The Role of Indie Publishing and Our New Monthly Column
by Naomi Rosenblatt, Heliotrope Books
“…indie presses aren’t just becoming the places where the best books are published; they’re already there.” —Nathan Scott McNamara, The Atlantic Monthly, July 17, 2016
“While traditional publishing is not failing, it is flailing.”
—April Eberhardt, Writer’s Digest Annual Convention, August 12, 2016
“I live in San Francisco,” April Eberhardt explained in her indie publishing seminar. “I overlook the bay, and watch big tankers struggle to change course—unlike the agile sailboats that navigate easily. But of course tankers have the advantage of more power than sailboats. This has become my metaphor for the respective strengths of big publishing conglomerates and smaller indie presses.”
Eberhardt, a “literary change agent,” has been observing transformations in the book-publishing arena with great interest. In her Writer’s Digest seminar, “The Changing Face of Publishing,” she identified five different business models that are available now to authors—and to publishers: traditional publishing, where a literary agent brokers a book deal on an author’s behalf with a large, established house; small presses, which duplicate aspects of traditional publishing on a smaller, more flexible scale; partner publishing, wherein profits and responsibilities are split between publisher and author; cooperative publishing, in which a group of like-minded authors converge to create a press and delegate tasks; and DIY (Do-It-Yourself) or self-publishing—which can be done well, or notoriously poorly, because an author takes it upon him or herself to sponsor all aspects of publication.
Eberhardt mentions that many authors publish via different models simultaneously. Perhaps, for example, they’ve published with larger houses, become very successful, and then gone on to self-publish. Or perhaps they’ve published with a small press and are now part of a cooperative. She’s defined this diversity as hybrid publishing—which she sees as the wave of the future.
In his article about indie presses in America, Nathan Scott McNamara identifies a daunting, centralizing trend in traditional book publishing: “The Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) increasingly gamble on massive book advances in hopes that they might put out one of the biggest hits of the year.” For example, instead of giving twenty authors a fifty thousand dollar advance, they will give one author a million dollars. This seems counter-intuitive, a classic example of putting “all the eggs in one basket.” And yet, this is the direction that big publishing has taken in recent years.
But the amount of author advance does not necessarily reflect a book’s merit, or its likelihood of selling widely. In fact, small presses—which can’t gamble so recklessly—must be more scrupulous about the quality of their acquisitions. This paradox lead McNamara to remark that indie presses “are becoming the places where the best books are published,” the places where big names, brands, and reputations are less important than a book’s integrity and fine craft.
Yet, media is skewed to promote the large, established presses. This is why we at Honeysuckle, a publication devoted to introducing fresh, diverse voices, now feature a monthly review of a non-traditional publisher. In this feature, we will explore the different incentives, missions, and inspirations that have given rise to alternative presses in the United States. We will look into author experiences of these new models, and present their books. At a time when non-traditional presses compete with big houses for media presence, we aim to accord alternative publishers some exposure.
We invite you to contact our small press editor, Naomi Rosenblatt of Heliotrope Books (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are a non-traditional press, or know of one that may want to be featured.
We look forward to meeting you and helping you get the word out.
First Feature: Prospecta Press and David Wilk, publisher:
Q: What motivated you to start an indie press?
A: I have been a serial indie publisher since 1975; it’s just part of my life.
Q: How would you describe your mission?
A: Prospecta Press is designed to provide content creators with a professional publishing platform on a shared-cost basis. We’re a classic example of partner or hybrid publishing.
Q: What kinds of books are your specialties? Which, of your titles, might be the “quintessence” of your offerings?
A: We publish in a number of categories, but specialties include business, economics, current affairs, children’s books, history, and memoir, as well as fiction, poetry, and literary criticism.
Some of the titles that represent us well are As it Was, A Gift of Love, Making Money Matter, The Cosmic Ocean, Seeds on Ice, Ship of Dreams, 52 Reasons to Vote for Hillary
Q: What are your greatest challenges?
A: Marketing books is the greatest challenge for every publisher today.
Q: What brings you the most delight and satisfaction?
A: When I hear from readers that one of our books has significantly affected them.
Here are the statements from Corrie Brundage, author of The Eaters, Book One of a sci fi trilogy.
Q: Why did you opt to sign with a small, indie press rather than self-publish?
A: I’m new to writing and so don’t know much about publishing. I’d completed a sci fi trilogy, and my first book, The Eaters: Origin needed someone knowledgeable and experienced to help get it out there to my readers. David seemed like the best fit for me, allowing me to focus more on writing and creating. I’m having a lot of fun not worrying about self-promotion and instead dreaming up scenarios for my quirky and strong characters.
Q: What are the strengths and shortcomings of working with a small press?
A: So far, all I’m seeing are strengths. Such individual attention, care about how I’m feeling about the process, and being able to be directly involved in my own marketing are some of the benefits I’m experiencing.