The love affair between small press publisher and author often begins with emotional fireworks and an emotion that sure-as-shootin’ feels like true love. The author is ecstatic that their work is appreciated.
“They like me! They really like me!”
The publisher basks in the glow of making someone’s dreams come true.
It’s a match made in, well, maybe not heaven, but some close suburb.
The honeymoon generally lasts until the author’s dream comes true, their very own book is clutched in their hot little paws.
Then all hell breaks loose. Or, rather, nothing at all happens. The author reveals her wonderful, perfect, glorious book on Facebook, and Twitter, and to every single neighbor and family member.
“Oh, honey. I am just so proud of you.”
“If I’m in that there book, y’all better send a copy on down here now along with my share a that big money y’all are makin’.”
“I lent that copy you sent me to every single person in my book club and they just love it, though Wanda Jane did want to ask how it was you could put her in that book as the, ya know, love interest, without getting’ her per-mission.”
And so on and so forth.
At some point the first-time author realizes that there isn’t going to be any big money. No matter how many book signings and fairs and assisted living centers and libraries she travels to. With the costs of travel to all these wonderful opportunities to showcase and sell her books, the author might break even. But probably not.
And here, right here, our author begins to look around for someone to blame for the heartbreaking fact that, if she’s very lucky and the book is very good and she works her butt off making appearances, she may sell 500 books. For those of you who don’t know, that means that for the writing and marketing of this masterpiece, the author will earn approximately two cents an hour. Approximately. Give or take.
The author decides, and this is guaranteed, that the publisher is to blame for this lack of sales. The stupid small press used an inferior quality paper, or the cover was never as snappy and eye-catching as it should have been, or there were errors all through the book. Editing problems. Misspelled words and misplaced commas and like that. And on and on and on.
Because it simply cannot be the case that a person can write a wonderful book, find a publisher for that book, and make next to no money.
Except that’s exactly the case.
Here’s the bitter truth. Suck it up and pay attention. Here’s the antidote for this publisher/author bitter divorce.
Understand and accept that a small press will do nothing to help you promote. A good one will provide you with everything you need to market the book yourself, but do not expect them to set up one single book signing or print a solitary poster or make one phone call to a book store. That’s the job of the author.
Here’s another secret:
Every small press that has ever existed would be out of business in less than six months if they didn’t mark-up the books they sell to their authors. If you do not have the money to buy a hundred or so of your books from your publisher and schlep them around to book fairs and launches and readings and signings, and independent bookstores and farm supply stores and bakeries, well then your book is going to be read by your friends (probably), your family (maybe) and one or two neighbors who are stupid enough to engage you in conversation within a year of your book being released.
Yes, yes. I know. Your book is going to sell like hotcakes on Amazon. Well, I hope so, but just how are you going to distinguish yourself from the ten million other wonderful authors whose books are also offered for sale on that medium. Blog? Well, sure, we all do that. Post your book cover on Facebook until everyone in the known universe unfriends you? Sure, been there, done that. Ah, maybe Twitter? Sure, none of the rest of us have thought of that.
So, the honeymoon ends, the book isn’t selling, the dream is dead, the publisher must have lied to you. OR, just like in any successful marriage or business partnership, you roll over one day and realize, “Well, hey. I love what I’m doing. My partner’s doing the best they can. Let’s move forward and have some fun with this.”
Now I am not telling you that all small publishers are created equal. We all know better than than that. Heck I teach a full-day workshop in how to separate the wheat from the chaff in small presses. Some partners really ARE cheating, some are simply not good at what they do, some just aren’t a good match for you.
But before you stomp away in anger, file for divorce and look for another publisher, remember that publishing with any small press is NOT about making money. It’s about doing what you love and having the time of your life doing it. And, yes, maybe, just maybe, if you keep writing and keep promoting and keep giving back to the writing community, maybe one day, after your tenth or eleventh brilliant book, you may make minimum wage as a writer.
I dream of those days.