Singing The Small Press Blues
So, I was up at Beyond The Margins this morning, reading a post about envy by Robin Black. I think most, if not all, writers are envious of other writers at one point or another. But that alone is not why I checked the post out. I’ve been struggling with something that goes beyond mere envy. Indeed, it’s not envy at all, nor envy’s evil cousin jealousy. It’s anger.
Let me explain.
There’s this author out there who writes in the same genre as I do. And no, I’m not going to give you a name, or a gender, or a title. For simplicity sake, let’s say it’s a he and his name is Horatio.
I know Horatio in the cyber way as is so often the case today. I read his book when it first came out. It was good. A nice, tight story, good characterization, a bit of a slow pace but slow in a good, tension building way.
Recently, Horatio’s book has been reviewed in top-notch places, won awards, received acclaim and adoration. Am I envious? Jealous? I thought I was at first but soon realized what I was feeling was more anger than jealousy.
This went on far longer than I thought it should. I mean, I like Horatio, liked his book. But I was so angry at all this attention that I ignored his good news, refused to write congratulatory posts on FB and Twitter, refused even to read posts concerning him. Before long this seemed way the hell over the top. Even for me. I know a number of authors who have received big time reviews, won awards. I have a good friend who writes YA and has received awards and recognition up the wazoo and, while I am envious of A. S. King’s skill as a writer, I begrudge her nothing. She deserves every damn one of those awards and more to boot.
So why was I so angry at Horatio?
Is it because Horatio and I write in the same genre? I know quite a few authors who write in my genre and I wasn’t all pissy-assed about them. No, I fear the reason is really far simpler than that – and this is the part where the finger-pointers and head-nodders come out, nodding their collective heads and pointing their collective fingers, the word ‘ego’ on the tips of their tongues – I think my novel, Stealing The Marbles, is a better book.
I’m not going to go into why I think STM is a better book. Really, the quality, or lack thereof, of a given book is up to the reader to decide. I will say that it is not my opinion alone. The reason I’m not going to go into why I think STM is the better book is because that is NOT the point of this post.
The publishing world is changing. Where once there was the traditional route alone, there are now several ways for a writer to become a published author. Of late, the open warfare has been between the traditionally published world and the self-published world. What, in my opinion, is getting lost in all this is the world of the small press.
The small press straddles the fence between the traditionals and the self-pubbers. Like the traditionals, they accept submissions, most often without the requirement of the author having an agent. Most have standards they adhere to in terms of what they are willing, and think is good enough, to publish. Most produce both eBooks and Tree Books. Most edit, proof, design, format and produce books (which isn’t to say many self-pubbers don’t, btw). And yet, despite the many avenues for recognition and sales available, the small press seems to be largely ignored.
I am published through a small press. Horatio is published through a traditional press. It’s one thing to compete and lose to superior forces. I can readily accept that. My ego ain’t THAT big! However, it’s another thing altogether when competition isn’t possible because your team isn’t big enough to warrant notice. That, my friend, is way up there on the frustration flag pole.
An author with a traditional publisher has all the doors to recognition wide open to them: bookstores carry their books, major reviewers fall all over each other reviewing traditionally published books, award givers fall all over themselves giving away awards to traditionally published books. And, because there is big money behind them, traditionally published Tree Books tend to be lower in retail cost.
On the self-pub side, reviewers and award givers have sprung up like clover in an empty lot, reviewing and awarding self-pubbed work and self-pubbers themselves tend to be a tenacious, if sometimes obnoxious, lot (not that some traditionally and small press published authors aren’t as well).
From what I’ve seen, and in my own experience, it’s the small press publications that are being overshadowed in all this. Indy bookstores won’t carry their books, the major reviewers won’t review their books, as most small presses are on a threadbare budget, they can’t afford to do a print run so their books are printed on demand. Do you have any idea what the profit margin is on a POD book? Less than $4.00 USD on a $17.99 book and half of that goes to the author. $17.99! When most trade paper goes for $15.00 or less. And, since there can be no print run, there will be no remainders to go for a buck or two in the bargain bin at the local book seller so little or no chance of someone finding you there.
The price is too high for most libraries so there goes another avenue to being discovered. And even at a 40% discount, the price is too high and the profit margin too low for most booksellers and, with a no return policy, most will only order a small press book if A) the author is local, B) someone specifically orders the book.
As for getting reviews, an all important step in the ‘getting recognized’ arena, despite this being the digital age, those reviewers who are not exclusively traditional or self-pub only will only take a Tree Book copy for review (probably so they can supplement their income by selling it on eBay). This is a real kick in the nether regions for the small press as a POD ARC costs nearly as much as a regular POD book and is therefore beyond the reach of most small presses.
Here’s the thing. Over the last year I’ve read a lot of books, most from small presses. These are some of the finest stories I’ve had the pleasure to read in many a year. There are some damned talented writers out there, caught between the traditionals and the self-pubbers. One can only hope that at some point the reviewers and award givers and Indy bookstores take off the blinders and see what they are missing.
In the mean time, I can see how utterly pointless it is to be angry at Horatio. He chose the traditional route while I chose the small press route. Perhaps I’ll go send him a ‘way to go’ message.
Though I still think Stealing The Marbles is the better book.
Small press owner here and I couldn’t agree more with this assessment. It’s a sad state of publishing on the one hand, but on the other, we’re in a better situation than ever before due to radical changes in the industry. We won’t give up hope. I’m all for a few really good small presses banding together and taking the publishing world by storm. We’ll get our inroads if we work at it hard enough. Trying for that very thing here in Iowa.