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What To Ask An Indie Publisher: Finding the perfect alternative press for your unique needs

Okay, okay, so you’ve had that fine herbal tea I served up a few months back now, and it’s starting to take effect. Good, good. Things are going according to plan.

But now you’re left wondering ‘how do I tell the bad from the good? How do I avoid a contract disaster or a line getting cut or a publishing house going under?’

When looking at alternative presses, also known as independent publishing houses or small/mid-sized presses, you want to look for this lovely thing called REACH.

Let’s take it from the top, shall we?

R is for Range of Distribution

I’ve said it once, I’ve said it twice, and I will Keep Saying It Until You Learn Your Goddamn Lesson: it’s all about the distributor. Key words to look for when you’re scouring their website for this information: “in partnership with A Big Five Publishing House”, “handled in conjunction with Major Book Distributor Of Awesome.”

Your Big Five Publishing houses are:

  1. Hachette (it’s not pronounced hatchet – it’s French)
  2. Simon and Schuster
  3. HarperCollins
  4. Macmillan
  5. Penguin Random House

Your Global Book Distributors are:

E is for Editorial Know-how

This is where you’ve got to do some digging. (If you’re into pop music, look up “Doin’ Dirt” by Maroon 5 and get crackin with the publishing house Recent Releases page). If they don’t tell you who their editors are and where they come from, find a few titles you don’t mind reading and see how they hold up. If you’re finding errors, walk. Simple as that.

A is for Agenda in Niche and Marketing

Agenda also stands for Niche and Marketing. Some indies have a Niche, like Angry Robot’s horde of SF/FA/All Things Weird. If they don’t have a niche, see about Imprints. Often times a decent-sized indie will do things under additional imprints to make it easier to sell books. This also helps to market the book. Your publisher should always have a marketing agenda, and they should be doing it Well.

And what it is in the marketing agenda?

Metadata is a big scary word that stands for the data on how data is organized (what?). It’s how keywords and comp titles are born (if you liked This and This, you will like THIS NEW AUTHOR!). The publishing house should have someone on staff who works to analyze the hard data and turn into workable metadata: SEO keywords, phrases for search engines, comparable titles, aka comp titles, to boost sales.

C is for Current Titles

Who’s on the client list? This is the info that can make or break whether you decide to Give Them The Book or not. Are they big names? Small names? Where are their books? Do they have blogs/what are they like? How did they submit? Do they have agents? Do you need an agent? Many indie publishers do require an agent today, but not all. Add ‘agent’ to your checklist, and if you can’t tick it off…don’t freak out, but do make sure you can check off every other item on the list. (Kensington doesn’t require an agent, and their books are Everywhere under A Ton of Imprints.) Taking authors without an agent does not a bad press make.

H is for History in the Business

You would be amazed to know the number of folks who have left Big Five publishing. Authors and editorial staff alike have said sayonara due to the shake-ups of the past few years, and it’s these wonderfully talented and knowledgeable folks who make indie houses rock. Check out the history behind the staff of any indie house. If they don’t have it on their site, just ask. Publishers like it when authors have questions; it shows you’re paying attention. Smart authors are everyone’s favorite kind of author to work with (including mine).

Okay, but what else is there?

Well friend, we also have the red flags of doom. AKA, Signs You Should Run Away, Screaming. (Do scream, and scream loudly for all to hear – it keeps others from making the same mistake you just narrowly avoided).

But hey –not all indie houses are scary, slimy, shark people. (Don’t ask me why shark people are slimy, just roll with it). Here are a few names that I, Suzanne Lahna, blogger, editor, reader and writer of Many Weird Things, can personally vouch for:

And that is not to say there are not many more lovely independent publishers out there in the world (there are!) but I can’t verify them all–that is for you to decide, dear reader. Find the one that’s best for your genre, your style, your story, and not someone else’s. Find the one that fits your needs, and you could find a match made in heaven to move your book from the pile on your desk to published novel. 

This article was last updated on 6/10/2019 to reflect changes to the publishers market.
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