Small publishers – a bit of a rant! #WWWBlogs #writingtips

Buyer-Beware

As well as writing and editing, I also read and review a lot of books. I try to read a variety of genres and read indie authors, traditionally published authors, big names, small names, complete unknowns, new writers and established writers. So I read a lot of books published by small presses.

Now before I get a load of flak, I do appreciate that there are a lot of really excellent small presses out there who do a fantastic job and who look after their authors. I also know that there are big, traditional, well-known publishing houses that don’t look after their authors. However, as the problems I have come across have all been with these smaller presses, those are the ones I want to talk about here.

I have read several books recently, for the most part eBooks, where the author has been published by a small publisher. Being rather nosy, and being an author always looking for opportunities, I have looked into many of these organisations. They all have lovely websites, all have lots of authors they are working with, all say they have plenty of experience in the industry, all say they are offering authors more than other publishers. Most also provide editing, formatting, book covers etc.

So why then are the majority, and I mean at least 75%, of these books not of publishable standard? Why are they full of typos and formatting errors? Full of spelling mistakes? Why, when they have supposedly been edited, do many contain basic writing no-nos such as ridiculous dialogue tags, exposition, stereotypical characterisation, unnatural dialogue, and information dumping?

Why also do so many of these organisations insist that authors promote each other? Why do I often look at glowing five star reviews for a book I can’t bear to finish and find those reviews are written by authors publishing with the same company? I’m all for authors helping each other, but I smell a rat, particularly when a publisher’s website states that the organisation treats its writers like family. All very nice I’m sure, and I’m very fond of a lot of my clients, we talk about stuff other than writing, we even occasionally meet up for coffee, but when they’re paying me their hard-earned money for my hard work it’s a professional business relationship, not family, and that’s how it should be.

I’m not suggesting that these companies are deliberately misleading authors, or that they aren’t trying their best. What I am suggesting though is that they aren’t up to the job. And OK, they might not be charging their authors up front – they’re not vanity presses – but they are taking a cut of the writers’ earnings (if there are any) and for that an author deserves professionalism, deserves an editor who knows how to edit, a marketing manager who has experience in marketing.

I think a lot of this has to do with people thinking they can publish books just because they can. And on closer inspection, a lot of them, despite vague statements to the contrary, don’t have any RELEVANT experience.

So please, please, please lovely authors – beware. Don’t let the fact that a publisher wants to publish your book go to your head. You deserve more than what some of these people are offering. You can probably do what they do better yourself. I shall be posting soon on what you should be careful of and what you should look for if you are considering a small publisher. In the meantime, do be cautious, and do your homework.

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51 comments

  1. Very Well said, the statement “my publisher” no longer fills me with glee especially when the author is left to source reviewers and do their own editing, proof-reading, social media and marketing.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m so sorry about this, Catherine – I do hope you can resolve the problems.

      Alison, tell me about it. As a reviewer for Rosie’s blog, I’ve come across books published by independent presses that read like first or second drafts. Head hopping, acres of superfluous detail, you name it! I’ve come across the same in books I’ve chosen to read. Alas, these days anyone can set themselves up as a publisher – too many new writers are too eager to claim being ‘a published author’ to realise that this ‘publisher’ might publish virtually anything that comes its way, and have no more literary experience or editing know-how than my cat.

      As for the glowing reviews from authors in the same stable – don’t get me started……

      Liked by 4 people

      1. I was doing a bit of investigating yesterday and saw a certain small press giving all its authors five stars on Goodreads. I’ve also seen glowing reviews for awful books from staff members too – just totally unprofessional. And they’re doing all indies a disservice because they’re contributing to the bad reputation that stigmatises even fabulous self-published writers.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said, Alison.

    My memoir, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women is published by a small independent publisher which mainly focusses on poetry – it was after they published my poetry collection they took on the book. It sells because I work my socks off on promotion; the publisher does nothing. Before publication, I was asked to provide details of potential stockists and media contacts but when I followed up none (with the exception of Waterstones) had heard of the book. Waterstones sold out and didn’t re-order because the publisher doesn’t use the distributer the bookshop usually deals with. They re-ordered before Christmas when I went in to talk to them about it and sold out within a couple of days – as far as I know there’s none in stock again.

    I suggested to the publisher we did a promotion of the ebook on a Kindle Countdown and while he agreed and booked the dates, promoting it was down to me, including paying for some ads.

    It does seem, however, even the bigger publishers expect their authors to do their own marketing, insisting on them building a social media platform, blogging, etc. Big marketing campaigns are reserved for best-selling authors.

    I’ll be indie publishing my next book.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. You’re banging on an open door here, Alison. I too have heard so many horror stories. One lady in particular, whom I shan’t name, who asked me to proofread her 3 books, and then told me she’d got a publisher who would do it for her, so naturally I didn’t do the work. Her experience with the publisher was so dreadful that she’s even been put off writing and doesn’t want anything more to do with it. You don’t want to suggest that some of these publishing companies don’t want to mislead authors – well I feel I can suggest that some of them do! And I totally agree with what Terry said about editors and proofreaders reviewing books they’ve worked on – it’s against Amazon’s rules, and rightly so, because as a proofreader I can hardly be seen as a disinterested party. You’re right – some people are so keen to say the words ‘my publisher’ to people who don’t know the ins and outs of the business, that they sadly lose their common sense.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There are so many dreadful stories (no pun intended!). Unfortunately though, there are plenty of writers willing to take a chance. I had an experience recently with an author who had been published by a small press and her book was like a first draft at best. When I tried to be nice and tactfully point out that she’d been badly let down by the publishers she basically said that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Unfortunately, in a lot of these cases, it really is the blind leading the blind.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I managed to escape a small press last year and if I thought I could get away with naming and shaming – I would. (I have, however, written extensively about this experience on my blog and anyone who knows me will easily work out who it is). The worrying trend is that many good self-published authors who are flagging with the production of writing and publishing, are always tempted to seek a publisher who can provide some sort of platform, create better visibility, give their work some grunt and get noticed… and let’s not forget the cost. DON’T. Just don’t. If you’ve established any kind of branding for yourself it’s not worth the heartache to go through this antiquated process, which is too slow to cope with the speed of ebooks and the Internet. And there are so many first-timers caught up with these small press who know no different. I encountered the most diabolical incompetence on all levels.
    Most publishers, including the biggies are still chasing trends, so if you don’t write whatever is selling at the moment, and in the right location, then again you’ll fall through the net. The process has nothing whatsoever to do with quality material.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Words from one who knows, here – I think the most salient point is the term ‘antiquated process’ – it is indeed. And the chasing trends…. oh, and I notice that the writers from ‘that’ company all review each others’ books, too 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks, Alison. This is great advice. I think so many of these small companies have spring up to bilk writers out of their money. The best path is to find your own editor for content and copy and make sure the book is perfect before you send it off to be printed. Most of these companies also do NO marketing (the big publishers can be guilty of this, too) and with some the amount of money the author gets per book is a lot less than if they use a site that prints only (or printing and the cover).

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Absolutely Noelle – the things they can (and should) do for you are all things you can source yourself or learn yourself, so why use them in the first place? Unless they can really offer something for the cut they’re happy to take, then best avoided imho 🙂

      Like

  6. I completely agree! My friend and fellow author, had gone with one publishing company for her first book, and as I was reading it, I noticed they had left a # sign in where she wanted a scene change within the chapter. Such a small thing, but it made me stop and wonder how they couldn’t have noticed it? Doing your homework is a must, as you said. Taking the time to research a publisher if they want to represent you, before signing that contract, should be a given.

    Julianne
    Ink & Stitches – http://blog.jhwinter.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree Julianne, but I think that, as Terry says, lots of writers feel very flattered by the idea that someone wants to publish them and they get a bit carried away. I had a look at one earlier today and their website gives no details about their professional background whatsoever, yet they’ve been overwhelmed with submissions. Mind-boggling!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. All sadly so true. I was asked last year to do a review on a novel that had been, according to the author, professionally edited and published by a small press. It was so terrible with several errors on the first page. At one stage, a character drowned but was then having lunch the next day. I decided to be brave and contacted the author and told her. She asked me to point out some errors, so I took the time and sent several pages – plus I told her that if someone drowns they are dead. The publisher was doing this author no favours, her story was good but certainly not publishable the way it was.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Brilliant and very valid blog Alison. I’m an independent author, currently seeking representation for my latest novel for lots of reasons! Two agents have asked for the full manuscript. They will see my 7th draft which has been read by my mentor – an award-winning historical novelist and not my mom – my beta reader, a qualified PR Consultant – not my sister – and a professional editor/proof reader.

    And if nothing comes of it – I’ll set a deadline – I will independently publish again. I humbly suggest my manuscript might have been more rigorously edited than many published by so-called small presses and even some larger ones? Makes my blood boil!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Sound advice. I too read a lot and have been finding some of the e-books are not professionally up to standard. I`ve engaged an editor I trust and who I work with well and will be self-publishing. If we, as authors, are to survive and make a decent living doing the job we love, all these niggles that you have mentioned have to be addressed. I look forward to your next post about warning signs.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh Alison, the pain remembered! My first novel was published by a tiny independent publisher in 2002. I had a proper contract and no fees, but I should have read the signs when the ‘literary editor’ abandoned the ‘publisher’ because of the way he was treating his authors. I was sent the final text – as a pdf that I could not alter – with perhaps 400 errors (many mine, but many more introduced by the editor) and 48 hours to correct them. I did my best, but he was incapable of putting the right corrections in the latest version of the text. I spent the next year trying to get a clean copy printed and I still die of embarrassment about some of the copies out there. So yes, I agree, go very carefully, or do it yourself, using professional help for editing.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. A great blog – I have experience of self pub, small/indie pub, and 2 different ‘trad’ publishers; and they all vary so widely, including the differences between the 2 trad publishers. All of them require the author to do 95% of the promo, but at least with self-pub you expect that from the outset. The others, you start off (naively) hoping they’ll do more for you, but it’s a rude awakening when you turn out to be not such a special snowflake after all!

    The second of my trad publishers offered a new 3-book deal, which I turned down because 2 books with them has taught me a lot. None of it good. They ignore the authors they have, and yet are constantly seen on social media trying to attract new ones.
    The speed with which they expect their authors to produce work, and then the careless way they treat it when it’s received, is appalling. My first book with them went out with a ridiculous number of typos caused by them hitting ‘accept all’ on the changes, and then not even running a quick spell-check for words run together as a result of zapping the gaps. My second wasn’t even available on release day! And then authors get the blame for not proof-reading properly, and often get low-starred reviews because of it. And this imprint comes under the umbrella of one of the ‘big 5,’ so it’s industry-wide, and not confined to indie presses or self-published.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Yes, I’ve read some books with absolutely stonking errors and hideous speech tags, even ones that have received AMAZING reviews. Luckily, I’ve already found a wonderful editor for when I finally get around to finishing my novel, so I’ll be sorted…(that’s you by the way!)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’ve already done the beta read- it’s just taking me a ridiculously long time to get much further… (to be fair, I have moved twice during that time and started a new job!)

        Liked by 1 person

  13. A really good warning. The only reason I would go with a trad pub is to get some kind of visibility, as being one among 6 million ebooks on Amazon (or however many they have now) is very hard to get seen by anyone. Small presses dont seem to have the leverage to offer that. And I would definitely employ you as an editor if I could! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I couldn’t agree with your post more. I went with a small publisher for a bit because I thought it was easier than learning marketing. Boy that was a mistake. Despite all the promises about new edits, covers, and marketing, all I got was a quick Grammerly edit, my old covers, and paperbacks with horridly sized covers. Oh and KDP Select sales every 90 days. I pulled my books, took a marketing class, got the covers I wanted, and hired a new editor. Life is better now, but lesson learned.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Well, I will chime in here. I was thrilled when my first trilogy was picked up by a small, traditional publisher. They got me a good editor and some cover art. And then…nothing. I was embarrassed by the quality of both the paperbacks and ebooks they put out. i started thinking to myself, “I can do this better – surely.” So I started experimenting, putting out one separate book while my others were still under contract with the publisher. And you know what? I could do it better. I still use an editor and I generally get professional cover art, but I do the formatting and cover composition myself. And I keep all the money. I’ve earned way more publishing my own works than I ever did with a small ‘trad’ publisher. It was great validation, but that’s it.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Excellent post Alison and I agree wholeheartedly, the string of comments is so informative as well. What I have found interesting recently is that as I bought my own ISBN’s so had to have my own publishing company name which I then used to set up my workshop offerings people are forever asking me about publishing their work. I have to make it very clear what it is I’m offering and nowhere do I even suggest that I’m providing any sort of editorial or publishing service. I think there is a lot of ignorance out there and people are so keen to get published they really do not do their homework and leap at the first opportunity offered to them. This topic forms a large part of what I talk about to try and inform people and I think that is all that anyone can do. I shall link to this in my next newsletter in the hope that some may wish to educate themselves further. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 🙂 I think you’re right – people don’t seem to be able to see past the word ‘publisher’ to what is actually there. It definitely should be a case of ‘writer beware’.

      Like

    1. That’s a really useful link – thanks. I don’t know of another list, but one way to check out a publisher is to see if there’s a thread about them on ‘Absolute Write’ – I just google the name of the publisher and ‘absolute write’. You can find out quite a lot from there!

      Liked by 1 person

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