I’m going to start sharing my blog space with some of my clients, and I’m starting with novelist Donn Taylor with an excellent offering on his publishing experience with self-publishing, small press, and national press. It gives him a terrific insight into the process.
First Publishing Experience: Self, Small Press, National Press
By Donn Taylor
I don’t claim any expertise on this subject. My comments here reflect personal experience with three different kinds of book publishing and my evaluation of their advantages and disadvantages.
My first novel, The Lazarus File was published in 2002 by the now-defunct Panther Creek Press, a trade-paperback, royalty-paying, regional press. The lady who organized Panther Creek had heard me read two chapters to a critique group. When she formed the press, she contacted me about publishing it. The press used print-on-demand (POD) technology, but produced a specified number of books on each press run.
The advantages were obvious: I had a published novel, it had excellent reviews with no negative comments, and people who read it knew I could write significant fiction.
The disadvantages were also obvious: The small press had no publicity division, the book was not stocked in book stores, and selling fell 100% on the author. As a POD book, it was priced substantially higher than its competition. And some of the editors and agents I pitched other books to remained unconvinced that it wasn’t self-published.
Self-publishing: Earlier this year I self-published a poetry book, Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. For several years, I’d been teaching poetry writing at writers’ conferences such as Glorieta and Blue Ridge. People who heard me reading poems there asked if I had published a book of poetry, so I knew there was at least a small audience for one. Further, I’d been advocating and writing a kind of poetry different from the kind now taught in the universities. In contrast to the grad school product, I advocate poetry that ordinary educated readers can read and understand. (This idea is explained in detail on my Web site, http://www.donntaylor.com/
.) Following recommendations by two agents, I entered discussions with the Winepress Group and ended up contracting with it to publish the book.
When should one self-publish? Conventional advice holds: In fiction, never—because it suggests the book was not market-ready. In nonfiction: when you have a niche with ready-made reader interest and the capability to sell personally to that group. I published the poetry book because it is not the kind that university presses or subsidy groups would publish and because it furthers my crusade for revival of poetry for ordinary readers. I don’t expect to make a profit on it, and I’ll be lucky to break even after four or five years.
Advantages: I have a book that illustrates what I’m teaching about poetry, and the publisher’s visual art section translated the book’s basic concept into a beautiful cover illustration—something far beyond my capability. The publisher also has an active and effective publicity department.
Disadvantages: Editorial responsibility falls at least 90% on the author, as does approval of formatting and presentation. Publicity or no, most sales responsibility still falls on the author.
National press: My light-hearted mystery Rhapsody in Red was released by Moody Publishers in September 2008. I must credit my agent, Terry Burns, with both the initial contact and the sale. The difference in this experience and the other two is the extensive help provided by the publisher’s people. Andy McGuire, the acquisitions editor, made suggestions that definitely improved the book, as did the copy editor. The publisher’s people also came up with one of the most provocative covers I’ve ever seen—yes, it’s on my Web site—and the publicity staff has been most active. Although the book has had excellent reviews, it’s still too early to say what the final outcome will be. What I can say is that it’s been a pleasure from the very start.
Publishing with a well-established, national, profit-making press is always preferable to the other two experiences—for a commercially viable product, of course. But small press and self-publishing have their places for niches and special purposes