Writer’s Resources #6: Evaluating Smaller Presses

In today's Writer's Resources post, I wanted to talk about Evaluating Smaller presses and making publishing decisions for yourself when you don't have an agent. 

This is not one of those gimmicky "you don't need an agent!  screw the gatekeepers! " type posts. I absolutely believe that if you want to be published with a larger house, you will need an agent. I've met loads of helpful, lovely agents at conferences and I used to intern for an agent before I got my current job. I saw first hand how useful her editorial feedback was to her clients and how successful she was in negotiating contracts. However, sometimes for whatever reason it doesn't work out or you have quite a specialist book, and you look for other options for your work. I'm also including some links to great resources available for you to quickly educate yourself about contracts. 

I'm writing this from a dual perspective. On the one hand, I am an author about to publish a book with a smaller house that I have been extremely happy to work with thus far. I also work for a wholesaler/distributor in the UK. It's my job select titles for retail clients, sell books in bulk and pitch them to gift market clients who don't specialise in selling books. We work with dozens of publishers, ranging from huge companies like Penguin Random House to small houses like Graffeg who put out only a handful of titles per year. I will preface that I do not really sell adult or young adult fiction in my day-job professional capacity. I sell primarily lifestyle, humour, young children's books and trade history. That being said, I do think there is very valuable information to be gleaned from studying the buying habits of people who are not professional book specific buyers. 

I'm still an optimist, and I believe that a strong manuscript will eventually find a good home. And I hope that this post will be helpful to authors who aren't sure where to start. 

 

#1 The Covers

I can actually imagine the snorts of distain coming from some readers of this post. Pish posh! The covers as the first consideration? Nonsense. Editing! Words! 

No. 

Now, I am not saying that the publisher's covers have to be next in line for a major art award. But they do have to look professional, with nicely paired art and typography that at the very least will not turn the reader off. The cover has to accompish one goal. It has to grab the reader enough that they turn the book over and read the blurb. If the reader doesn't turn the book over or open the front cover to read the first page, then your words are powerless and invisible. 

Typical comments from my clients that I hear literally every day at work: 

"I don't want that. It looks like someone was sick on it." 

"It just looks … well a bit eehh, doesn't it really?" 

"I wouldn't give that to my dog as a present!" 

If your cover puts them off, they are not going to give your book a chance. This is especially important for online retail websites. Even though websites like Amazon now have "look in side" features … your book is featured on lists alongside hundreds of others in a search return. If the cover doesn't grab them, the reader will just scroll on by … Realistically speaking, for most authors working with small presses, most of your sales will come from online retailers because getting shelf space at bookstores will be difficult. 

 

#2 What do current authors say?

In some cases, you may have to do a bit of digging to find this out. Forums like Absolute Write can be really helpful in getting a vibe from a publisher that is more established, as quite a few authors probably will have posted positive experiences. Silence can be just as damning as an outright negative review. Many authors will be cautious about actually criticisng their publisher outright. 

Even more powerful is what the authors do in relation to their publisher. Do lots of authors sign a second book with them? Signing more contracts with a publisher is a sign that the author-publisher relationship is working. Authors who want to work with the same publisher again probably felt that they were treated well and were paid on time. If you don't have an agent, the last thing you want to be dealing with is a publisher who does not pay you on time. Financial things can sour your relationships. Think about a friend who borrowed money (significant cash, not like a fiver) and never paid you back. I bet your relationship went downhill pretty fast. 

 Do the authors reference and tag their publisher on social media? Are they proud to work with them? Do they talk about their relationship with their editor? 

 

#3 Are their titles recognised by Library Associations and Major Awards?

A great way of searching for a smaller publisher, is to check out lists and awards that are important in your genre / area. 

If you're writing YA, the American Library Association publishs lots and lots of lists to aid librarians in their search for books. Have a look on some of the recent ones and see if any of the publisher's titles were selected. This will tell you two things:   1) their marketing/publicity people actively made the effort to get the book in front of a panel of selectors    and   2) that these professional selectors liked what they read, a lot. 

Before I submitted Unicorn Tracks to Harmony Ink, I saw that they had two books in the five finalists for a Lambda Literary Award … an award I knew and respected. This greatly encouraged me to submit to them. 

You should also check out major exhibitor shows like ALA and BEA. See if the publisher you are considering exhibits at them. Registration for these shows can be quite expensive, but it demonstrates commitment to making their books visible. Furthermore, publishers who attend conferences are more likely to be supportive of you attending conferences to market your book and may offer to pay some or all of your expenses. 

 

#4 Contract Terms

I am not a professional contract negotiator, so I will suggest strongly that you look at getting a professionally written short guide to help you. I really recomend Fuse Literary's Short Guide to Book Publishing Contracts. 

You should do your homework and find out if what your publisher is demanding is typical of the publisher type. Most smaller houses and digital-first groups offer higher royalty rates than larger houses. And they should. The reason for this is not that the larger houses are exploiting their authors, but that they are more likely to work with marketing groups, distributors, wholesalers and retailers, all of whom will take their cut of the book's retail price before it reaches the reader. Smaller publishers are more likely to sell either direct to customer or straight to retail. 

Another good sign — does the publisher offer you an advance? Advances show confidence in the work. Even a small advance means the publisher is willing to make an investment in you and the book right from the start. They've paid money for your work and they will be motivated to recap that money by selling copies. 

Remember: a contract is not final until you sign it. You can ask for changes. 

 

#5 Strength of Editing

A book that is riddled with mistakes is not likely to sell or if it does, will continuously receive bad reviews and disappoint readers. It's important to remember that editing does not start with copyediting. Your book should receive some kind of developmental edit and commentary on the story way before it goes to copyediting and proofreading. 

Before you sign a contract, it's totally within the bounds of reasonable to ask about the editorial process at the publisher. Make sure they have a plan in place for your book, as well as some kind of rough release date. 

 

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Thanks for reading and I hope this is helpful to you! <3

 

 

 

A Writer Reflecting on 2015, Looking forward to 2016

As it's already a week into the New year, I made myself finally sit down and write the post I've been thinking about for quite some time. 

 

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But, I decided that since TODAY is, in itself, a special day, I was in a good frame of mind to write a reflective year post. TODAY I signed a 3-book deal for a new YA fantasy trilogy! (if you literally only clicked this link to know what it's about, scroll to the end)

This year has been full of transitions for me. I already wrote a detailed post about my career change (dayjob) and my progress in dealing with two chronic health conditions. This post is going to be entirely about writing. 

In December 2014, I started querying a manuscript about lesbians on safari looking for unicorns while trying not to fall in love. In March 2015, I signed a contract with Harmony Ink Press. 

Unicorn Tracks is such a special story to me for so many reasons. First, despite being an openly bisexual woman who has dated more women than men, I had never written a f/f manuscript. It seems strange to me now. My first love was a woman. The person who broke my heart into the greatest number of pieces, was a woman. But up until I started Unicorn Tracks, I'd only written f/m couples. 

Secondly, it deals with feelings of isolation that victims can feel after an assault in a very visceral way. This is something that unfortunately resonates very powerfully with me, but that's for another post, another day. 

And … it's my first manuscript to see publication! Unicorn Tracks is scheduled for release in April of this year. 

In addition to signing this book, this year has seen a number of things happen: 

1) I completed four rounds of editing with a publisher! And learned a lot about compromise. 

2) I worked with a designer and got a cover that I am in love with!! 

3) Made so many friends in the writing and blogging communities. I am publishing with a small press. The reality of that is that you have to do a lot of your own marketing and strategic career planning. I've been so lucky to have friends who can steer me right and bloggers will to talk to me about my book!

4) Started a series! In February 2015, I began writing a fantasy novel set in a world based losely on my Christmas trip to Bhutan and Myanmar. The Tiger's Watch is an extremely different type of book to Unicorn Tracks. It has a much darker tone, it's much longer and it's for older audience (upper YA as opposed to lower). I sold it, and it's sequels … TODAY. The Tiger's Watch is Book 1 in the Ashes of Gold trilogy and will be released August 2017 from Harmony Ink! 

5) Wrote a couple of shorts! I wrote a few novelettes! One of them is going to be in an Anthology! YAY. 

6) I started writing a bisexual Retelling of the Little Mermaid. I'm literally so in love with his manuscript I can't even begin to try and sum it up. 

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So What's Up for 2016? 

If I'm still alive in August, it may be a miracle. 

Unicorn Tracks releases APRIL 21 2016!! So, I've got lots and lots of release related planning to do. 

I am aiming to finish The Sea Witch by the end of February. 

Book 2 of the Ashes of Gold series is due to the publisher August 1st. 

Book 3 of the Ashes of Gold series is due to the publisher by December 31. 

Beginning the editorial process on The Tiger's Watch 

Publishing a short in an anthology! All details to be posted soon! 

… and trying not to die. Three books to write in a year. One to edit. One short to edit. What could possibly go wrong?

 

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—-> FOR THE SKIMMERS

What is The Tiger's Watch … about? 

Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a seargl, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But when the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.

Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic but Tashi sees a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander – a side that draws them to Xian.

When their spying unveils that everything they learned at the academy was a lie, Tashi faces a choice: save their country or the boy they've started to love? But while Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn't question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But a seargl’s bond to their animal is for life – when Katala dies, so will Tashi.

Coming AUGUST 2017 from Harmony Ink!!!