Rookie Writer, Seeking Publisher

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)


    1. I’m seeing a similar problem. The post is over-lapped by the “icons” on the right side of the page.

      1. Thank you, both of you, for letting me know. I’ve figured out what the problem is, and I won’t be composing that way any more!

        For the terminally curious: I often compose and prep the blog on my tablet. If I copy and paste into the post editor using the wordpress app, rather than logging in through the browser, the formatting from the original browser gets dragged in, and well, I won’t do that any more although it’s the easiest way to create a post from the tablet. I can compose straight into the editor box, but copypasta is right out. Ah, well. My apologies for hurting eyes before coffee!

        1. Didn’t think you intended to “hurt eyes” at any time. 😉

          Looks better now. 😀

      1. I used WordPress’s new Gutenberg editor for two weeks on both my blogs. (I get a lot of grief from my sons about my not wanting to “upgrade” so was determined to adjust. I was determined to have a good attitude about it.)

        Gutenberg has way too much clicking in order to actually compose, and I’d never had any issues with being able to–you know–write in paragraphs. Gutenberg hides all the normal commands and requires an inordinate amount of googling to figure out where they’ve hidden them. It makes things slow. After one final snafu with an image that looked good in preview but moved to the wrong place in the email of the post, I reinstalled the Classic Editor.

        Sorry for the rant. I’ve been looking for a soapbox and feel much better now.

        1. No, no, you lasted much longer than I did! When that got forced on me, I got about halfway through one post (on my computer) threw my hands in the air and discovered via googling that the Classic Editor could be had as a plugin. What WordPress was thinking with that, that abomination I do not know.

          1. Apparently some technical stuff is supported better in Guteberg, and there are some aps for which Gutenberg works more efficiently than does Classic Editor.

            Those who love it love it. Those who do not are verging upon legion.

  1. “if they want you to pay them money to publish your book, they’re ripping you off and you should run.”
    I beg to differ: it’s a little more nuanced than that. What honest subsidy publishers are offering is one-stop shopping for editing, formatting, cover, printing and distribution. (I also will assist authors who want to set up as their own indy publisher, and offer those services, or help them to find what they need.) I started as a partner in a teeny publishing bidness that had been in operation for thirty years – and most of our client’s books had no appeal to a traditional publisher: they were mostly very local histories, memoirs, company histories, some poetry and now and again a novel. Many are of special interest to historians – and in fact, some of the local histories go for quite impressive sums on the rare book market, as the authors of them did a heck of a lot of primary research on their subject. A couple of our collections were for private circulation as Christmas gifts among family and friends.
    The rip-off publishers are the ones which offer a whole schedule of extra services – and yes, we ran into a good few of those, or had clients who came to us after going a round or two with them. Extra publicity packages, marketing options, expanded editing services which amounted to basically smoke and mirrors … the price lists went on and on. My late business partner could hardly believe how much these places were charging – for things that most intelligent and creative authors could do themselves. (Like make up fliers and business cards!)

    1. Yes,that’s an important distinction. My mother helped run a subsidy press for years, primarily specializing in local history and guidebooks. A lot of the books were paid for by the Thus And So Historical Society for sale in their gift shops.

      As I like to say, all Vanity presses are Subsidy presses, but not all Subsidy presses are Vanity presses. The key difference is honesty. With a subsidy press you are buying a product, editing services, proofreading services, sometimes even ghostwriting (my mother did that a lot, taking a mass of someone’s research notes and making a readable book out of them). They will let you know up front what they offer and what they charge. The author ends up with a finished book and distribution and sales is on them, not the press.

      Which is exactly what many authors are looking for. As I say, a lot of my mother’s work can be found in gift shops in small towns. Random Penguin is not going to be interested in publishing “A Guide To Historic Apple Valley, IN” that might sell a couple of hundred copies–but the Apple Valley chamber of commerce might well decide it’s a worthwhile promotional expense.

      Vanity presses, on the other hand, are selling a dream, one that they can’t deliver. They flat out lie to authors about the sales potential of a book. “If you pay us fifty-thousand dollars in advance soon you’ll be making millions!”

      My mother is retired now, so I’m not sure how POD and ebooks had impacted the subsidy press market, but I expect that the experienced editors and book designers are offering their services for sale to self-publishers.

    2. Yes, for the specific market you’re serving, that is true. Fiction is quite a bit different. Any time you’re preserving obscure history it’s both worthwhile, and not a money making proposition. Add in photo formatting and *shudder* I helped my Grandma with a project like that and it was not fun. Paying someone to do it makes perfect sense.

      Unfortunately, vanity presses for fiction also exist, and make no sense at all. A reputable fiction publisher will not take on a project that won’t make enough money to cover editing, formatting, and cover layout costs. If they require the author to pay for all those things upfront, it is a red flag, and that is not someone you want to work with.

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