There is an article up on A Writer’s Path by Steven Capps called Lies told by small presses and as a person running a small press I’d like to offer some thoughts about the authors diatribe.
Here at Superversive Press we endeavour to provide value to our writers and we take a percentage of that to cover our cost and time. There seems to be this strange idea that there is such a thing as a free lunch. I assume the author doesn’t write or read Science Fiction or else I assume he would be familiar with the acronym TANSTAAFL.
Onto the so called “lies” that small presses tell authors. The first seems the most egregious and brimming with weird misinformation.
Lie #1 New authors don’t get advances
Here at Superversive Press we don’t pay advances to our authors. It would be nice but we are a small decentralized operation and we don’t have the funds upfront to pay a large advance to an authors. I make no secret of this. The bit I don’t understand though is, who the hell is paying a new author an advance? An advance is money I pay you upfront for work not yet written for you to live on against future earnings. If you are a new author trying to get a first book published are you submitting half finished manuscripts to presses expecting them to pay you to finish it? Maybe that goes on, I’ve never encountered that. If the work is finished why am I paying you an advance when all the work left to do is on my end?
I suppose I could pay you an initial payment upfront to secure your work but if you are a new author who hasn’t sold any books before with no data on how well your book would sell, why would you expect me to take that sort of a risk on you? That is a serious question.
Additionally it fails to appreciate something important about publishing. If Superversive Press takes on your book and agrees to publish it, then goes on to provide editing services, cover art services, promotional help etc, then we are giving you an advance by bearing that cost ourselves. Go and try and self publish a book, editing and covers aren’t free. The press is essentially giving you an entirely unsecured loan of that money to get your book published and charging you 0% interest on that money. Go to a bank and see if they are willing to float you a few thousand dollars to get your book published with an unsecured loan. You can expect an interest rate in the 15% – 20% range on a loan like that. If your book sells 4 copies the press will have to eat that loss, none of the contracts I have ever seen offer a provision for the press to recoup that investment if the book does terribly.
If you self publish you bear all that cost and risk yourself and you get to reap all the reward, if you go with a small press then you get to reap less of the reward because the press will take a percentage too to repay them for the risk and faith they showed in you. Superversive Press contracts normally pay the authors a good chunk of the money earned, certainly an order of magnitude more than the 6% the Big 5 typically pay authors.
You can decide to self publish yourself if you want but you bear all the risk and costs yourself as well. There are no right or wrong answers to the question just different trade offs made for different approaches.
Lie #2: Publishers don’t help with marketing
This is sort of a half truth. He is right, a small press will not have the muscle with book retailers that one of the Big 5 does. Which lunatic thinks they do? Will you get books prominently displayed in book stores if you go with any small press? Probably not, they lack the resources and the clout to get that. That being said, self publishing will never get you that, and publishing with a Big 5 publisher wont either unless you are bringing them in a lot of money.
If you are a superstar author then I’m sure you can get superstar author treatment by people with deep pockets. But new authors aren’t superstars yet and expecting to be treated like one is madness.
The author also seems to forget that the big publishers who give you all this promotion and have all this clout also take a really enormous share of your earnings. 94% remember! I don’t know the authors background but I have played in bands and worked in the tech industry for start ups. People with money who come along and fund your band/invention/book want a return on their investment and the more they do for you upfront the bigger slice of the pie they will want to do it.
As with all things in life, everything is a trade off and their ain’t no free lunches.
Lie #3: Authors need to pay for editing
This is one of those sections that has some half truths in it. I agree if the press said “You pay for the editing yourself we don’t do that” then that would be a red flag. That being said, if an author wanted a particular editor and turned around and demanded we pay for that editor then I would probably pass on the book. Whoever pays for the editor gets control over who does the editing.
That being said, the author always ends up paying for the editor. The author pays for everything involved in one way or another by either paying for it themselves or giving over a percentage of the work to the publisher to have them do that job instead. The author is still ultimately paying one way or the other, either covering a cost up front and reaping a greater return or deferring an upfront cost in exchange for smaller future earnings. There are no free lunches no matter how much people seems to want there to be a free lunch.
In the final thoughts section it is claimed that without an advance an author is always better off self publishing. If by “no advance” it means an author bears all the costs for themselves upfront and handles all of the distribution and money themselves, then yeah, it makes perfect sense to self publish instead. Heck, that is self publishing. You take on all the costs you get all the rewards. If you go with a publisher or any size, they take on some of the risk and get some of the reward as well.
If you want to self publish it basically means becoming a small publisher yourself with all the paperwork and hassle that goes along with that. A publisher takes some or all of that burden away an leaves you free to write. I’d encourage all authors to make whatever trade off works best for them. There are no wrong choices here just different ones.
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If you would like to support some small press authors check out these books from Superversive Press