Thursday, June 11, 2009

Small Press vs. No Publication

I have a novel submitted all over the place and have a few requests for fulls. I also have a bite from a very very small press that usually only sells between 100 to 500 copies of a book and usually poetry.

My question is: if the big/medium presses don’t come back with a contract, should I pursue the small press. Knowing I’d have to do all the publicity etc. I think I could sell 500 books easily.

Im working on my next novel which I think will be much better than my first.

Should I shelve my first novel or go with the small press? If I go with the small press and only sell 500 copies, will this hurt me if a I look for an agent for my second (and better) book?

If you get no hits from the big presses, go with the small press. You don't have to take my advice here. It's not a hard-and-fast rule I'm laying down. But I am saying that it is awesome to be published, especially for the first time. You don't know when the next time is going to come, so shoot for the stars. If the small press is your only offer, you should go with it.

The other legitimate option is to shelve it and focus on your new work. I've certainly shelved a lot of work - in fact, most of my work - either to revise it later or never to look at it again, but usually I shelved it after it was turned down everywhere, a surefire sign that something was wrong with it. Some people are not proud of their early stuff. Some people believe that a small press is harmful to your resume. This is not true, necessarily, it just isn't as helpful as you would think in comparison to having a shorter piece published in a major magazine.

A lot of people talk about waiting to have written the "right" book which will land them a good advance at one of the big 5/6 publishing companies. These people generally do not get published.


jen larsen said...

Joshua Mohr, who recently published his novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me with a small press (Two Dollar Radio), wrote a terrific article for Rumpus about the decision. It's here:

Suzette Saxton said...

Fascinating. Thank you!

Thomas said...

I'm suspicious of anyone that is excessively proud of their early work. It smacks of ego and a reluctance to actively learn.

Anonymous said...

I'm kind of in the same situation. I have an agent, am revising after one round of rejections. She had said don't go with a small publisher because it could ruin my career--but now with all that is happening in publishing, I have to wonder. Do you really think, rejecter, that this cannot come back to haunt you if the sales are no good?

The Rejecter said...


It's more my opinion that the person should go forward with the small press than a rule, and I say this because I got my first break with an independent press (granted, a large one, but still) and it has resulted in other things because I am now "published." In the end it's the decision of the author.

Some agents discourage small presses because the advances are so ridiculously low and the royalties will also be minuscule because the book won't tell the thousands of copies it needs for the royalties to be anything else, and agents earn their living from 15% of YOUR earnings, so it's generally not worth the agent's time. My agent went with me anyway because she felt my writing had promise, and future things would sell to "real" companies. Some people are more conservative.

_*Rachel*_ said...

My first novel was, in retrospect, horrible. I was trying to write from an alien's POV, which included not using contractions, and that made it even worse.

I'd go with the small press if I none of the bigger ones wanted it. Some is better than none, right?

What I've been wondering for ages, and won't need to know for many more ages, if ever, is protocol for accepting. What if the small press offers and you're still waiting for a large press? Same with agents. I've read you can email the ones that haven't offered, saying you've got one, right? But what do you say to the person who called/emailed/whatevered the acceptance?

I'm only dreaming, of course.

WV: antisha. Some of these things look suspiciously like names/phrases.

Anonymous said...

This subject has been on my mind for a couple of years now. I had an agent and the book didn't sell to the major publishers. I thought about approaching smaller pressed but didn't. My reason probably will sound silly to most people, but I really want to be published by a major press. I want to walk into a bookstore and see my novel on the shelf. (It has nothing to do with dreams of being "rich and famous" because I know that ain't gonna happen.)

I also wonder if starting small really would help my career, or if I'd get stuck in the "little leagues."

The Rejecter said...

If your book is good enough to get picked up by a large press, it will get picked up by a large press, regardless of your previous publishing history. That is, if everything else falls in line, like you have a good agent who finds an editor that is committed to your work, etc etc.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this insight Rejector. Another thing that comes to mind is that one particular author I know went with a tiny press and spent two years self promoting it and managed to sell only 500 copies. He was happy with that.
I think I read in your archives that 2,000 copies was good enough to get the attention of an agent for your next book. So, sales is sales, right? Sell 2,000 copies with micropress is same as selling 2,000 copies with Penguin?
On a different note: how does the industry track micro press sales? If a press says 2,000 copies have been sold how can that be tracked (if they sold them direct)?

Anonymous said...

In reading what you say--your agent "went with you"--does that mean you went off on your own and got the deal (having your agent broker) or that the agent secured it for you?

I don't know much about small presses. I guess I've always assumed, regarding fiction, that they are for literary books (like that Joshua Mohr example) --but do they also consider commercial (non genre) fiction-like book club stuff? I'm thinking back to Claire Cook and Tom Perotta who got their start at Bridgeworks ( I believe they don't take fiction anymore)
How would one go about researching the small presses and what they handle?


Etiquette Bitch said...

excellent insight, and good advice. thanks!

Anonymous said...

"Knowing I’d have to do all the publicity etc..."

Newsflash: You ALWAYS gotta do your own publicity, even if you get signed by Simon & Shuster. Don't ask what they can do for you, ask what you can do for you.

Until your last name is Brown, King or Rowling, you need to do your own pub. It's about business, not art. if you wanna creatte art, have fun working a dayjob. If you want to sell books, then market them. The phrase is best-selling author, not best writing author.

Good luck/.

Anonymous said...

Could you give us some insight in how to write a query letter when you want to sell a collection of short stories and a novel--the novel being 1/3 finished, with a full synopses?