So You Wanna Go the Indie/Small Press Route…

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by Gabino Iglesias

We’ve talked a lot about self-publishing in the past few months. Maybe the stuff we discussed made you decide to take matters into your own hands and publish your own work. That’s great. Best of luck! However, maybe some of that stuff made you decide that you want to send it out and let someone else take care of the editing, layout, cover, etc. If that’s your case, welcome to the wonderful world of small/indie publishers. Now, the first thing we need to do is explain what we’re talking about because there is a ridiculous amount of confusion and misinformation out there. When you do everything yourself = self-publishing. When someone else publishes your work through a press = traditional publishing. That’s the gist of it. However, indie/small presses complicate the thing. When we talk about indie/small presses, we’re talking about folks that are not directly operating under huge publishers like HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin Random House, or Simon & Schuster. I can talk about this for hours, but I’ll keep it short, I promise. If you see a book from Putnam, Del Rey, Dutton, Ballantine, or One World, for example, you’re really seeing a book from Penguin Random House (they have almost 300 imprints). If you see a book from Little, Brown and Company, Mulholland, or Orbit, you’re seeing a book from the Hachette Book Group. Weird and scary, I know. In any case, some small presses have ties to big publishers, which means they have great distribution and might get you a little advance. More on that later. For now, focus on this: here I’m talking about indie publishers with no ties to big publishers. If this is the path you want to travel, the first thing you have to do is memorize these ten rules:

1. Get Paid.

Unless you can buy food and pay rent with exposure, focus on paying presses and anthologies. There are some situations (like charity anthologies) where this rule can be ignored. That said, you want to either get an advance (very rare with indies) or know exactly what percentage of royalties you’re going to receive and how often.

2. Never Pay. Ever.

Anyone who asks you to pay to get your book published or to be in a book is an asshole and a predator. Tell those people to go die in a tire fire. You spent time and effort writing. This is what you do. That means this is a job, so you should get paid. Never pay to be published. Ever.

3. Covers matter.

We’ve talked about this before. It’s worth saying it again: covers matter. Before submitting your work to an indie publisher, check out their covers. A publisher who doesn’t get you a decent cover doesn’t care about your book.

4. This isn’t self-publishing.

You should never pay for a cover, proofreading, formatting/layout, or editing. A real press takes care of all that for you.

5. Make sure they’re professionals.

If you read a submission call or a website or pick up a book from a small press and find it full of typos and misspelled words, forget about them and move on. Being a small press isn’t an excuse to put out shitty books.

6. Stay strong.

When we start our careers, we’re all dying to see our name in print or on the cover of a book. However, publishing well is more important than publishing quickly. The only correct answer to an editor telling you that sometimes you have to “pay to play when starting out” is “Well, sometimes you gotta eat shit and die.”

7. Have questions? Ask.

If you’re in doubt, reach out to a pro. Ask questions. Seriously. Folks who’ve been around the block a few times aren’t fans of asshats taking advantage of those who are dying to see their name in print. A lot of people are willing to point out red flags.

8. Get a contract. Read it. Read it again.  

Promises were made for religious stuff and to help dying folks go in peace. In publishing, promises are bullshit. Get everything in writing. Read your contract carefully and, if you don’t know what you’re reading, get in touch with someone who knows more than you. 

9. Traditionally published with Simon & Schuster is not the same as traditionally published with a small press that puts out three or four books per year.

That sort of says it all. You won’t quit your day job with no advance. Indies have limited distribution. Small presses rarely have a marketing budget. These aren’t reasons not to publish with them, but they are things you need to keep in mind. If you publish with a small press thinking your book will be in airport bookstores across the nation, it’s time to do some research.

10. It’s time to pay attention and study.

Some folks have awesome careers publishing with indie presses. Some folks get tired and switch to self-publishing. Some writers land an agent and use the platform they built as indie press writers to jump to huge publishers. What happens after you decide to go with an indie press is a combination of your hustle, the quality of the work, and luck. That said, the more you learn, the better your chances of being successful will be, so pay attention. Good luck.

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