Sunday, October 20, 2013
Risks of using micropresses
“It is easy to get overlooked at the big corporate publishing companies…”
Size does matter. When it comes to publishers, anyway.
There are the major houses, there are small presses and there are micropresses. Both of the latter vary in size and reputability, so writers need to make an informed decision about what kind of publishing would work for them. A red flag for me, though, is when the publisher is a one-person operation but pitches this as a positive. “We’re not like those big faceless corporations—we’re a family.”
The greatest risk authors run in such a situation is that the publisher will be unable to live up to their responsibilities. When one person handles everything from acquisitions to editing to cover art to marketing, it’s easy for that person to become overworked and overwhelmed, especially if they have to juggle the needs of a day job and a family. And often, a single person who does take on such responsibilities does so because they have no real experience with publishing, which makes matters all the worse.
Cases in point? Capri Publishing. Dream Books (the founder was all of 18 years old). Lionsong Publishing. Weaving Dreams Publishing. Luna Brilliante. Tico Publishing. The list is endless.
This is the main reason I prefer larger companies to micropresses. I want the reassurance of knowing that one person’s crisis or illness does not bring the entire operation to a standstill. Maybe that seems cold-blooded, but this is a business.
That’s the other risk authors run, when the publisher is more of a family member than a business partner. I’ve seen some writers say this is a reason they prefer, say, Startup Micropress to Macmillan; with the latter, they’ll be the tiniest of cogs in a very big machine, whereas with Startup, there’s a personal touch. It’s friendly and neighborly, the literary version of the small town where everyone knows your name.
Sometimes this even extends to knowing the publisher personally. In a thread on Absolute Write, discussing Firefly and Wisp Publishing, one of their authors stated that the publisher not only treated her to a meal but paid for a replacement tire for her car. Was that a wonderful thing to do? Of course. Was it a testament to the publisher’s capabilities as a publisher? No.
The real danger about thinking of one’s publisher as a close friend or family member is that, if something goes wrong, it’s difficult to regard the situation objectively. If the publisher fails to pay royalties and says it’s because she was ill, what do you do—think about your career and your money first, or trust her and give her as much time as she needs to recover?
And some publishers get very ill.
“I am sick (flu, sinus infection, fell in a hole gardening, food poisoning, etc.) and haven’t been able to make it to the post office to mail your check.”
I wish I had a garden with a hole to fall in when my phone bill was due.
Oh, wait. Bell Canada doesn’t consider itself my family and therefore wouldn’t accept that as an excuse.
“The bank took all my money repeatedly and took away the house, And then the City of Los Angeles construction destroyed everything else. And then dad died and mom had cancer, and I nearly died myself.”
That’s a direct quote from Vera Nazarian of Norilana Books, whose authors haven’t been paid for three years.
Whether the publisher is actually going through all this or not, such excuses for nonpayment put authors in a no-win situation. because if they’re kind and understanding, they’re going to be taken advantage of. On the other hand, if they speak up to request professional and ethical treatment, they become the bad guy for picking on someone who’s depressed, who’s had surgery, who’s fallen in a hole, etc.
When an author with Sovereign Publications wrote to its owner, Dorothy Deering, to say she had paid over $8000 for her novel’s publication and received nothing in return, she got a reply from the owner’s husband:
Dorothy is not only recovering from total knee replacement, but she is struggling to survive everyday. Your letter upset her so much that she sat and cried all over again.
Couldn’t she wipe her tears with some hundred-dollar-bills? She should have had at least eighty of those from that author alone.
As a poster on Absolute Write put it:
Family keeps things in the family. They don't tell tales to other people… The result is a very one-sided family, where the publisher gets away with anything and the authors get the short end of the stick.
That’s not to say that things are perfect in larger publishers, because I don’t think this is the case. But I find one-person operations far more of a risk, and that’s why.