Most writers who reach a certain point in their writing career will ask themselves the following questions:
Should I pursue a contract with a publishing company? Or should I self-publish? Or should I place a bob each way and try to do both?
If you decide to go down the self-publishing route, then to do so you’re going to need either very deep pockets or very talented and generous friends. You might already possess the extensive skill set to successfully get your book to market and to do it well, but that is unlikely. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a mighty steep learning curve.
Let’s assume you’ve already honed your craft to the stage where your work is worthy of publishing. No matter how good you are, it will still need editing. And once it has been edited, it’s a good idea to have it proofread as well (contrary to popular opinion, editing and proofreading are not the same things). This is so important, it bears repeating, in bold and italics:
No matter how good you are, it will still need editing.
There might be some freakish individuals out there who are capable either of turning out a perfect manuscript that requires no further polishing, or who are capable of turning a wholly objective eye on their own work and effectively self-editing. I’ve never met any of those people. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that, if you’re reading this, you’re not one of those people either. I’ll go a little further out on that limb (it’s thin and bendy at this point, and just about to snap off and dump me on my ass) and say that, if you’re one of those self-publishers who neglects this stage altogether, then you’re doing your readers, your fellow indie writers and the craft of writing itself a grave disservice.
OK. So you’ve found yourself an editor who is both good and affordable, and after a few months’ work (it’ll take at least a few months, because it’s highly likely that neither you nor your editor has the time to devote your entire attention to just this one manuscript) your book is as good as it can be. Now you need cover art. But you’re a competent graphic designer as well as a good writer, so that’s going to be easy…
Oh. You’re not a graphic designer? Then you’ll either have to find one (and probably pay one), or learn how to do it yourself. Your cover design can be created fairly quickly and inexpensively using stock images purchased off the internet and a good quality graphic design program. If you want customized artwork on the cover, that could cost you more (or you could call on those talented and generous friends mentioned earlier). This stage of the book production process needn’t be difficult to get right, but get it wrong and your book could languish forever unsold in the bowels of Amazon.
Once you have your manuscript and your cover design sorted, you have to lay out your book for publication. Resources abound on how to format your book as an e-book, but even this can give you headaches. If you want your book published in paperback, then the interior layout is different again.
And once all of the above is accomplished, you still have to sell the thing. Simply listing your book on Amazon and hoping it will sell on its own is not going to cut it. Anecdotal evidence suggests that successful indie writers spend just as much time promoting their work as they do writing it.
Let’s review the list of skills involved: writing, editing, proofreading, graphic design, layout, e-book formatting, marketing and promoting… Are you overwhelmed yet?
If your book gets accepted by a publisher, then they’ll take care of everything except for the writing part. Sounds much simpler. Except that for your manuscript to be considered by a major publishing house, then you’ll need an agent. And getting an agent involves…sending out a lot of query letters, L-O-N-G waiting periods for answers that will more often than not be “No”, and still no guarantee of publishing success even if you do manage to secure that elusive representation.
Which is where the small press comes in. Small publishers offer most of the services that big publishers do, except they’re…well, smaller. They might not pay advances, but you don’t have to go through an agent to get to them, either. Small press publishers usually specialize in a particular genre, and they do so because they genuinely love that genre. Their primary reason for running a small press will not be money (although making money certainly helps!); because they’re not as concerned with the bottom line, they’re more inclined to take creative risks and to sign the relatively unknown writer or to accept the commercially unusual concept novel. They will probably be run by people who are writers themselves, so they understand the process and understand what you as a writer need from them. They will most likely be active in genre fandom; you’ll see them propping up the bar at conventions, and they will represent your book to the best of their ability when awards time rolls around.
Most importantly, once you sign with a small press, you become part of their family. They will remember your name, your partner’s name, the name of your kids and your pets. They will see you, not as a row of dollar signs, but as a talented and worthy individual.
So in the tussle between indie authors and publishing giants, spare a thought for the little guys, the small press, working away tirelessly to bring your book into the world. You might even want to support them by buying a book or two…
Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 80 print and electronic publications, including Horror Library Volumes 4 and 5, Abyss and Apex, BULL SPEC, Dead Red Heart and Electric Velocipede. She won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent for 2007. Her short story and poetry collection “Ghosts Can Bleed” was released in April 2011 by the writer’s co-operative Dark Continents Publishing, of which she is vice president. She welcomes visitors to her blog at
Also, check out Tracie’s books.