or budget to attract your readers while siphoning off a large percentage of potential profits, small press publishing might seem a beast that gives the author of the worst of both worlds. However, with greater author involvement, from the exact date of publication to the design of the cover, no financial outlay and the security of someone to hold your hand as you send your pride and joy out into the world, small-press publication could turn out to be your best option. Given that my novel is about a woman who, as a child, wanted it both ways, this cross between donkey and horse has certainly proved a good place for me.
A small press needn’t be second best. Even Booker prize shortlisted authors, such as Alison Moore, are happy to stay with an independent press. A small press can prove more loyal to authors than a large commercial conglomerate which, as Jane Rogers discovered a couple of years ago, can blithely drop even prize-winning mid-list novelists from their lists. Independent publishers are also popular with some readers, producing, as former bookseller and blogger Susan Osborne says, books that are little out of the mainstream rather than staying on the bandwagon for rather too long.
But, as an author, it’s no bad thing to be cautious. With the rise of e-books and print-on-demand technology, almost anyone can set themselves up as a publisher. How can you be sure yours isn’t out to exploit you? As Teika Bellamy, founder of Mother’s Milk Books told me, It’s all about the relationship! If you receive an offer from a small press you’d hitherto never heard of, there are four things you can do to increase your chances of forging a relationship that works for you.
Learn about alternative publishing options.
Understanding the mechanics of self-publishing not only provides a possible retreat if a publishing relationship turns sour, but it demystifies the publishing process, showing you exactly what your publisher should be doing on your behalf.
Check out your publisher.
Explore the website; find out how they market their books; pay attention to price. An overly expensive book can’t compete against more modestly-priced books by better-known authors or publishers, but a book that’s too cheap is also disadvantaged in the marketplace.
Scrutinise copies of their previous publications for the quality of the editing; production standards; cover; blurb. Would you want your words packaged this way and how far is your publisher prepared to be flexible if you don’t? Don’t be afraid to ask questions of both your publisher and other authors, attending not only to the content of their responses, but their willingness to engage.
Negotiate a contract that’s right for you.
While it’s tempting to skim through the legalese and sign on the dotted line, you should take the time over your contract. The Society of Authors can advise on how close yours comes to the industry standard. Due to the lower publisher investment, they are not in favour of print-on-demand or e-book only models, although, with some built-in safeguards, this has worked for me.
Be realistic in your expectations.
While it’s worth negotiating a favourable contract, don’t act as if you’ve won a six-figure advance from one of the Big Five. Be modest in your expectations, apart from your expectations of what you’ll need to do to bring your book to the reader’s attention. Even a shrinking violet can publicise her own novel and you don’t need a publicist to organise a successful blog tour or to solicit online reviews. But be realistic about your own limitations also; the time will come when you need to leave this book to stand on its own merits and move on to writing the next.
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was published in July 2015 by Inspired Quill. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in a cellar, is scheduled for May 2017. A former clinical psychologist, she is also the author of over 60 published short stories, a book blogger and speaker on fictional therapists and on transfiction. Catch up on her website: annethology or on Twitter @Annecdotist.