There’s something about admitting in public that you’re a writer. People are either weirded out by it, or fascinated. I’ve made some interesting connections over the years talking about being an Indie Publisher, and I always try to help when asked honest questions. Years ago when I was newly fledged and all my feathers were still wet and pathetic, so many people helped me. Dave and Sarah, Amanda, and many others who aren’t here at the MGC too. I can’t possibly repay them for what they did for me. So what I do now is try to pass it along to others. In this instance, the person asking me for help has a demanding (to put it mildly) day job. In their shoes, I’m not sure I’d consider indie, either, and while it might sound here on the blog like I’m militantly anti-publisher, that’s not actually the case. Really, what I am is militantly independent. Period. Not just in business.
If I were looking for a publisher – and I completely get why you want one. Indie Publishing takes a whole load of time and effort. Even if I were hiring out the cover art, formatting, and what-not, it’s still time to take and find someone I trusted to handle those jobs. I would use the Grinder, first, to find possible publishers who were willing to work with unagented submissions (they do exist. Baen is the big one, but they only publish SF&F).
Then, once I'd narrowed it down, I'd do some basic research on the publisher. Many small or micro presses are good folks who believe in bringing books to the reading public. Some few are hopelessly disorganized or unprofessional in non-malicious ways. You probably don’t want to work with them, but they aren’t necessarily going to do you harm besides annoying the crap out of you from time to time. And a few are predatory. These are the ones you want to identify from the start and never let them lay a finger on your work. The website for Preditors and Editors is a good starting point for identifying those, or a google search of the specific publisher's name, or simply this: if they want you to pay them money to publish your book, they're ripping you off and you should run.
After you submit your work, you want to let go and move on. Write the next thing (but not the next thing in a series, if your submission was the intro to that). Understand that some publishers can have a two-year response window. And that if you are rejected – and statistically you probably will be – it’s not actually a reflection on your work, and you, but simply a publisher has only so many slots they need to fill. If you aren’t the right book, at the right time, you’re out of luck. Take a deep breath, and send the book to the next publisher on the list. If you do this long enough, writing and submitting, you’ll have works in the pipeline and in theory, as something is accepted, you’ll be ready to write the sequel with no true downtime, and you’ll have other works going out to find their homes. Now, here’s the other thing. Most new authors are not going to get a big advance. You can expect maybe a thousand dollars or so. Some small presses don’t offer an advance at all, they just take a cut of the royalties. This is not, I’m afraid, a money-making proposition.
Finally, I’d walk into it knowing that I was still going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting myself. Promotion, for instance. I wrote an article about this just recently, after a fellow author contacted me to complain that their small press publisher wasn’t promoting them enough. As I told them, the only person who will really push your work is you. There are plenty of ways to do that, some free, some cheap, some rather expensive. It all takes a bit of time and effort, though.
And it comes down to this: do you want to make money and build a career, or simply have a book in print? That’s a question only you can answer.
(Header image photo by Cedar Sanderson. I was a newt, but then I got better)