A recent article by Vincent Zandri about how badly a Big Six publisher treated him, was followed by a comment from a writer saying the small publishers can hurt you too. Amen to that.
At the same time, browsing through the Passive Voice blog, I found an article on the same subject that writers should read. Titled “Why Small Publishers fail,“ it quotes an article on Writer Beware with scenarios about why that happens. It’s full of important information for anyone thinking of starting a new publishing company. And, if you think writers won’t do that, let me assure you many already have.
The number of small publishers has skyrocketed in recent years. The emergence of Print-on-Demand technology (POD), along with e-books, spurred more people than just writers to start such a business. Look at the advantages compared to traditional publishing: No expensive office space (you can work from your home with no more than a computer and website). No print runs, no warehouses, no shareholders to answer to, no advances to authors.
But authors need to be wary. For these very reasons, small publishers may be undercapitalized. Without publishing experience, they may not structure their business properly or know how to write suitable contracts with authors. They may not have links to distributors; their printers might not produce a quality product.
Why would writers go to them? There are many reasons that even good authors choose that path. They may have been turned down by traditional publishers for many reasons besides quality of their writing. Their books might fit a small niche of the reading public. They might have a backlist of books the original publisher won’t take. They might be getting on in age and don’t want to wait the years it often takes to get read, approved and published the old way.
But writers considering signing with a small publisher need to do their homework and ask the hard questions. A mere sampling of the things to examine are: the number of years they’ve been in business, any fees they require, the quality of their books and the prices, and the exact terms in contracts. There are sharks out there. There are vanity publishers masquerading as small presses. In a worst case scenario, small presses can go bankrupt and take the authors down with them. The authors’ work will be tied up, possibly for years.
Luckily none of the small presses I’ve worked with have caused me that kind of trouble, but I came close. The publisher of my very first romance novel--although they printed the book--went out of business before paying me. In fact, I had to pay them to get my leftover books, which were so poorly made I didn’t even try to sell them. Another small publisher never paid me any royalties before also going out of business, but at least the books I bought from them were adequately printed.
Do lots of small presses disappear? You betcha. I probably don’t know half of them, but here are twenty-two publishers I queried who are now gone. In no particular order: J.A. Rock, Loveland, Tiger, Triskelion, Sands, Port Town, Pegasus, Noble, Howard, By Grace, Cook, Lerner, Sierra, Muse, Ashgrove, Wings, Avocet, Dry Bones, Anchor, Quiet Storm, Intercontinental, and Rocky Mountain.
Another small press offered me a contract, but I refused. The publisher had only been in business--according to their own website--for six months. When there are so many options, I don’t need to risk taking a chance that something might happen to them and my book would be trapped in a bankruptcy court for years. By the wat, I soon sold that book to an “older” publisher.
What about you, fellow writers? Any horror stories out there?
The Passive Voice