Ah, Old Blue Eyes. I fell in love with Frank Sinatra when I was a young girl and saw Guys and Dolls on television. That’s when I also fell in love with Marlon Brando, but that’s a subject for another post. This post is about New York. Specifically the Big Six publishers. When Sinatra sang “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York” I’m sure he wasn’t singing from a writer’s perspective talking about getting a publishing contract. But I hear that song and it’s like it’s coming from my heart and soul.
I don’t know what route my published works are going to take. I have one finished novel currently with a small publisher, and I don’t know if it will ever see the light of day. I have a finished first draft that I’m currently revising, and I don’t know if I’m going to go the self-publish, small-publish, or New York route with it when I’m done. I see merits to all three.
Self-publishing is great because you have complete control and reap the most rewards. However, all the work and responsibility is yours. Sure, the writing and revising is a given. But cover design, marketing, extra editing, conversion to e-format… all on you. No help. And, while it’s getting better, there has been a stigma in the past with self-publishing because anyone can self-publish (hence the name), so there is no quality control. There are some really bad books out there. Some people assume if you self-publish it’s because you weren’t good enough for a publisher to take a chance on you. Writers know that isn’t the case, but not all readers are on board with that premise yet. It’s getting better. Cream does rise to the top. I’m just not sure yet when the readers will find the cream. I want them to know I’m the cream and I want them to know where to find me.
Small publishers are becoming a popular choice for writers. It’s the route I chose for my first manuscript (knock on wood). They seem to be a nice middle ground between self-publishing and getting that elusive New York contract. Some accept electronic submissions, which is a big plus. Also, they will handle the cover design, the copy editing, the e-format conversion, and even some marketing for you (check your contracts!) but that doesn’t let you off the hook. Distribution will be severely limited to regional stores, if they print books at all, and you’ll still be expected to do a lot of marketing on your own. Plus, you’ll have to share more of the profits than if you self-publish. At this level, an agent is a good idea, as a contract is involved. At the very least, get a lawyer to review the paperwork.
Agents are a definite if you choose to go the New York route. You aren’t going to get your manuscript on an editor’s desk unless an agent puts it there, and it will definitely be a bulky paper copy. Another bonus is the big publishing houses will do all of the heavy lifting for you — above and beyond the efforts of the small publishing houses — but be aware. You have the least control when you go through the Big Six and you share a bigger percentage of the profits than in self-publishing or with small publishers. They’re also the slowest to pay the royalties out, although you do often get an advance. (New authors will get much smaller advances than established authors. Of course, new authors have trouble getting in with the Big Six to begin with.) What is the biggest benefit you get from going the New York route? The backing of one of the Big Six. If you can say that New York is willing to take a chance on you, then cautious readers are more likely to take a chance on you.
So with the trend going to eBooks and the Big Six hesitant to sell eBooks to libraries and having a tenuous relationship with Amazon… it’s hard to know which way to go. Small publishers look like a bargain, but they look like a lot of work, too, when you consider that for just a little more work you get complete autonomy. Still, I hear Sinatra crooning, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere, New York, New York.”
At the end of the day, I probably should finish my revisions before I make any decisions. What have you decided, and how is it working for you?
Great blog Staci! Thanks for all the information. There’s so much to think and do after the story’s done. Good luck in your chosen path. Maybe, one of the Big Six will discover what a wonderful writer you are!
Thanks for the encouragement and kind words. I expect you to keep trying for those elusive contracts, too!
[…] Troilo’s recent blog It’s Up To You New York, New York got me to thinking. I know I’m not supposed to do that without the proper adult supervision but I […]
Hey Staci. I have one book out by a small press. Another coming out by that same press in a matter of weeks. A third with another, different small press. And two novels with an agent trying to sell them to the big boys and girls in New York. I have no idea which way to jump. I can tell you that not all small presses are created equal nor are all agents equally good at what they do. Self-publishing used to have a bad reputation, but anymore, who can tell who publishes the book? The important thing is for the book to be good, the writing and the editing and the formatting and the actual paper presentation of the book. Everything has to be good quality.
Gosh, I hope that a year from now I can tell you all about NY publishing. But, if not, those books will be out there, either published by a small press or self published. That is the joy of being a writer today.
Well, all I can say to that is congratulations on your current successes and let’s hope I get to hear about those NY contracts!
I agree wholeheartedly that marketing for someone else is always easier than for ourselves. Why is that, I wonder, when we know ourselves infinitely better than we can ever know an external client? I’m glad I sparked a desire in you to blog about your experience. Maybe it will inspire something in someone else. I wish you nothing but success in your endeavors, and if you stumble on a tidbit of wisdom, I’d love it if you’d pass it along.
Great post Staci though I’m afraid I don’t have anything to add other than answering the question “What have you decided, and how is it working for you?” This year I decided to go it alone (other than a little outside help with proofreading and cover art) and I must confess It is more grueling than I anticipated. I fall way short in the marketing area even though I have a healthy grasp on the concept. It’s just easier to do PR [effectively] for someone else other than yourself. You’re article has inspired me to blog some personal experience so I am off to compose…
From the authors I’ve spoken with who have published with small presses, many have been asked to do book tours. It all depends on what you agree to in the contract. The difference would be that most small presses have limited range on their print distribution range. (They seem to distribute to their local region only, so your tour would be localized rather than national, unless other arrangements are made. For example, you publish out of Texas, your hometown is in Ohio, and your book is set in Oregon – you may sell in Ohio and Oregon in addition to the Texas distribution range already established.)
As to agents, I too hear they are difficult to acquire. From what I understand, the best way to pique one’s interest is to meet one face to face at a conference rather than just cold pitching. But, there are success stories from the cold pitch. If you can’t afford to go to a conference, don’t let that be a deterrent to trying to obtain one. Do your homework, though. We can discuss query letters more thoroughly in another post, but briefly, make sure you follow proper format and address them to the right person.
Staci, this was a very interesting post. I have thought about writing a book and did some research several years back. But things have changed since then. I don’t have experience in the area to give you first-hand advice. However, these thoughts came to mind: what about book tours? I’ve heard authors say they’re exhausted going on them or that they didn’t realize it would be so exhausting. I’m guessing this is after you’ve signed up with a NY publisher? The other thought that occurred to me – I remember reading in a book for women that one of the biggest mistakes women make is that they don’t do enough research to get the information they need to make a good decision. That comment stuck with me. So, your post is a good starting point but I would try to get in touch (write; email) with published book authors to get their feedback. You never know, someone might be kind enough to help a writer with a leg up. Oh, and this may not be true anymore, but when I was investigating, it was very difficult to get an agent. I don’t know if this is still true but I’m guessing it may be. Keep us posted on how it goes!