It seems that small, start-up traditional publishers have a lot of misconceptions about independent authors and the publishing industry in general. It’s as if they’re stuck in the pre-2008 publishing era and don’t realize just how much the publishing industry has changed in the past few years, or how the playing field has leveled. In the past two months I’ve had no less than TWO small start-up publishers (occult publishers specifically) insult me with some of the following while trying to get me to sign with them:
1. You NEED us as your publisher in order to succeed. No, actually I don’t. Yeah, there are very good reasons for having a publisher this day and age, but they’re not necessarily the same reasons they used to be. Some writers now USE publishers to help them reach larger audiences, whether it be for existing work, or future work. Or, writers will USE publishers to show diversity (i.e. to show the publishing world that they aren’t just self-publishing or just working with one publisher.) It’s no longer one sided, where the publisher uses the author to make a living and the author must do whatever the publisher says if he ever wants to have his work published. The publishing industry today is not the same pre-internet, pre-ebook publishing industry it was before 2008. The sooner you realize this, the less cocky you’ll be.
2. We can give you better exposure than [insert rival publisher or POD fulfillment service here]. First off, I have never seen one small press that outsells another. They tend to perform equally in that department. If we’re talking better exposure, we’re usually talking a few hundred readers either way. Funny how better exposure is always offered, but it’s still up to the author to do the bulk of the marketing. Publishers, especially small press, do not do a whole lot in the way of marketing. Don’t get my wrong, I don’t mind promoting my own books – how do you think I became a successful indie? Just don’t feed me the line that you’re going to market me better than the next guy and introduce me to a larger audience. My experience says you’ll probably do the same things he’s doing. Yes, your FB Fanpage has a lot of likes. I could boost my FB Page likes with “ladders”, too. 😉 As for fulfillment services – POD and distribution services have grown and expanded so that authors comfortable doing it themselves (which I am) have access to the big distributors like Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and international sources just like “traditional” publishers. Long gone are the days where you couldn’t find an indie book or had to order it from the author or some obscure website (i.e. Lulu) and that was your only option to get the book. Nowadays, with services like CS and Lightening Source – I can get the same distribution a traditional publisher can. I can even have my books listed in Publisher’s Weekly (and have!)
All of these services are also the reason non-writers and complete amateurs can now start up their own small press publishing companies to make money off of writers! Sorry to be so blunt, but it had to be said!
Also – please STOP ASSUMING I just use Lulu and no one else as my fulfillment service. Lulu hasn’t been my primary NF distribution partner since 2009 and Lulu has NEVER been my primary fiction distributor!!!! Get the facts before approaching me with insulting commentary about my use of Lulu for hardcovers. It’s my inexpensive alternative to Lightening Source. Nothing more.
3. No one has ever heard of you, but we can change that. First, see my above commentary about marketing. Second, in the occult publishing world, it’s a small world. If you’ve been around long enough – people have heard of you. I’ve been highly visible in the online scene since the late 90’s. Sure, lack of visibility may very well be the case with some indie authors who don’t know how to market themselves, or who are new to the publishing game. However, one should never assume that all indie authors are non-existent to the reading public.
After all, would you REALLY be approaching me with a publishing contract if no one had ever heard of me? I think not. You’re approaching me because you KNOW my books will make you money, in part because people know me and my work. This is where small publishers would be wise to never immediately assume their indie target is ignorant, and would be wise to do their research before approaching an established indie with a contract. I sell well over 200 physical books a month and over 1,000 eBooks a month. I’m pretty sure SOMEONE knows who I am or I wouldn’t be selling that many books. I know for a fact that two of my pen-names have a strong, solid readership base. That’s a readership base I built MYSELF from the ground up. I busted my ASS to get the readers I have. I’m pretty damn proud of that fact. It’s really offensive when someone marginalizes my 50,000 + readers! Sure, I may not be J. K. Rowling or Stephen King, but I’m pretty sure none of your other authors (if you’re not a start-up) have those kinds of numbers (in the millions), either.
4. We know you haven’t been able to get a traditional publisher. Wrong again. Not all indies are traditional publishing’s rejects. As-a-matter-of-fact, a lot of us aren’t. Many of us are both traditionally AND self-published. With my non-fiction I do have one traditional publisher I work with in addition to the two publishing companies I run where I self-publish some of my own work and publish other authors’ work. Since 2002 I’ve had MANY offers from traditional publishers to publish my NF with them. I’ve turned all but one down. With my fiction, I almost sold my OTS Series to one of the big five. The deal breaker, for me, was they didn’t want demon worshiping and Satanist characters as the good guys. I refused to compromise that point. I would have changed the plot, re-written the book, and even re-named the characters. But the thing that makes the stories in that series unique and poignant is that almost ALL of the characters, both good and evil, are some flavor of pagan or magician, whether perceived as “light” or “dark”. It wasn’t worth it.
Yes, I probably sacrificed my biggest chance for the bestseller list. Yes, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d said yes and signed the dotted line. Yes, I probably could have really boosted sales to all my pen-names had I compromised my integrity and sold out. No – I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself for creating yet another generic “good witch” series fit for the mainstream. I’m also widely professionally published in trade journals and I’ve sold some my short fiction to traditionally published magazines over the years. Check out my bibliography if you don’t realize just how widely published I am.
5. Your current publisher is where two-bit authors go to die. (Or some variation on this.) I disagree. My current publisher is serving my needs (and I’m currently serving his) otherwise I wouldn’t be with that publisher. I imagine a lot of authors are perfectly happy with their publishers or they’d be looking for greener pastures. The fact of the matter is that occult readers (unless they’re publishers or writers) rarely give two shits who your publisher is as long as they can get your books. Now with fiction, sometimes readers will go with a “brand” they trust. Like Harlequin Romance, for example. But sometimes readers just really like the excerpt, or they like the description, or a friend recommended it, and then the publisher becomes rather irrelevant.
6. You are desperate for publication. No. I’m not. If I were desperate for publication I would have snatched up every contract I’ve ever been offered. When I pass on an opportunity, there’s a reason for it.
7. We want you to be part of our “brand”. When it comes to my occult books, I’ve worked hard to build my “brand”. My “brand” consists of my view of the occult, and how I relay that information to readers or teach it to my students. I don’t want to sell that brand to the highest bidder, let alone for only 50%. I don’t want to make that brand a sub -brand of another brand. Please respect my choice. It’s my life work we’re talking about here. Something I take very seriously. However, sometimes it pays to team up with a brand (as may be the case with fiction). It takes a wise writer to know which brands one should team up with and which ones might jeopardize your existing brand. For example, I wouldn’t sell my bdsm erotic romances to a publisher well known for putting out hardcore sadism novels. It just wouldn’t be a good fit. Just like I have no desire to turn my occult practice into an infomercial. For example – “You too can become a master magus for only $59.99!” Why? Because I don’t believe everyone has what it takes to be a good magician. Not everyone is self-motivated, persistent, or hard working. Not everyone is that creative. Kind of like not everyone can hope to be clairaudient or clairvoyant with practice. Talents like that aren’t innate in everyone – pure and simple. So in treating my practice like an infomercial, I would essentially be promoting something I didn’t believe, and I can’t lie like that. I really do believe there are few true adepts. I really do believe that the larger the group of occult students, only a small percentage of those are serious students who will be practicing ten years from now. I want to write for that small percentage of students, not that huge group of dabblers who like the idea of magick, but for whatever reason (whether lack of motivation or talent) will eventually give up and move on.
Make no mistake, dear prospective publisher. I don’t need you and you can’t scare me into thinking otherwise. I can still publish without a publisher. On the flip side of that, you can’t have a publishing company without authors.
So when you come to me asking me to place a book with you (I did not come to you), don’t wave your limited-time contact offer in my face while trying to berate or scare me. It will only make me angry and leave me feeling like you’re the desperate one, clinging to the old idea that authors like me need publishers like you, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
For those publishers thinking about approaching me: For some reason small press occult publishers (usually folks with a LOT less experience in the publishing industry than me – I’ve been in this game for over 20 years, kids) always seem to approach me when they want to launch a new publishing company. I’m not so sure I like that idea. That’s basically saying, “Hey, I see you’re making all this money on your books doing it yourself. I’d like a cut of that.” It makes me feel like publishers are thinking, “Geez, I wonder if I can convince her she needs me by making her feel insecure about herself and her work so she’ll let me in on the cut.” Sorry to be crass, but that’s exactly what an author like me thinks and wonders when certain publishers approach asking for a cut of one’s profits. (Just a side note here – occult authors aren’t getting rich, folks. Even self-publishing. But I do make an honest living. I make enough self-publishing to live off of my writing income. With a publisher, I make less and if I only worked with publishers, I would have had to keep my day job.)
So if you’re considering approaching me, just be honest with why you approached me, what you want from me, and don’t be upset if I respectfully decline. No high pressure sales, please. I am more open to publishers who approach me with respect. I may consider publishers who treat me like the professional I am, and who make no assumptions about my indie career, audience, or my experience in the publishing industry. Treat me like your intelligent equal, not an inept idiot. Tell me why you want to work with me and how I can benefit from working with you. Treat me like you understand that I’m the one who brings the initial product to the table (a product which without, you could not exist), not like I’m some incidental loser who can’t succeed without you. Basically, be nice.
You don’t have to suck my ass, just don’t be an insulting jerk. And yes, I can be a bit of a diva and I’m not sorry for it. I understand that publishing is a business (i.e. publishers are in it to make money) and along that vein, I do understand the economics of my books. I see what I bring in every month on my own. I know what my books are worth. Make no mistake, and never doubt for a second that I am a pretty smart cookie and not easily swindled.