Let’s Not Forget About Small E-Presses

Let’s not forget about small e-presses, because they don’t seem to get any attention from publishing blogs…ever. In the past few weeks I’ve posted about Barry Eisler getting dissed by literary agents because he’s so focused on self-publishing, I’ve posted about self-pubbed authors who were getting screwed over with e-publishing services, and I’ve even posted about the differences between trad publishing and self-publishing.

But even I’ve been remiss in mentioning small e-presses like Ellora’s Cave, Loveyoudivine, Ravenous Romance, and Total E-Bound. There are so many small e-presses out there I can’t even list them all here, and I’m not singling any out on purpose. I’ve never worked with Total E-Bound or Ellora’s Cave, so I’m not promoting anyone specific in this post. This is a general post about ALL small e-presses, for new authors who aren’t sure about what they want to do when their WIP is finished.

If I said a few publishing bloggers sparked this post I would be understating my point. You’re not going to read about the benefits of small e-presses on literary agent blogs anywhere because literary agents don’t make money on authors who work with small e-presses. In fact, small e-presses take money away from them…not to mention control. Should literary agents be giving authors this information about small e-presses? Of course they should…if as they claim they are only blogging to help authors learn more about publishing. But what’s ethical to write about and what’s not mentioned are always two very different things. And in reality what you read on these literary agent blogs is information geared toward the literary agent and his or her own clients. There’s nothing wrong with a hidden agenda, nothing at all. I’m very pro-agent and I’m not ranting here. It’s just that new writers don’t always pick up on this. Publishing is a highly competitive business.

And I hate to see new writers not get all the information they should be getting in an industry that seems to be changing daily. Why don’t publishing blogs…or literary agent blogs…talk about small e-presses? Because agents don’t make much money with small e-presses. If they did, you’d see them posting to the heavens about this. Authors who work for small e-presses do make some money and they don’t need agents. The contracts with small e-presses are all basic and there’s little room for negotiation like the old days when agents and editors took summer Friday’s off and it took a year to actually release one freaking print book. Some small e-presses offer small advances, but most don’t. You make your money on the back end and in some cases it’s more money than some mid-list authors are making with literary agents who have landed them publishing deals.

You also won’t hear small e-presses mentioned on the popular self-publishing blogs that make self-publishing sound better than the invention of the pre-lubed condom. There are a variety of reasons for this that range from competition to being far too grand to even acknowledge small e-presses. And true self-pubbed authors don’t even take small e-presses into consideration. There’s nothing wrong with that either. They have their own agenda.

I think the thing that really sparked this post from me today was something I read here yesterday. The blogger wrote a nice post, “How Do You Plan to Publish Your Work in Progress,” asking authors whether they plan to self-publish their own books or query agents and go the traditional way, and one lone anonymous comment mentioned small e-presses on the comment thread. This is because the blogger never even mentioned small e-presses as a viable option in his poll. So I thought I’d write a post all its own for small e-presses, to let new authors know that this is a viable choice, too. Can I tell you that small e-presses are perfect? No. And that’s because nothing is perfect. But I can tell you from my own personal experience that working with small e-presses has helped me grow as a writer and focus on my craft. At the same time, I’ve been able to build a nice readership for which I’m very thankful in ways I never would have been able to do with self-publishing…or trad publishing for that matter. There are millions of people out there voraciously reading e-books released by small e-presses.

I’m not trying to tell anyone what’s right for them. But when you’re ready to think about how you want your finished book to be published, I would highly suggest looking up a few small e-presses as well as considering self-publishing and querying agents. These small e-presses are the pioneers of e-publishing who never get credit for this, they work the same way most trad publishers work, and you will learn how the publishing process works by working with publishing professionals who are also very nice people. I can state this from personal experience, too. I have never worked with a small e-press I didn’t love. Not once. The editors and cover artists are the best I’ve ever worked with. The process is, and always has been, positive, and that’s why I continue to do it. In other words, writers, check out ALL your options, not just a few. And don’t limit yourselves to any specific publishing blogs for all your information, because most have an agenda and you’re not going to be getting all the information you need. Gather your information widely and with care these days. The vulture photo above was not an accident.

Literary Agent Mitchell Waters, FDU Graduate, Talks About Publishing

Even though I’ve gone digital in almost every area of my life, there are two magazines I still read in hard copy: Architectural Digest and my university alumni magazine. You can’t get a real feeling for the photos in AD unless you read them in print and my brother is one of their biggest advertisers. And reading my alumni magazine takes me back to great memories when life was simpler for all of us. I’m not ready to go digital there yet.

I never know what I’m going to see in the alumni magazine. But I always find something that connects me back to my days on the Florham Madison Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. This time, in the most recent issue, I read a piece about two people who graduated about ten years before me. One is Curtis Brown literary agent, Mitchell Waters, and the other is an author, Jon Reiner, who wrote The Man who Couldn’t Eat. The book title caught my eye first. I’m going to read it because it looks interesting and I like to support fellow alumni. And then I read that his agent, Mitchell Waters, also went to the Florham Madison Campus at FDU.

I didn’t know either of them personally, but they both were in the English department and Theater department, which tends to be a closely knit group. I majored in English and spent most of my free time in the Theater department. I’m sure we know the same people (profs at private universities never leave), especially Harvey Flaxman who will always be infamous for this Hollywood classic. I took a fascinating history of film course with Flaxman once and loved every minute of it.

I was curious and did a quick search about both Reiner and Waters. And I found a great interview that agent Mitchell Waters did where he talks about various aspects of publishing and how it’s changing. The other day I wrote about about Joe Konrath and he had some pretty harsh words for agents and publishers. I agree with him to a certain extent, but Konrath’s big pushy Internet mouth turns me off sometimes. So today I’d like to balance that post with this wonderful interview by Lit Agent, Mitchell Waters. Speaking from my own experience, as an author who is always on guard with publishers because he doesn’t have an agent, I firmly believe authors will need agents in the future more than they ever have. Even authors published by small digital presses will need agents. And that’s because ALL publishers think in terms of their own best interests, which isn’t always in the best interest of the author.

Here’s one question from the interview, with Dell Smith. And you can read more here.
I highly recommend reading it in full.

BTM: How has the publishing industry changed since you started working as an agent?

MW: Everything is harder. Somehow I manage to continue to be surprised at how hard it is for editors to acquire books they love. The amount of support they have to gather from amongst their colleagues is daunting and discouraging. An editor can get support from fellow editors, established editors who are legends in their fields, publicity and marketing, and still not be able to convince the publisher to take something on. Of course, that makes our job more frustrating and challenging, but I certainly don’t envy the acquiring editors.

There is a greater divide between the haves and have-nots, which new technology goes some way to ameliorate, but it remains a fact. On the fiction side, there is an intense pressure to be high-concept and/or try one’s hand at a commercial genre. In certain kinds of non-fiction, you seem to need to be a celebrity, or at least have a significant television or Internet presence. While it still helps to be an expert in a field who has an interesting idea, these other factors appear to carry more weight than ever.