Writer Wednesday: Indie Publishing Misconceptions
Good morning authors and welcome to another Writer Wednesday! Today we have a special guest post from the Publishing Desk, offering some perspective and insight into the world of Indie Publishing from the other side of the fence.
Indie Publishing Misconceptions & Realities
When I first started in publishing, I was clueless. That is an oddly hard thing to admit, for both myself and other people. No one ever wants to be “new” or “inexperienced” at anything in publishing. The industry has built this unrealistic expectation that you must come out of the womb knowing everything there is about writing and/or publishing in order to have a good career. To put it simply, that just isn’t the case. The best authors and publishers I know are always learning, always looking to grow their experiences.
While I have degrees in business and communications and I have experience working behind the scenes, quite a bit of the knowledge and skills I use every day in my position came from good old fashioned trial and error. It came from laying everything I had on the line and praying like hell that it worked. Often it didn’t. I fell subject to scams and schemes. I made missteps that set me back in my career and (more often than not) set myself up for extreme disappointment.
Some of that is unavoidable in this industry. Cutting your teeth as an author comes with rejections, disappointments, and missteps. Those are the things we grow from.
But had I looked hard enough, there were a ton of people who could have helped me make sense of what was going on in my early years - I just didn’t know where to find them or even that they were out there.
After years of growth and learning, I made myself a promise to be LOUD and helpful. Because there is no telling who out there doesn’t know that they need the help or who doesn’t want to admit it.
So here are some pretty common misconceptions when it comes to Independent/Small Press publishing that you may not know you needed to know.
Misconception #1: Independent publishing is a last resort for people who failed to get an agent or big pub deal.
Incorrect. While some authors do try to get an agent/big pub deal first and then sign with a smaller publisher later, that isn’t the case for quite a bit of them. There are a million reasons why an author would choose to sign with a smaller publisher. Some authors like the personalized attention, creative freedom, and flexibility. Some authors had books that went out on submission with an agent but didn’t sell in the current market. Some authors see independent publishing as a way to have the best of both worlds - a team to support you with the career control of self-publishing.
Did you know agents also submit to smaller publishers? Just because our submissions are (usually) open to non-agented authors doesn’t mean those are the only ones we get. An agent's job is to find the best fit for your work and make both of you money. If a smaller publisher has the perfect niche for your story, is reputable, and fulfills the first two requirements - they’ll send it over!
Misconception #2: Indie pubs do no marketing (or alternatively “Indie pubs do all the marketing for you”)
Again, incorrect - mostly. It varies from company to company but neither are usually true. A reputable pub will have no problem laying out their marketing details for you if they’ve offered a deal. I’ve seen pubs that tell you up front that they have no money for marketing, but most have some level of marketing even if it’s just blog tours. It’s in their best interest to promote your book. At S&S we run an entire marketing department to ensure your book is sent to trade reviewers, has ads on various platforms, and gets as much buzz and social media exposure as possible.
But let’s talk about why small pub marketing is limited (hint: it’s not because they don’t love you). Small pubs tend to produce a smaller amount of titles per year than larger publishers. Most operate out of their love and passion for the books they publish and less out of capitalistic desire to make loads of cash. That usually also means they have higher royalty rates for their authors and employees. To put it bluntly, their capital per book is limited.
If you’ve looked around at the industry enough you’ll see that much of it is a pay to play environment. You can buy spots on end caps at bookstores, you can buy fans on Instagram, you can buy tons of reviews. But small publishers typically are forced to forgo those things. A really good one will make up for it by helping their authors in ways that money can’t buy and putting in the effort and time to help grow your audience and buzz organically instead.
Misconception #3: Gross Royalties vs Net Royalties
Looking at a contract can be both exhilarating and nauseating for an inexperienced author. Little details tend to be either overlooked due to sheer excitement or misunderstood. Then when their royalty statement comes in they are crushed because it doesn’t match up to what they expected.
To really understand the royalty process, you have to look at it from a publisher's perspective, so bear with me as I go a little more in depth than you will probably ever need.
When your book is listed at $12.99 on a third party website like the Zon or B&N and your contract says you get 20% GROSS royalties, then you get 20% of $12.99 per book.
But that isn’t the case with NET royalties (which are industry standard).
On NET royalties, costs (like distribution and discounts to retailers) are factored in before your royalty percentage.
If you don’t know which a contract is referring to ASK! It’s important and good for both you and the publishers to have a clear understanding and expectation when it comes to how profits will be handled.
And while we are on the subject WHYYYYY do royalty statements take so long?
Simple answer, because the distributors take that long to get them to us. If your publisher isn’t paying as quickly as you’d like, it’s probably because they haven’t gotten paid yet either. It typically takes distributor’s five to six months to pay your publisher. Then the publisher must handle their own bookkeeping side of things before your statements/payments are sent to your inbox.
Misconception #4: Independent/Small publishers are full of inexperienced staff and it shows in their work.
Now even if you are newbie to the publishing world, you should have already learned that absolutely nothing in this industry comes easy. Even companies run by the most veteran, experienced publishing professionals fold every day. One run by inexperienced staff wouldn’t survive long, especially with knowledgeable and prepared authors on the prowl (You are paying attention to #WritersWednesdays to be one of those, right?). When we handpicked our staff, we did so by finding the best and brightest in their field (in our opinions). Editors who have had years of experience, designers who produce quality covers, etc. We’re also members of the Independent Book Publishers of America, an organization that sets industry standards and holds their members accountable to them. If you are wary about a publisher’s credibility, it’s always okay to ask around.
Misconception #5: I could start an independent publishing company myself.
Absolutely more power to you. But be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. Study, get a mentor, join a professional organization like IBPA or CLMP, and above all - save up money. Publishing isn’t cheap and there is a lot that goes into doing it right. Being a publisher is much different than self-publishing. You have other people’s dreams and hard work relying on you to do your job well. For me, it’s my world. Because when I do it right, I get to help those dreams come true. But for others, the industry and the pressure might be unbearable. I’ve seen too many people fold under the weight of it to not warn against doing it without thinking it all the way through.
Misconception #6: If I’m going to publish with an independent publisher, I might as well self-publish.
There are several different ways that independent publishers differ from self-publishing, so let’s break them down.
Talking financially, independent publishers usually cover copyright fees, content editing, line editing, copy editing, proofreading, formatting, cover design, title listing fees, ISBN numbers (go ahead and look up the costs of these if it sounds small), barcodes, and more. And that’s if they provide no marketing at all. If they do add in the costs of Netgalley runs, blog tours, printing ARCs, advertisements, etc. all of that would come out of your pocket as a self-publisher. Or worse, you would forgo them due to limited resources and end up with a subpar book or limit your marketing capabilities.
When you sign with a small publisher, you have the combined wealth of the staff's experience and knowledge behind you. You aren’t on your own. You have people who know what they’re doing to help you do what you need to do.
You become part of a community. The authors of most smaller publishers stick together like siblings. They complain about us amongst themselves in secret (y’all thought I didn’t know 😝) or -hopefully more often- lift up and support each other.
To put it simply, independent publishers are exactly that. They are a real, honest publishing company who has no affiliation with one of the Big 4. They shouldn’t be scary and they shouldn’t keep their secrets hidden under a veil.
For more information about submitting to independent publishers, what red flags to look for, and how to make the best out of your independently published book watch this space as we often talk about these things during conferences and book festivals.
And here’s a tiny reminder to be proud of your book and yourself. As a publisher, I give you permission to not look at publishers and agents as people who are doing you a favor or taking pity on you by requesting your manuscript. Shake off the desperation and intense desire to get your book published, you will need them elsewhere - but not in determining your career path choice or talking to an agent or publisher. Ask MANY questions. Research. An agent or publisher will be your business partner. Remove emotion from the equation when looking at contracts. Don’t be afraid to hurt their feelings or run them away. If you ask a question of an agent or publisher and they rescind the offer, it’s a red flag. (Appropriate questions, of course. Don’t go asking agents their bra size or something crazy. They are human beings.)
Your writing career belongs to no one but you. You answer to no one at the end of the day. Should you choose to take a partnership with an agent, a publisher, or even to self-publish those are your decisions. Each one is valid, each one deserves respect. Each one took extreme amounts of time, effort, and bravery.