There was a ton of internet buzz in certain circles over the weekend about Small Presses, scamsters, schmublishers, etc. You can read the piece that touched all this off here on the YAwriters subreddit. There are responses all over twitter and the blogosphere. One response that resonated with me was from Jennifer L. Armentrout, who points out the fact that many small press deals carry a stigma, even when they are super-legit.
As an agent, I've done deals with the biggest publishers, with mid-sized and smallish independent publishers, with small presses, start-ups and e-only publishers. (And everything in between!).
So I must start by saying, I'm in NO WAY accusing anyone (in a veiled way or otherwise) or talking about any particular press -- I'm just about trying to help authors avoid fraud, scams and sadness.
And, I love the publishers I work with. Hey guys, you're awesome, keep up the good work! *running high-five to my publisher friends* -- now there's no need for you to stick around while the authors and I have a cozy little chat. Scoot along now, you cuties.
OK authors, now that we're alone, here's my perspective:
I've seen publishers do an amazing job - create lovely works of
art and sell them exquisitely - take an newbie author from outta nowhere and
make them a star (or at least treat them like one!) - lift their authors and illustrators up, make their work shine, give
them support and clearly care on a personal level about doing right by
I'm not talking about just the big fancy rich publishers... ALL sizes and types of publishers.
I've also seen situations that would make your hair curl (or in my case, straighten!).... atrocious behavior, nonsensical business practices, lack of any communication, contracts with bizarre, byzantine language... stuff that almost seems designed to purposely screw with or possibly torture the author.
I'm not laying this at the foot of small presses... ALL sizes and types of publishers.
Whether big publisher or small press, mega-corporation or independent or start-up, most authors will experience at least a taste of both terrible and wonderful during their journey. I'd say the vast majority of my author's publishing experiences fall somewhere in between these two extremes, though much more toward the good end than the bad. Most publishers are trying to do the right thing by their books (and sometimes, like any humans, they don't do such a great job, and sometimes they do better than you can imagine.)
And again, yes... that's with ALL sizes and types of publishers.
The takeaway from the Reddit post, or from any of these other conversations, should not be "let's dog-pile on small presses and start-ups" or "you should avoid all small presses and start-ups" -- after all, there are many fine, totally legit, mega-awesome small presses doing great things.
The takeaway should be, "no matter WHO is offering you a contract, avoid scamsters and sadness by doing your due diligence as an author."
Now remember: No path to publication is going to be easy-peasy, bon-bons in a bed of roses. As should be clear by now, there are potential benefits and pitfalls to self-publishing, small-press publishing AND to publishing with a big NYC house.
For example, being published by ANY publisher, even the largest, does not guarantee bookstore placement... bookstores stock what they feel like, and plenty of books from major publishers do get skipped by stores.
So that being said, a clue when you are looking at whether a publisher is worth your time: Does the press have distribution? Do they publish books that you've heard
of, or at least that you can look at and easily buy (or at least order) in a store or online?
Get your hands on an actual copy of one of their books, or download it if e-only. How does the finished product look to you? Is it high quality and professional looking? Is the retail price competitive with other, similar books on the market?
WOULD YOU BE HAPPY TO HAVE YOUR NAME ON ONE OF THEIR PRODUCTS?
Are they asking YOU for money? Is there even a contract? Is the contract fair? Do they have good designers and editors and marketing/publicity folks on board? What happens when your book goes Out of Print? Are they trying to grab all rights in perpetuity? IF they want to keep rights like foreign, do they have a history of successfully exploiting those rights? If you're not being offered an advance, what are you getting? Are the royalties better than average, do they have marketing, and do they have a history of successful books?
The big question I'd ask myself is the one Saundra Mitchell brought up in the Reddit post. What will they be doing for me? Will I be better off WITH them or WITHOUT them -- are they doing things for me that I could not or would not do for myself?
DO NOT FORGET: YOU HAVE OPTIONS. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO ASK QUESTIONS. . . AND TO WALK AWAY FROM AN OFFER IF IT SEEMS UNFAIR OR FISHY.