I've been noticing the plethora of small publishing shops springing up; those that charge the author (gasp!) and those that don't, and while I do appreciate the opportunity for all and all to get published, I’m wondering if some of these firms should come with a warning? What really bothers me is those that charge the author for publishing; I have no doubt this has been hashed out before here, and I apologize if I’m beating a dead horse. I only want to say that I applaud, and also differentiate, those small publishing houses that continue to exist and give chances to those great authors the big houses ignore. It seems for the author just starting out, unless you have a serious hook, or something they think will sell, you’re doomed. I’m sure this sounds familiar…nonetheless, I’ve read many excellent books from smaller publishers that give me hope that they are still aiming for the holy grail, while perhaps some of the bigger houses have gone “Brittney Spears.”

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Oh, sister! (grinning from ear to ear)

That line about 'Brittney Spears," I could not agree with you more than I do! Right-on, kiddo. And you've hit the nail on the head why there are so meany micro-publishers cropping up. They've come to the same conclusion as you.

Why continue reading a clone of a clone?
I'm all for small publishers and indie houses as a way for new writers to get started. If you're doing something that's a bit too far off the beaten track for the big boys, or something that doesn't fit neatly into a bookstore pigeonhole, but that still has great characters, a great story and great writing, small pub/indie might be right for you. Pay-to-publish is another story--they don't call them "vanity presses" for nothing.
It's interesting this should be online at the same time as Jude's excellent interview with Joe Konrath. While I agree with everything Joe says there, I sure hope you're right about small publishers. I just broke with my agent because she wouldn't submit to anyone outside of New York, and I have become more and more convinced I need to work my way up. I'm hoping to find a small press willing to take a bit of a chance on me and see what happens.

But, to address Jon;s comment, they're going to have to pay me, not the other way around.
They're definitely two different roads. It's probably good to think about this stuff when you finish writing a book, not before. As Joe said in the interview, first you get the manuscript exactly the way you want it - then you go looking for the right publisher for that manuscript. The "right" publisher isn't always the biggest publisher, but you never know.

When I finished my first book, Dirty Sweet, I had a feeling that a crime novel in which the main crime doesn't get solved, in which there is no real main character and manhy crimes, a story that is driven by characters and theme and weak on plot wouldn't be a go with a big, mainstream publisher and I went after small presses. It worked out for me. I think it really depends on the book.

There are a lot of new models in publishing. Look at Declan Burke and his 50-50 deal with Hag's Head - not entirely self-published, but a partnership. It worked out really well for The Big O.

I just read a line from the filmmaker John Sayles: I really want to make movies, but not enough to lie.

I think it works for writing books, too.
It's definitely not the same. It can be much better.

I've been published by "real" publishers (Doubeday, etc) and did not like the books, the delay, or meager money.

Last year I formed my own publishing company, and I much prefer the control, speed and money. I'm now writing my fourth and fifth self-pubbed books.

I doubt very much that I'll go back to the old way.

Strangely, another writer has asked me to publish his crime book.

Michael N. Marcus
I have a couple freinds who just launch new publishing houses. The capital required, the connections with distributors, the marketing to booksellers, artists, staff and office costs are formidable. The staff cuts from the big boys have put a lot of qualified people on the street and many have gone this route. They may not have enough capital to stay solvent without the help of authors paying to get their work on bookstore shelves.

That is the type of research the author must do when contemplating one of these publishers. If you walk into a big chain bookstore and ask for books by this publisher, and the answer is "We don't have any.", then it is time to turn tail and run. If there are a few books on the shelves, then the publisher may be worth more research.
The big houses are relying on a small corral of sure-sell brand name authors, making it difficult for newbies to break in and nearly impossible for 'mid-list' writers (with ok-but-not-terrific-sales) to get back in the game. My new mystery is coming out with a small press and I'm glad for the opportunity to get back into print this way.
I keep hearing that small publishers are the new starting point and that big houses in NY are recruiting from small houses. I hope that's true, since my publisher is a tiny print/e-pub out of Arizona. But I don't feel that authors from small pubs like that are getting the support we need from the writer's groups--like SinC or MWA. It seems like there is another hurdle to jump there.
Bottom line, if you are considering small press, go for it--but check out that contract first. Make sure you're not giving up your rights (Don't sign away all rights--keep your e-rights, your audio rights, etc--and don't automatically give them an option for the next one). Make sure there is distribution for the books--it's hard enough to get into a bookstore if you are an unknown. You don't want the book to be only available from the publisher. Try to make sure the publisher takes returns--hard for a small press, because it can be so costly. Try to see what the pub will do in the way of promo. Will they give you ARCS to send out for review? Or will they send ARCS out to review? Do your homework!
I'm not very knowledgeable about the publishing business, but it's a relief to me to hear that there are so many small publishers around. I just want to see my book in print someday, and the more publishers there are around to do it, the better my chances, I figure. However, I don't think I would ever pay someone to publish my work -- I think that removes one of the fundamental underpinnings of the whole publishing business, which is that by putting out a book, a publisher is seen to say 'we think this author is so good, we're willing to stake a portion of our business on him/her.' I'm the sort of person who needs that sliver of unspoken support. If I paid someone to publish me, that would be gone.
I'm a self-published author getting great reviews for my first novel. I think the characterization of self-publishing as "vanity publishing" depends on the motivations of the writer. I went into this clearly to make commercial fiction, but quickly grew tired of MFA underlings triaging my book for the agencies, etc. I'm in publishing, and I know the ropes to some extent. Also, in talking with unpublished authors still clinging to hopes that a big publishing house will pick up their book, the reason they want a big publishing house's aura is very vanity-driven. They don't calculate the commercial payback, understand the power relationships, ponder the work they'd have to put into it, or contemplate the time wasted waiting. Instead, they want the ego stroke of an agent and an acceptance letter. That's pretty vain in my eyes.

To me, getting a book out to the reading public these days is easier than ever. The scarcity model of publishing has vanished. Publishing as we know it is in trouble. Clay Shirky gets it.

The times, they are a changin'.
Interesting article. Thanks for the link.
I've often pondered that same question, John. The semantics of the word "published" in the novel writing world inherently implies something tangible like a book. Sure, it could be published online, but it's not the same. Think about the readers. Readers expect novels to be in book form, or at least an e-book form. Put it on a website and it immediately fails to meet that expectation, regardless if the content is identical.

Look at it this way. When a Hollywood movie premieres, audiences expect to see it in the theaters. To offer the same movie on a computer, despite the fact the movie is identical, would be failing to meet what the audiences want.

Also, to be blunt, published to the Web from within a personal blog doesn't mean a whole lot of anything. It carries no weight because there is nothing on the line. With traditional publishing, a publisher puts faith in your writing by paying to have it printed. With self-publishing, you put faith in yourself by paying to have it printed. With blog publishing, you are throwing words into the blogosphere to see what sticks, for better or worse.


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