Thursday, May 28, 2015

The good (little) guys and Big Macs

I read Rick's excellent and thorough post How writing is a mirror of what is happening throughout society and was struck by how accurate – and bleak – his take on the current state of publishing is.

Make no mistake, if you're a mid-lister, the publishers hold the upper hand.

But I was also struck by Rick's conclusion: "But there are a lot of good guy publishers out there, manned by people who get it. Here’s to the companies that resist temptation and are interested in everyone making money fairly. They seem to be few and far between – and are an endangered species themselves."

I've never been with a large publisher. In my twenties and agent-less, I sold my first novel, Cut Shot, to tiny Sleeping Bear Press, which was sold to a conglomerate a couple years later. Then I moved the series, in 2001, to the University Press of New England, which published the next four Jack Austin books. In 2013, Five Star/Gale published This One Day, a standalone. And I'm with Midnight Ink, an indie specializing in crime fiction, now.

Based on my experience with Midnight Ink, I'd say this house fits Rick's description of a "good-guy publisher." This opinion is based on an embarrassing trend emerging in my own writing life: for the second consecutive year, I missed my May 1 deadline, and Midnight Ink Publisher Terri Bischoff has read the work-in-progress and offered a thorough critique that I use as a write the final third of the novel. What this means for me is that I get Terri's input before I get my editor's feedback. Therefore, I'm getting two thorough reads on each novel. Lots to think about, yes, but I'm thrilled for the feedback.

This example speaks to the differences I see between working with a large publisher and an indie. When my agent was shopping my Peyton Cote US Customs and Border Protection series, she got some interest from New York. I called a trusted writer friend who has been in the game longer than me and who has been successful enough to be writing full time. I asked him about the New York house and about Midnight Ink. "Everyone I know who's with Midnight Ink is happy. Everyone I know who's with [large New York house X] isn't." The large publisher's business and promotional models that my friend described (and which, based on discussions my agent had with them, seems accurate) was simple: offer a two-book contract, publish them, and see what happens. If (when) they don't sell, walk away. Throw them at the wall, and see if they stick.

Indie houses don't use this mass-production business model; they can't afford to. That model seems better suited for Big Macs than books. It might mean the smaller advances Rick wrote about, but, as a writer, I'd rather take less advance than have my work be treated like a fast-food product.

Here's to the little good guys.

As an aside, tonight I'll be at the 2015 Maine Literary Awards given by (this is somewhat ironic, given this post) the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance in Portland, Maine. Bitter Crossing is a finalist. It should be fun.


Sybil Johnson said...

I've heard good things about your publisher. Mine is Henery Press and I think it's one of the good guys, too. At least my experience has been positive with them so far.

Vicki Delany said...

I have to say that I am published now by Penguin Obsidian and Berkely Prime Crime and I am DELIGHTED with them. If my books don't do well, and I get the heave-ho, why should I complain? It's business. If I sold shoes no one wanted I wouldn't be in the shoe business for long. I have also been published over many years by Poisoned Pen Press, and they have also been a pleasure to work with. Maybe I've been lucky.