by Lillie Ammann
Do you pay attention to the companies that publish the books you enjoy? Before I was an author, I was an avid reader, as I still am today. I didn’t pay much attention to publishers. When I went to the bookstore, I looked for genres and authors I liked. Then I read the back cover blurb and maybe a little inside the book before I decided to buy.
Then I subscribed to a couple of review magazines and noticed that the publisher was always listed in the review. I discovered a romance publisher that offered home delivery, and I signed up for monthly shipments. After a while, though, it seemed I was reading the same books each month with just the characters and settings changed. So I canceled my subscriptions and went back to looking in bookstores. After that I didn’t pay much attention to who published the books I read.
Although I had always dreamed of writing “someday,” it took a stroke to make me realize I didn’t know how many “somedays” I had. So as soon as I was physically able, a couple of years after the stroke, I started my first novel.
As a writer, publishers became much more important to me. I learned that every publisher has guidelines for what they will consider for publication. I also learned that the guidelines did not allow for a handicapped heroine in a romance novel. Time and again I heard, “Nobody wants to read about a cripple.” One time an editor said those words to my face as I sat in front of her in my power wheelchair!
I finally decided this novel was not going to be published and put it away in a virtual drawer. Then a writer friend e-mailed me that she had come across an e-publisher looking for novels featuring disabled central characters. I submitted a proposal; the editor requested a full manuscript almost immediately by return e-mail. The manuscript was accepted within a couple of weeks, and the book was published six months later as an e-book.
I had never read an e-book; in fact, I wasn’t quite sure what an e-book was. All I knew was that someone finally wanted my story. Someone finally believed people wanted to read about “a cripple.”
Ten years after publishing my first e-book without really knowing what I was doing, I am now a fan of both e-books and small publishers. It’s easy to see why I, an author, would be a fan. After all, a small e-press published my book when no one else would.
However, I, the avid reader, am also a fan of both e-books and small publishers. Here are three reasons why:
• Large publishers, who are all part of a few mega-corporations worldwide, primarily consider expected sales and return on investment when acquiring books; the book has to appeal to a large market for it to be financially worthwhile for a mainstream company to publish. Small presses can be more open to trying new authors and stories because they don’t have the same expenses and profit expectations as the mainstream publishers. A small publisher can afford to publish a romance about “a cripple” even if the expected sales don’t match those of a traditional romance. I got tired of reading the same story with only the names and some superficial traits of the characters changing. I like discovering new authors and different storylines, and I often find these from small presses.
• Traditional publishers put books out on a schedule, and as soon as the next round of books is released, the last batch becomes part of the backlist. They may still be available, but they won’t be promoted and may not be carried in bookstores any longer. My first novel, Stroke of Luck, first published in 1999, is still available as an e-book, though I have changed publishers for personal reasons. When I discover a new author I enjoy, I like being able to read older books that are still available.
• Small presses often don’t make their books returnable like the large publishers do. About a third of all books published by mainstream publishers are “returned” by bookstores because the books haven’t sold. In the case of mass market paperbacks, “returning” generally means that the bookstore strips the cover from the book and sends it back to the publisher for credit. The rest of the book is discarded, never to be read, increasing the waste in our landfills. Of course, e-books don’t use paper at all, so e-books are friendlier to the environment than print.
There are two things to watch for:
• It’s wise to check out the quality of books from a publisher before ordering. Many independently published books are of identical quality to traditionally published books. However, some small publishers don’t have the experience or resources to produce excellent books. Don’t assume that a book published by an independent publisher will be inferior to one published by a mainstream publisher. And don’t assume that it won’t be.
• Small presses find it more difficult to get bookstore distribution for their books though many sell books online through Amazon.com as well as their own Web site. You may have to dig a little to find books by independent publishers, but I hope you find it worth the effort.
I may judge a book by its cover—most of us do in spite of the axiom. I do not judge a book by its publisher. I have favorite authors who are published by mainstream publishers, and I have favorite authors who are published by small presses. I read mostly e-books and tend to buy them from small presses for the reasons listed above. Small presses usually price e-books less than traditional publishers so I save money as well.
March is Small Press Month. If you, like me in an earlier life, don’t pay attention to publishers, you might take advantage of this month that is set aside to honor small presses and buy a book from an independent publisher. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Lillie Ammann blogs at A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye and freelances as a writer and editor.
She is the author of the romantic mystery Dream or Destiny and the contemporary romance Stroke of Luck.
Lillie is offering a signed copy of her book Dream or Destiny to one of you lucky readers. To enter the raffle, leave a comment. I will close the contest in two weeks!!