Resources for Writers
Publishing With An Independent by Gill Hoffs
Though (I gather) there is a certain boost to a writer’s self-esteem – along with their bank balance – that comes with being published by one of the Big Six, the benefits of working with an independent publisher should not be underestimated. Chosen carefully and approached with enthusiasm, professionalism, and a great deal of energy, your book has tremendous potential for success with the right independent – and your book may be closer to what you had in mind, too.
Before you approach a publisher with your carefully crafted proposal and thoughtfully presented credentials, you need to work out what key areas of your book’s production are most important to you, and at the appropriate moment – not until you’ve discussed your actual idea – ask about them. Do you want a say in the cover, for example which image is used, the colour scheme of the lettering, and the blurb on the back? Despite the old adage “never judge a book by its cover” plenty of bookshop browsers do just that, and while many independent publishers employ a jacket designer and have the same aim as you – to get people to notice and buy this book instead of similar titles – you may have something very specific in mind. What about the title itself? Do you have your heart set on a particular combination of words or are you willing to work with the publisher on an alternative that’s perhaps more suitable for the market? How much promotional work are you comfortable doing and in what form – do you expect this to be handled by the publisher?
Notable independents publishing history books include Canongate, The History Press, and Pen & Sword who recently released my book “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the ‘Victorian Titanic’” . You’ll see their products on shelves in chain bookstores, reviewed in glossy history magazines and national newspapers, and promoted at literature festivals. If you put in the work with them your title will not sink without trace.
Why work with them
You’ll benefit from their experience and attention to detail (not just when it comes to proofreading) as well as their contacts when it comes to placing the title in bookstores and promoting it in print and online. Your relationship will be a partnership both you and the publishing house will put a lot of work into, and the fruits of your labours will be something to savour – and not just in terms of the final title. I found working with Pen & Sword to be a crash course in the publishing industry, and an enjoyable one at that.
Social media led me to this blogpost by an editor who was soliciting new ideas for Pen & Sword http://writingwomenshistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/wanted-authors-for-new-social-history.html – she’s no longer with P&S but this is a good example of what you’re looking for. Social media is an invaluable tool for any writer (or scammer – so be careful). Follow publishers, agents and authors of similar titles to your book on twitter, run searches using key words e.g. #history, #shipwreck, #pitch – be prepared to scroll through irrelevancies to find what you’re after – and remember that nonfiction is very different to fiction in terms of the pitching process. While there are many wonderful agents specializing in nonfiction, the publishers are generally happy to deal with prospective authors direct, and instead of querying a polished manuscript they usually prefer you to pitch the idea first then help you shape the book as you write it.
How to check them
Don’t be flattered or flustered into signing anything until you’ve taken the time to check your potential publisher out. Discreetly ask friends in the business what they’ve heard (and respect their confidences). Search online for scandals associated with their name or that of the individual you’re dealing with in forums or on sites such as Preditors & Editors http://pred-ed.com/. Trust your gut. And remember to have your contract checked over by the Society of Authors http://www.societyofauthors.org/guides-and-articles (you don’t have to be a member) before you sign it.
What to be wary of
Any kind of pressure to sign anything in a hurry is cause for concern. Sloppily produced websites with no news section or list of titles and authors, contact details or an amateurish and overly personal blog section may mean that company doesn’t have the professionalism or experience (and links within the industry) that you’d ideally be looking for. There is no point in having a beautifully written, well researched book if nobody can or will buy it – if you really just want a copy for yourself and your family and friends, use a print-on-demand site like Lulu.com http://www.lulu.com/gb/. Be warier of apparently newly-set up imprints and publishers and ask, if the imprint should fold for whatever reason, or the person currently seeking to commission your book leaves the company, what will happen to you and your book.
All this is important, but the main thing is for you to trust your gut. If something seems odd or your mind keeps circling around it, get a second opinion from someone with no investment in your progress whose judgment you trust. Working on your book, researching, writing, editing, and promoting it, will take several years if not more. Whether you’re going it alone, working with an independent, or taken on by a major publisher, it’s important to figure out what’s important to you and what’s negotiable and make sure this is the right fit, and to enter into whatever arrangement you make without reservations or hesitance. And above all, to enjoy it!
(c) Gill Hoffs
Gill Hoffs is the author of The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the 'Victorian Titanic' Pen & Sword, 2014 and Wild: a collection (Pure Slush, 2012), as well as many short stories and articles, online and in print.
You can find her as @GillHoffs on twitter, or go to http://gillhoffs.wordpress.com/ to find out more.
The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the 'Victorian Titanic' is available from all good bookshops for €25/£19.99.