Why did you decide to work with a small or independent press?
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In this conversation it would be interesting if you also answered any one of the following questions:

Did you have an agent or did you represent your own work to these publishers?

What is the most rewarding part of this type of publishing?

Which press are you working with or have you worked with in the past? 

  • Well, I am a small press, as it turns out. I got started with my partner at the time as a poetry press. I soon found that poetry really wasn't my interest, so the press (i.e., me) started a literary magazine, originally for locals, but in the pre-digital age, many small presses did exchange subscriptions, so I came into contact with a lot of other editors and writers. On the basis of that magazine experience, I settled on a theme for an anthology: first-person writing, and published a book First Person Intense. Meanwhile, to actually make money, I was a typesetter at Capra Press -- an interesting time because Noel Young of Capra Press was about to give up his printing operation to go whole hog into publishing, after one book of his was picked up by a major publisher and he suddenly had $75,000. The print shop, which I stuck with, had as its major customer Black Sparrow Press, at that time feeling its way into a routine that worked: softcover edition combined with hardcover, some of which were signed by the author. As a collector himself, John Martin at Black Sparrow calculated that by selling the hardcovers and the signed editions, he'd make back his expenses, so all the softcover editions were just gravy -- and one of them was Charles Bukowski. 

    My own tack at this time, when the poetry press split up, was to aim at the college market, which had eaten up the First Person Intense for writing classes. I did editions of classics (out of copyright) and teacher supplements for years. My leverage was to respond to the typical pattern: a literature professor would write out the semester's reading list, expecting students to buy the book. He or she would give the list the local college bookstore, saying "we expect 25 students to read these titles, so make sure you have enough to sell." So, every sale I made was for ten to twenty copies at a time. And there are only about 6,000 colleges, so it was a limited mailing two or three times a year, timed to the semesters. 

    However, come the digital age, and my market has disappeared. The prof may require the same books, but they're all easily available for free or cheap online. So I'm have yet to come up with a viable market to suit my skills. Since I'm now "semi-retired," I can pretty much publish anything I want, but I haven't come up with a plausible marketing strategy. 

    My talents and long experience allow me to be helpful to others -- I set up www.betabooks.us for writers to test the waters, get enough books-that-look-like-a-book to send to reviewers and get some buzz starting. That's still a work in progress. 

    I've been on both sides: working for others, and hiring part-time help myself. At my height I had 4 part-timers. Now it's just me.

    If you want to get started and gain experience, be an intern. I've had 3 or 4, they stick around long enough to see how it's done, whether they like it, and then leave. My typesetter actually found a serialized novel that had never been published as a novel, which I did publish under Bandanna Books. If you're in a community, you might feel out others with similar interests, and hash out a plan. Our very first idea came from a poetry reading group at a bar. We asked ourselves, how can we capture this moment, this energy? We weren't even brave enough to pick the poems ourselves; we picked the poets and asked them which poem they wanted in a little book.

    What you start with may not be what you end with. You'll notice that there are very few academic programs for publishing; it's generally  not a career that one plans for. 

    There are lots of "parts" to publishing. If you look at the betabooks.us site, you'll see lists of freelancer editors, proofreaders, illustrators, etc. Each one usually specializes in a genre or technique. Find out 1) what you're actually good at, and 2) that you enjoy doing. See where it leads. 

  • This seems like a very interesting topic, and thank you for bringing it up, Stephanie.

    You both are going after, as you say, niche markets, it seems, Lisa, you're in the Christian realm, if I'm correct, and Stephanie, you're New Age. 

    I have a novel that is, well, I would probably call it literate, but at a writers' conference I attended when I was writing it, one editor called it literary, one called it mainstream, and one saw it as women's--I heard them arguing about it. Go figger. 

    I had an agent, a very good one, I think, who submitted it to the mainstream, major presses. We got no's, I want it, but my exec editor won't approve, I want it, but my colleagues don't support it, I want it, but--well that one died before she could acquire it, which makes it kind of hard to be upset about your book not being published, if you know what I mean. 

    That agent sent it to McAdamCage, and Bridgeworks--though she never got a response from Bridgeworks (the editor kept losing the pages) and didn't pursue. I think she submitted to one other small press, and then handed it back to me. I was pregnant, exhausted, chasing an extremely high-energy child, and in the throws of also creating my second novel. When I had time, I didn't submit, I wrote. 

    But I want to submit now. I'm looking at MilkWeed and Algonquin, cross-referencing to Amazon books to see if a house seems to reach reviewers and actual sales--it's kind of sad when you see a book there that has NO reviews on it. Nobody even loved it enough to speak their mind. 

    Anybody have any ideas for further houses? I mean, I know you guys write in different markets than I do. 


  • I thought it would be the easiest route to take. From what I understood about publishing if you an unknown it is difficult to get the bigger houses to look at your work.

    So I self published; my second book is just out "Step Up and Let Go-Healing the Hurts From Your Past" I do have an agent. it is available on my website http://www.optimistforever.com and on amazon

  • Lisa and everyone,

    My experience is somewhat like yours Lisa. At first, I had an agent in NYC, for my nonfiction but she could not find a home for my work among NYC's big houses. I ended up going niche. My first publisher was what is considered the oldest and largest New Age publisher, Llewellyn Worldwide. After working with them on two books, I decided I wanted a change. I published with ABC Clio (an academic book), Hampton Roads Publishers, a part of Red Wheel Weiser, and Chicago Review Press--Lawrence Hill Books. All of these are mid-sized independent presses. Now, I am with my smallest publisher yet. They will publish three books this year. It is called Punkin House Press. I have enjoyed the personal relationship I developed with the nano press and also with the other mid-sized presses. I think my work hits a very specific audience that is smaller and perfect for niche publishers. Maybe some day, I will write a book that is appropriate for a larger press and will seek an agent to represent it. Meanwhile, I am doing well and happy to represent myself. My website is here: www.stephanierosebird.com and I blog here: http://stephanierosebirdstudio.blogspot.com

  • Hi, Stephanie and all...I'll add my two cents.

    When I first starting going to indie--small press--publishers, I had been trying for two years to seek an agent, and ended up signing with my first agent at the same time I received a nice contract offer from a larger publisher in the Christian market. After that, nothing happened, and my agent contract allowed me to seek publication, so I when I saw that several of my author buddies had signed with the particular small press, I also queried and sold a book to them. I have had three other agents but no larger house contracts, so I continued to sell my work through smaller presses, some good experiences, some not too good, but I've always tried to make sure the contracts and publishers put out decent work. And I have been turned down plenty, too, so it's not like I automatically thought I was getting a contract. A Canadian publisher, MuseItUp, and a newest publisher to me, the PrismBookGroup, have been my favorites so far, and I've reached pretty good sales on the online publishers. But I recently signed a full contract with my agent, so I'm done with small presses for now. But the door's still open.

    I also have a series of children's books I had high hopes for, but after ten years, am finally in a good place where I can go with micropublishing - my illustrator has her own company that I joined with, and we've been putting them out under a label of our own.