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How Indie Presses Are Elevating the Publishing World

13 December 2017

From Electric Lit:

Independent presses are a lifeline in the publishing world. At a time when large publishing houses are merging into even larger conglomerates, writers may feel like finding a home for their work requires a very specific, and at times corporate, mindset. But indies show that there’s another way. Via contests, open calls for submissions (for agented and unagented writers), and targeted requests, independent presses provide an alternate arena, making publishing more of a reality for marginalized artists and those with unique voices and writing styles. Plus, they’re getting more and more recognition.

. . . .

Jennifer Baker: In a world full of presses, why did you decide to create yours and what stands out about it that you saw lacking in the marketplace?

Rosalie Morales Kearns: I started Shade Mountain Press in 2013, and launched its first two books in 2014. Our focus is on literary fiction by women. As a feminist, I certainly am not surprised by the VIDA count and other research showing how underrepresented women are in terms of their work being reviewed in the major venues, winning literary awards, being taught in university classes, and being taken seriously in general. Living in a white supremacist culture, I’m not surprised that women of color are even more drastically underrepresented. But perhaps I had a utopian vision that the small press world was more egalitarian, more inclusive, etc. I learned how wrong I was when I was seeking a publisher for my short story collection Virgins & Tricksters. It ended up being published in 2012 by Aqueous Books, a woman-owned press. But before that, as I researched small presses, I kept coming across publishers that praised themselves for being willing to take chances on less commercial work. Then I’d look at their new and forthcoming lists, and see seven out of eight titles by men, nine out of ten titles by men, sometimes 100% of their titles by men.

. . . .

JB: What questions should authors be asking of their publishers in general? Authors may consider publication as that final step but there’s so much more to it.

RMK: Authors should get a really clear idea of their publisher’s timetable, and make sure that the publisher is intending to send out advance reader copies, in hard copy, in a sufficient number and in a timely way (four or ideally more months before publication date).

If the publisher is going to do a very light edit, they should be clear on that with the author, so that the author understands they will have to do various rounds of proofreading themselves. My press hires a professional proofreader, and I also do proofreading at later stages, when I’m working with the book designer and then when the file is converted to ebook format. All kinds of glitches can creep in in the layout stage and in the ebook stage.

The publisher should also be clear about how much of the publicity work will be on the author, and the author needs to realize that this could take a lot of time. As a publisher I take charge of creating copy for book jackets, for the press release, and for other promotional materials (frankly, a lot of authors just aren’t that good at describing their own work). Also I handle the work of identifying possible reviewers, querying them, following up, etc.. But that being said, it’s certainly a common practice at very small presses to let the authors create the copy and do the legwork in identifying and contacting reviewers. Small-press publishers have only so much time.

From Electric Lit

PG admits he’s biased in favor of authors.

If the CEO of a publisher is spending a lot of time proofreading, exactly what value is the author receiving from a publishing relationship that likely results in the publisher receiving most of the money the author’s book generates? Proofreading services can be obtained elsewhere at a lower price.

PG checked the websites of the three publishers featured in the OP and could not find any reference to the amount of compensation the writer would receive, a copy of the press’s standard publishing contract or any details of the proposed financial relationship between the publisher and the author.

Perhaps PG failed to learn that one of the foundational commandments of small presses is, “Thou shalt never talk about money.” Perhaps the target market for small presses (and large) is limited to authors who have day jobs or inherited wealth. Small presses might want to include a disclaimer or statement of purpose that says something like, “We serve authors who don’t need to earn much money from their writing.”

In the broader world of businesses that have financial relationships with individuals, it is customary for the business to provide detailed disclosures of the legal and financial terms of those relationships early on.

PG just did a Google search for credit card offers and near the top of the first page of a site he picked at random, the following appeared (you don’t have to read the whole thing):

The standard variable APR for purchases and balance transfers for the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card is 15.49% – 24.49% based on your creditworthiness. Balance transfers must be completed within 2 months of account opening. The standard variable APR for cash advances is 26.24%. The variable penalty APR is up to 29.99% and may be applied if you make a late payment or make a payment that is returned. Minimum interest charge – $0.50. Annual fee – $95 for each primary cardholder. However, the annual fee is waived for the first 12 months. Fee for foreign purchases — None. Cash advance fee — either $10 or 5% of the amount of each cash advance, whichever is greater. Balance transfer fee — Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater. New cardmembers only. Subject to credit approval. Additional limitations, terms and conditions apply. You will be given further information when you apply.

In the nature of such disclosures, the writing style of Citi’s attorneys leaves a bit to be desired, but you see numbers there right on the website and you’ll see more numbers provided for anyone who applies before they accept the agreement.

If a publisher, small or large, is soliciting manuscripts, what’s wrong with a simple financial disclosure? On the website?

Here’s a start for such a disclosure:

  1. Royalties payable to the author will be:
    1. Hardback editions – 10% of the suggested retail price for the first 5,000 copies sold and 15% of the suggested retail price for additional copies sold thereafter.
    2. Paperback editions – 8% of the suggested retail price for all copies sold.
    3. Ebook editions – 25% of the net amount received by the publisher.
  2. Royalties will be paid to the author every six months.
  3. In the event unsold books by author are returned to the publisher for credit or reimbursement or amounts received by publisher are subject to chargebacks with respect to unsold or returned books, royalties shall not be payable to author for such books. If royalties have already been paid with respect to unsold or returned books, future royalties payable to the author will be subject to chargebacks for overpayment of royalties in prior periods.
  4. Absent unusual circumstances, the maximum advance for a first book will be limited to $500.00.
  5. The average royalty payments received all of publisher’s current authors total less than $250 per year.

PG also noted some discrepancies in the state of the publishing industry described by the publishers described in the OP.

Shade Mountain Press cited “the VIDA count and other research showing how underrepresented women are” in the book business.

On the other hand, 7.13 Books states:

This is what we know: Big Five publishers are more or less the only way for writers to get a book advance large enough to resemble a living annual wage. What is not commonly known is that the Big Five announce roughly 160 such deals a year for debut authors of literary fiction, which does not include Sci-Fi, YA, Thrillers, etc. (Not all are announced)

Here’s what is also not commonly known:

– 75% of those announced deals were given to female writers. Out of 320 debut deals given by Big Five publishers and their imprints in 2015 and 2016, only 84 were given to authors who identified as male and one to an author who identified as transgender. If you are one of the thousands upon thousands of non-female writers with a novel or story collection manuscript, you’ll be fighting for one of what appears to be roughly 40 new deals annually. A rather large inequity that pretty much no one talks about.

– 30% of the debut deals were given to writers who live in NYC (the city represents 2.6% of the total U.S. population). A rather large inequity that almost everyone talks about.

– Under 25% of those debut deals were given to writers with MFAs. According to The Atlantic, 3,000-4,000 writers graduate from MFA programs each year.

To recap: thousands of new writers each year for 160 new spots.

PG is feeling underrepresented, so he will stop blathering now.

PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Royalties, Small Presses

6 Comments to “How Indie Presses Are Elevating the Publishing World”

  1. Thank you for posting this.

  2. “This is what we know: Big Five publishers are more or less the only way for writers to get a book advance large enough to resemble a living annual wage.”

    Those must be those one percenters we keep hearing about because we already know the qig5 advances are going down – not up. (Never mind those that got $0 and a reject slip.)

    Once you hear the first whopper you know the rest of it will be hogwash as well.

    • Advances for first time fiction authors, and advances for authors whose careers are now on the downslope of the growth chart are getting smaller.

      For those lucky enough to have a breakout novel and a career trajectory on the upswing, or those non-fiction authors who already have a large platform, the advances keep going up. Because publishers are fighting for the guaranteed easy money.

      I’m not sure why ANYONE would be stupid enough to sign a publishing contract with no or little advance money, but people are still doing it. You can’t exactly blame publishers for that. As a corporation, their only responsibility in the matter is to their stock holders. Lower advances are better for business. Its what they SHOULD be doing, if authors are dumb enough to swallow it.

  3. This is the most important bit in the entire article.

    “launched its first two books in 2014”

    This implies that revenue from those two books kept the lights on at that publishing house. Instead of going to the author(s).

    Maybe publishing houses should be registered as charities. That way you can at least get a tax receipt for the income you are giving away because you don’t know how KDP works.

  4. “This is what we know: Big Five publishers are more or less the only way for writers to get a book advance large enough to resemble a living annual wage.”

    Agree. Nobody else gives big advances. A writer might then ask if the probability of making a living wage from books is greater by submitting to big publishers or by clicking the Amazon KDP upload button.

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