Sunday, May 17, 2009
Sunny's Sunday Speakout
BIG HOUSE VS SMALL
I've been battling with new authors over the past several weeks over their misconceptions and false expectations in the world of publishing. The frustration is killing me.
I understand that authors set out with high hopes of publishing their books and seeing them on the shelves of the big chains. They deserve to be there. After brain-sweat and sacrifice, the reward should be wonderful book signings and lines of buyers waiting for an autograph.
That's the carrot that keeps writers pounding away at the keyboard. It happens to a lucky few. But sometimes the author is a one-book wonder and left to contemplate why the publisher deserted them. Sometimes they can't meet the sales expectations of their big house on the second book and get pushed to the sidelines. Sometimes the economy downsizes them right out of their career as big publishing can't balance cost of putting out a book with a frugal public. Authors never fantasize about that aspect of the industry.
Then there are the small press authors. We're the ones who looked at the slush pile and the long lines in front of agent's doors and said, “I can do better.” We rolled the dice and took a gamble on a small outfit, a one-man-(or woman)-band. We were impatient and wanted our work out there before we were too old to travel and promote.
I started my career by joining with two girlfriends and putting out a regional mystery anthology of our prize-winning short stories. Anthologies are tough to get published, but nobody told us. We found a reluctant publisher, someone we heard speak at a conference. We designed our own cover and each paid $2,000 dollars to co-publish. The publisher put in a thousand dollars.
The publisher printed one thousand copies, not done with the publish on demand (POD) technology, which was new at the time. I was responsible for selling my share, 300 copies.
Soon it was apparent that no store, not even the independent book stores in our city, would carry the books. It was also apparent that we had a public delighted to read about the San Joaquin Valley. We had published the first mystery anthology in this region.
I sold all my stock and doubled my investment. My partners in crime didn't fair so well. Why? They never figured out how to market. Soon I was buying out their stock as well.
I'm lucky to have such a rough start. It banished my own illusions of the publishing world. I actually had to learn everything from the ground up. I came to Oak Tree Press with that knowledge and experience. After being dropped by my second publisher, I met Billie at the PSWA conference. She loved my first book and I studied her publishing house. It took me a year to decide, and then we did a handshake agreement on a walk to the ladies room (true story).
She offered me a contract and I brought to the table my marketing experience and a few new authors. My attitude from the start was “What can I do for my publisher?” My reasoning? She took a chance on me, put her own money on the line to produce an incredible book cover for WHERE ANGELS FEAR, gave me my first ad for the Left Coast Crime Convention book, and gave me a column to talk marketing. I set out to make money for both of us because I know if Oak Tree Press goes under, as so many small houses are doing in this economic crisis, I'm left searching for yet another publisher. I also know my chances will be slimmer because it's a cold, cruel world out there.
I knew from the outset that my success would happen under my own steam. I love having a big say in how I market, it makes me feel in control of my career. I didn't hand my work over to corporate strangers and trust that they would have my best interest at heart. I bounced off the contacts and savvy I'd learned from the first books I published. I had a readership in place salivating for the next book in the series. I also delved into Internet promotion, I even invited several of you to join me. Some of you told me you were too busy writing.
What I love about being with a small publisher is that I feel nurtured. I know my talent is respected. I keep a week-long diary for Billie telling her of what I've accomplished to keep her up to date. I email her my ideas to bring the OTP author together as a “family,” all working toward one goal—to keep our publisher afloat so we can keep producing books. I don't bother her with phone calls, we've only talked twice in one year. She's got work to do and I have my next book to get out.
I have no expectations of being in a chain store, but through contacts I get great book signings. I put together a BookFest for every local author in Central California and sold out my entire book stock. My town is giving me a huge book launch at the prestigious Carnegie Museum because of the author's program I've done with the library over the past year. I do press releases for author events, so the media knows me and supports me. I've made myself a visible part of the community, locally and world-wide. I give to the mystery community with my Murder Circle, and they support me in return.
Not bragging. Everything I've done, any author can do. The first step to success is to stop whining about being with a small publisher and become a player in the literary world. Small publishing was a choice you made. Perhaps you didn't know what would be expected of you or didn't do your homework ahead of time. Maybe you feel you are too big for small publishing. But, your career is what you make it, not what your publisher decides. I say enjoy the freedom and explore the possibilities.