Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jami's Road to Publication

I am not a patient person, which probably explains why I travelled the small press route.

I tried the big publisher route and came close with two books, garnering both agent and editor interest. The problem is I'm a deadline person. Give me a deadline, and I'll meet it. Tell me to do something whenever, well, doesn't really work. For about five years, I'd been fiddling around with my writing and not really getting anywhere. I'd been working on The Gift Horse for three years and couldn't seem to build up enough steam to finish it. I needed a deadline. I needed someone telling me that the book had to be done by a certain date.

So about a year and a half ago, I decided to shed my small press snobbery and investigate this option to publishing. A lot of things entered into this decision, but I'll highlight the major ones. I needed a structure and motivation to write. As I mentioned, I needed deadlines. I wanted some real experience with editors in the hope that they'd make my writing better and point out plot holes and character issues that a critique partner didn't see. I wanted experience promoting my book, and I wanted to build a name for myself. I also wanted to write what I wanted to write, not what was selling in New York.

Being the type of person I am, I started researching small presses. Once I narrowed down the list, I contacted authors with those presses. I bought some of their books. I researched what makes a good small press. I wanted a small press that offered both print and ebook formats. I also wanted one that distributed their books to all the major book distributors. And I looked at their covers. Let's face it, covers sell books. Then I submitted to those small presses.

Within 48 hours, I had a contract offer. I poured over the contract, showed it to some author friends, and compared it to other small press contracts (which you can often find on their websites). It seemed reasonable and straight-forward. All the authors with this small press loved the publisher and had nothing but good things to say. I even paid for a business background check to make sure there weren't any credit issues.

I accepted the offer on January 1, 2008. I've now sold three books to this small press and have one more under contract. I never regretted my decision for a minute. Small presses are a very viable alternative to publishing, especially if you're interested in writing equestrian fiction.

The big publishers seem convinced that most equestrian fiction doesn't sell well. Small presses have less of an investment in time and money, so they're more willing to take a chance on books that don't fit the big press mold of what sells. I've read many small press books that are honestly as good or better as what larger presses put out; but because they didn't fit in a marketing niche, New York publishers wouldn't take a chance on the book.

You won't get rich writing for a small press, though I personally know several small press authors who make a good living. The name of the game is to be prolific, especially in the romance genre. The more books you write, the bigger your readership.

Would I like to be published with a large press? You bet. It's my long-term goal. But for now, I'm happy writing what I want to write and knowing there's a market for my stories.

10 comments:

mugwump said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mugwump said...

Great input Jami! How did you research the small presses? How did you weed the good from the bad?
Did you use just the internet, or the library?

Jami Davenport said...

Mugs, I used the Internet, plus, my author friends who were pubbed with a small presses. First, I did a google search on the publisher and read everything. It's incredible what people post on the Internet, from complaints about not receiving royalties to lack of responsiveness from a publisher and/or editor. I kept a table of epubs I was interested in and recorded everything in that.

I also wanted to have distribution for my books, so the pubs had to list their books with major print distributors such as Ingrams and Baker & Taylor, also Amazon. Then I wanted the ebook distribution, took, via Fictionwise, etc. So I made sure the small presses I had interest in did all of these.

Believe me, this narrows the field considerably.

Something else you can do is check out that publisher's top books on Fictionwise. See how many ratings each book has, obviously, the more ratings, the more sales, as you have to buy the book to rate it.

RhondaL said...

Thanks for this post. One disadvantage I've seen, as a reader and a potential fan, is that small press bookstores often don't get the shelf space in the brick&mortar stores.

I have to know about a book already so that I can special order it.

Jami Davenport said...

Rhonda, This is very true. Most small presses don't do print runs. They do print on demand, which most bookstores won't carry because they can't return these books if they don't sell.

On the other hand, POD books don't go out of print. You can always get a copy either electronically or in print.

I really think POD is the wave of the future since 50% of the books printed by traditional publishers are not and sold and end up in landfills.

Also many midlist authors' books aren't carried in your bigger bookstores anyway and have to be ordered, especially equestrian fiction.

Shanster said...

Thanks for the post! You've answered something I've been wondering - what exactly are you researching when you research publishers? Are you looking for the same things when you submit to an agent??

I am totally the same way... I need DEADLINES to get my ducks in a row.

Best wishes! Sounds like things are moving right along for you -
:)

Jami Davenport said...

Shanster,

I essentially started with the publisher's website and bought some books from them. Was the book buying process easy? Did I like their covers? Were the books well-edited and well-written? Then I Googled the publisher and read everything I could about them, especially author blogs. If there are problems, you'll often read about them in blogs, such as a publisher who doesn't pay their authors on time or doesn't follow through on promises. I then emailed the top authors and middle authors on their bestsellers lists and asked them questions about the company. Most authors are more than willing to help you.

I checked out author web pages and tried to find authors pubbed with more than one of my choices, then I'd ask them how the publishers compared.

RhondaL said...

All great points, Jami. POD is actually quite green, too. No wasteful returns.

Laura Crum said...

Jami, Having done eight books with a big NY publisher and now two more with a small press, I can speak to the differences. The small press I am with is more of a traditional press and does do print runs, by the way, rather than POD. It does not do e-books (which some of my readers have requested). It does sell my books to the same buyers that the large press did, which is in some ways an advantage. You are right that midlist authors books don't always appear in bookstores, even if they are published by a big New York house. When I walk into a bookstore, be it chain or indie, its seems to be completely random chance whether my books are there or not. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. This hasn't changed much since I moved from the big press to the small press, but that's probably because after eight books, I had built up somewhat of a following and those buyers who liked my series continued to buy it from the new publisher. But whether I was with the big press or the small press, the books frequently had to be ordered. Thus, as Rhonda said, the potential buyer has to know about the book first. And the books I did with the big press are all out of print now (however there seems to be rather a brisk trade in them with the used bookstores--they sometimes cost a lot--but I don't get a cent of this, of course). The ones I'm doing with the small press should remain available. The small press takes a much greater interest in me and my work than the big press ever did. Anyway, I'm going to do a post on this subject next time, so I'll save a few suprises for then.

Heidi the Hick said...

This could be some very timely information for me... thanks!