Should I Sign With a Small Press?

I got on my soapbox last week (I mean, if you can’t do that on a blog, where can you do it?) and that was fun.  Got a few trolling comments.  This week, I’m ready to give you an update on this book.

What have been doing the past months or so, you ask?  Well, not writing.  More like lawyering, socializing and waiting.

God, there’s a lot of waiting in this game.

But that’s not to say I haven’t made any progress- I have! I’ve found a publisher who is interested in publishing my book! It’s a small press looking to support black writers.  I met the publisher at a writing conference.

The Small Press Option

It should be noted that I had no idea that signing unagented with a small press was an option before I was approached by one of the publishers.  But I think it’s one that more writers should consider.

This is what I know about the small press I am looking at:

First, I don’t need an agent to sign with them, which is great because I don’t have one.

Second, the publisher would provide me with an editor, publish the book and then help me market it.  I get the impression that they can offer more TLC than a big publisher or a busy agent, which is exactly what I need right now.

I need help.  I need support.  I need guidance.  I want my book to sell, but more than anything I want it to be good and to reflect my vision.  Then I want it to sell.

The downside is that signing with small presses can be risky.  There’s a website called Writer Beware that outlines all the risks.  They’ll even let you know if the specific small press you’re looking at has received any complaints, etc. (mine has not, but she said it was still risky move to sign with them because there isn’t much info about them out there- good or bad). The publishers definitely seem to have experience and credentials, but the Writer Beware lady is right- ultimately this is a new venture.  Like any small business, many of them fail within the first year or two.

Other downsides are that I wouldn’t get an advance (big publishers give advances) yet I also wouldn’t get 80-100% of the royalties (like you do when you self publish).

I spoke to one of the small press’ current clients, who is working with them on her third book.  She was helpful.  She said the publisher is sending her on radio shows, pushing her to do appearances and pursue other things completely outside her comfort zone in an effort to get the word out about her book.  The contract she signed seemed fair and standard (she worked with other publishers in the past).

I’ve also met with the actual publisher a couple of times.  There aren’t really any red flags besides the fact that it’s so new.  I’d definitely be taking a leap of faith, but so would they.

My Other Options

The way I see it, I have three options:  I could a) pursue the small press, b) continue my quest for an agent who will then embark on a quest for a publisher or c) self publish.  I’ve already talked about the small press, let’s discuss the other two paths.

  1. Self publish

I really don’t want to self-publish because I just don’t have that expertise or background.  I don’t have connections to bookstores or libraries, I’m not well-versed in marketing, and I just spent the past three years learning how to write a book (while being a full-time lawyer).  Learning how to publish a book as well seems unappealing.  Not to mention the inevitable hustling that would have to accompany that if I have any desire to sell the thing.  I’ve done a lot on my own, I’m ready for someone to just tell me what to do.  And I’ll be happy to do it.

2. Agent > Big Publisher

Going the agent-big publisher route was always my plan.

Obviously trying to find an agent is a ridiculously long process.  It’s taken a long time for me, and I think that even if it does work out, it will take for-ever.  Maybe months to get an agent.  Then maybe a year to find a publisher.  Then a year of editing.  Then Lord knows if it ever gets on the shelf.  I mean I love my book, but if I can avoid this taking another 5 years, I may very well do that.

The agents and large publishers are also faced with various pressures that seem to hurt minority writers, writers of niche genres, writers with unique styles, and anyone else who isn’t a cookie cutter image of today’s  author.

Finally, I get the sense that I may not get too much assistance or attention, which worries me.  While I’m confident in my abilities, I know that right now I’m limited in what I can do.  I really need someone who will help me create my best work- there are agents and others who are willing to invest that kind of time, but it’s not a guarantee. Also, the agent would get 15-20% of whatever I earn, which would be annoying.

Upsides? If I found an agent and signed with a big publisher, that means I’d get an advance and be working with an established institution.  In addition to having a certain degree of prestige, I would benefit from their vast connections and experience.  But would they care about me?

To the extent there any knowledgeable writers reading this, I could really use your insight.

Til next week!

Advertisements

Submission Material Feedback and How I Met This Year’s Newbery Medal Winner

Man oh man, lots has been going on.

Let’s Talk About the Agent Bootcamp

I got comments back on my query letter, synopsis and 9 pages of my manuscript. Much like every other time I’ve invested (money) in my writing, I do not regret it. It was incredibly helpful. In case you missed it, I participated in an Agent One on One Bootcamp to get some of my submission materials reviewed.

First, the agent said she really liked my synopsis and said it was the best she read in the Bootcamp! Woohoo! Of course the point of these programs is constructive criticism, but trust me, I will take any confidence booster I can get. This process is long and subjective and full of unknowns, so I was really happy when she said that. I even wrote a post about how to write a Synopsis for The Write Practice. 🙂

Then, she gave me some tips on my query letter. Generally, she said it was too long and detailed (mind you, the whole thing was four paragraphs), but she liked the bio. In my query, I mentioned that the manuscript is written in a format similar to Terry McMillan’s Disappearing Acts. So she replaced my summary with the blurb from that book and told me to use that as a guide. Doing so showed me that my summary in the query should be more about showing the tension between the characters than explaining exactly what happens. I’ve read a million things about query letters, but something about that comment made me finally get it.

How do I know I got it? Because one agent who I sent only the query (no sample pages or synopsis) asked for my entire manuscript. And this was straight from the slush pile. A couple of agents have read up to 100 pages of my manuscript, but I had met all of them in advance (at a writer’s retreat). I just cold called this lady and she responded based solely on this one letter. (For those of you who don’t know, the process usually consists of a request for a few chapters or the first 50 pages, and then a request for the full thing.) So now I feel pretty confident in my query, thank goodness.

Finally, she gave me some tips on my first pages, which was helpful because no one had read them before. I’ve re-written those things so many times now, I can’t even tell you what draft it is. This time I made sure there was some action. Seems obvious, but it’s much easier said than done—I think I got it though. (Ask me again in a month.)  Anyway, she said my manuscript was too contemporary for her, but recommended that I pitch one of her colleagues and if she passed, to try her again. 😀

About That Newbery Medal Winner…

Yeah, about that.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to this mini writer’s retreat in Bowie, Maryland. Basically it was just a bunch of local writers writing in the basement of Marita Golden—who has published over a dozen books—for 5 hours. It was a great, inspiring setting with about 6 or so writers and at the end we discussed what we were working on. One of the people I met was a guy named Kwame Alexander. He seemed like he knew he what he was doing, but honestly, so did everyone else in that room.

Little did I know that two days later he would win the NEWBERY MEDAL aka the most prestigious award for American literature for children!  I’M SERIOUS. To give you an idea, past winners and honorees include Beverly Clearly, E.B. White (for Charlotte’s Webb), Lois Lowry (The Giver), Fred Gipson (Old Yeller).

I’m so proud of him, and I would be even if I hadn’t met him. It should not be lost on any of the readers of this blog how important it is to have an African American winner of this award (and he’s D.C. based!). Children and adults all over the country (world?) will be reading this book (maybe even assigned it in school), and that’s amazing for readers and writers everywhere. I’m so happy!!

Kwame’s book is called The Crossover. Buy it!!

The Crossover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on the Amazon v. Traditional Publisher Fight

Hachette and Amazon settled their dispute. Hachette (which publishes authors such as Robert Galbraith (J.K Rowling’s pseudonym), Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson) is allowed to set its own e-book prices.

I’m not sure where I stand on this, namely because I don’t think I have complete understanding of the facts. However, from here it looks like Amazon wants to cut prices for books because it sells like 40% of all books sold, and its business model is cheap prices. Amazon’s dominance also gives it serious leverage as most publishers/authors can’t simply walk away from the site. Publishers such as Hachette don’t want to cut prices so that they have more money for themselves and authors. Amazon needs them because they carry some of the most influential authors of our time.

On the one hand, I get Amazon’s point. Commerce, including book-selling, is changing and it’s trying to force publishers to evolve. Many people seriously question if publishers are even necessary anymore, as authors can self-publish, take a higher percentage of rights, and therefore sell a bunch of books on Amazon while still keeping prices down. There is a real freedom to this model. It seems to get rid of a gatekeeper, and allow diverse, non-traditional, innovative stories to gain access to the market-  amazing books that never would have had a chance because agents/publishers were afraid to bet on them.

On the other hand, Amazon is a retailer that sells a billion things. Its heart is with the platform, not with the books. They made this clear when, as part of its negotiating tactics, it delayed shipping of books by Hachette authors, made them unavailable for preorder, altered search terms so they were difficult to find, etc. I wanted to be neutral and listen to both sides (because I think there are legitimate arguments on both), but that really rubbed me the wrong way as both a reader and a wannabe author. It also demonstrates the problem of eliminating publishers altogether (if that’s its end goal). Someone needs to be invested in more than just bottomline, but also the art and the artists. While I think publishers definitely are focused on the $$, I also think they do genuinely care about the books as well.

I don’t know, it seems like the two parties just kicked the can down the road, and this same dispute will emerge again in a few years. I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts.