Most authors who have a novel or non-fiction book ready for submission, start the query letter process by listing out the traditional publishing houses – Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, John Wiley, Simon & Schuster Random House, you know the list. But for many authors, it’s like trying to swim against the current and it can take forever for the biggies to even consider a query letter and ask for the full manuscript.
Many of those authors who’ve either not been lucky with the big names or have a different strategy to get published start looking at the small publisher. Here are some pros and cons of working with a small publisher.
Unlike the bigger publishers who have a huge list of published (and possibly several best selling) authors to deal with, first time authors will probably not get the attention they deserve. Smaller publishers might be more inclined to give you individual attention. They might work with you to create a marketing plan for the book and help you in the execution part as well.
The operating procedures, contract templates and the overall manner in which smaller publishers would deal with their authors will have a more personalized feel. For larger publishing houses, the sheer size and scope of work they do makes it difficult to manage exceptions and customizations, which is why they’d prefer stick to what’s standard and time-tested.
In order to cater to the big volumes (i.e. number of authors, number of books, number of events), bigger publishers have many more employees to manage the show. They’d also have access to a bigger distribution network – covering regular brick-and-mortar distributors as well as online distribution channels.
Availability of skills
In contrast to the last point, this one is more inward-looking. As the publisher is small, there may be dearth of specific skills that you’d want – ranging from editors who are familiar with the genre you specialize in, an indepth understanding of your target reader,
The traditional publishing industry isn’t exactly in its boom phase. Many small publishing houses that do not have the financial resources to weather the storm may go belly up. And if you know the speed at which the publishing industry moves, you’d better be sure that the publisher you are signing up with, will be around to get you book published.
Track record transparency
With the smaller size, comes the advantage (for publishers) of being able to stay in the shadows. This means very little data about authors, published books, actual sales records would be available. If you don’t know how the earlier authors and their books have fared there’s no way for you to even guess what it might mean for your novel.
Smaller Book advances
If the bigger publishers can dole out the goodies for most authors that they get onboard, its because their advance budgets are BIG. Smaller publishers have to manage their finances a little more carefully. Every single rupee is important, as it can be used to strengthen other key functions within the company. Advances aren’t very high on the priority list as they are meant to be an estimate of your future sales. If your book sells, you’ll (hopefully) get your money. But don’t expect them to be overly generous.
In the pros and cons list, the last one is literally about conning. Directly linked to the point about lack of transparency. What you see may not be what you get. Many of them might turn out to be vanity publishers. Or they may have certain clauses in your publishing contract that make life difficult for you – whether your book sells or not.
If you plan to send across a query letter to any of the smaller publishers, you might want to consider each of the aspects listed above to see how they stack up.