Carriers, Destroyers and Speedboats – why a small press might be your best choice

My friend Stuart has a great analogy for the publishing industry (and he has a new book out, so go here to check it out!). He says that self-publishers are like speedboats, nimble little boats that can turn on a dime and give you change, quick things that can react to market forces immediately. Then to continue the analogy, small press publishers are like destroyers, well-armed, but still fairly quick to turn and adjust to things. They don’t move nearly as quick as a speedboat, but they’re a hell of a lot better equipped than most. Then there are the aircraft carriers – this is the metaphor for traditional New York publishers. They’re huge, with a whole city inside of them, and they lumber along slowly, and it takes them forever to slow down and turn. But once they get turned and locked onto a course, you DO NOT want to be in their way, because they’ll run over a speedboat without ever noticing.

I was reminded of just how good an analogy this is last night at the meeting of the Charlotte Writers’ Club. Kevin Morgan Watson of Press 53 came to speak to the group, and he gave his opinions on the state of publishing, what it takes to get published in today’s world, and all sorts of other things. I found myself nodding at almost everything that came out of Kevin’s mouth, something that happened very little at Dragon*Con panels, and I was struck by the accuracy of Stuart’s analogy once more. Kevin is a small press, and I tend to use Minor League baseball as my metaphor for small presses.

I would classify Press 53 as a AA team. They have a good listing of authors, including some truly amazing writers, but they’re still a pretty small operation. They don’t have some of the distribution deals with Barnes & Noble that some publishers have, and they don’t yet have their entire catalog available in e-book format, but they’re moving that way and understand that e-books are the future, and have embraced that fact.

I classify Bell Bridge as a AAA press, because they do have the B&N print distribution, have some truly rocking deals with Amazon and iTunes, and have landed a bunch of their books on the Amazon top 100 list, which is a serious sales number. Also, they pay advances, albeit small ones, which is almost unheard of in the small press world.

Someone I call a A team would be someone like Hydra Publications, out of southern Indiana. They’re a start-up, with just a few titles so far, but Frank over there is a great guy with an eye towards the future, and I think they’ve got potential to grow into something over the next few years. So they’re someone to keep an eye on in your submission process.

Okay, now that I’m done expanding my metaphor (and don’t forget other awesome small presses like Kerlak or Apex when you’re choosing which one is the best fit for you, because those guys are great, too, especially for building up new authors), let’s get back to my point – small press publishers are paying better attention, and reacting better, to the market changes that are going on today.

I would sign with a New York publisher only if there was pay off my house money guaranteed.

I happily signed with a small press for less money in an advance than will pay off my truck (way, way less, but it was an expensive truck). And every time I talk to a publisher from a major press, or listen to them on a panel, I become more and more convinced that they have no idea how to change their business model to fit with the new world. And every time I hear someone like Allan from Kerlak, or Deb from Bell Bridge, or Kevin from Press 53 talk, I become more and more convinced that they are paying attention and working on a plan to figure out how to survive in the new world of publishing.

And that’s what has me so impressed with these small press folks – they’re working on a plan. They understand that the world is changing, and they have to change with it. They aren’t still trying to hammer square pegs into round holes, they’re taking keyhole saws to the pegboard and changing the shape of the holes. Duh! But when I talk to a publisher at a major house and ask “How would a self-published author get your attention?” and I get the answer “With a self-published work, they can’t. We won’t ever publish a reprint.” I think that I’m talking to someone who isn’t paying attention to the world around them.

I didn’t sign with Bell Bridge for money (although I do have hopes for increased revenue for both of us) – I may very well be giving up cash on the table by making this move. I signed with them for marketing support, assistance in building my brand, editorial help in crafting my books, and career development for myself as a writer. I could pay fifty grand in a Creative Writing MFA, and MAYBE get some of that education, or I can give up some of the revenue for a few of my books and get exactly that education. And since I’ve already dropped out of grad school once, I think it’s a better bet for me to go this route.

So there’s a few rambling (as usual) things to think about when looking for a publisher. Do you want to be the speedboat, or do you want to sign on with a destroyer or an aircraft carrier? Only you can make that decision, and only you will be the ultimate judge of whether it was the right call or not.

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4 thoughts on “Carriers, Destroyers and Speedboats – why a small press might be your best choice

  1. I’m not sure if I’m glad for me or sorry for you that my little comment gave you such brain fodder. Don’t strain the gray matter too much. It’s just an analogy!

    BTW, Bell Bridge sounds like a great fit for you. Best of luck.

  2. Great analogy. I’m definitely starting off in self publishing but do not plan to rule out a small press deal if I feel like the offer makes sense (similar to your case). However, the way things are now, I can’t see myself ever signing with a major publisher. A lot needs to change first.

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