Thursday, October 11, 2007

The slippery slope: Self-publishing versus Small Press--Cheryl Anne Gardner

This post by Cheryl is cross-posted from the POD People self-publishing blog. I found the parallels interesting. I think I may have discovered the common motivation behind starting EREC and POD People. The need for author scepticism and empowerment.

Every new author longs to be picked up by a publisher; that is a career dream for most writers, to do what they love for a living. So what does an author do while they wait amid the flurry of rejections letters and manuscripts collecting dust. If they want to see their work in print, they have but two choices: Self-publish or seek out a Small Press. Both of these are very respectable choices, no matter what people say regarding stigmas or other ridiculous notions perpetuated by the publishing industry, agents, and critics alike. I have read some excellent work from both. But the choice is not easy and both have their share of risks.

Self-publishing is a labour of love in more respects than simply the writing. It’s not for the squeamish nor it is for those who lack the digital skills required for such an endeavour. Covers must be designed, editing must done, typesetting, proper book formatting, and marketing, not to mention the legal issues involved such as copyright registration and properly documenting where you got that artwork for your cover … All these must be done, and it must be done to the level of professionalism the consumer has come to expect from the traditional publishing industry. The upside for authors, well, you have total and complete control of how shabby your product will be … or not. Once the critics and readers get a hold of your work, you will know, hopefully, if all your long hours of toil paid off.

Now, for those authors who do not possess the skill or simply do not want to take on the monumental tasks required to self-publish, you can seek out a small Indie press. Presumably, this gives more credibility to your work (in some circles I guess) and it alleviates many of the extraneous burdens a self-pub author has to face. But this is where things can get a little scary and a little dangerous … for the author. How does one find a qualified small press? A slippery question that one, as thousands of small presses out there are basically a person or two running the show from their basement, or a stand-alone author using a small press name to shield themselves from the stigma of self-publishing. Basically, it’s author beware and do your research. A press, no matter how small or large, should do the basics and do them well: Design your cover; typeset the book and format it professionally; provide an ISBN; provide listing and distributions services; have a competent editor who is attentive and available; and at least provide an intelligent press release (other marketing services may be done depending on the scale of the press). A true press should offer these bare minimums to its clients in return for a share of the profit.

So, how does an author know if the press is legit and can provide the proper level of service?
1. Check the press’s other releases and see what the rankings look like.
2. Look at reader reviews of the those releases.
3. Ask to see samples of their recent press releases, marketing kits, or tear sheets.
4. Ask if the editor is experienced in your genre and if they have any credentials to justify their editor status. I am not talking a degree being necessary, as a secretary by profession edits millions of business documents a year in some cases.
5. Buy a copy of one of their releases and check the editing and formatting yourself. Compare it to traditionally published books, from the front matter to the back cover, and do it with a discerning consumer eye.
6. Make sure you will maintain your rights. If a contract is required, have a professional look at it in order to make certain you will get what your writing deserves. I would question any press that offers publication services without an airtight legitimate contract. This should outline payment schedules, timelines, your legal obligations as far as producing the product, and your options should you desire to go somewhere else. These are but a few.
7. And make sure your expectations align with what the Press can provide. Do they specialize in your genre or do they take whatever comes along. Specialty presses are best.

The worst-case scenario for both options is you end up with a shoddy piece of work out there for the entire world to see. I am not talking about the actual story, opinions vary greatly regarding content and writing styles, I am strictly speaking of presentation. No matter how well you write, or how fantastic and original your story might be, no one will read it if it looks like a 5th grader slapped it together, edited it, and doodled on the cover. And if they do buy it, you can be certain they will post their disappointment in a rather unpleasant fashion via a review on the product page of your work – ruining your credibility.

Cheryl Anne Gardner, author of four novellas, is an Executive Assistant by day, an avid reader, and an independent reviewer with Podpeople.blogspot and Amazon where she blogs regularly on AmazonConnect. She is an advocate for independent film, music, and books, and when at all possible, prefers to read and review out of the mainstream Indie published works, foreign translations, and a bit of philosophy. She lives with her husband and two ferrets on the East Coast, USA.

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