Wednesday, April 29

Marketing and the Small Press

By Alex J. Cavanaugh,

Part of the How They Do It Series


There has never been as many publishing options for writers as there are right now--Big 5 house to small press, indie or self publishing. Every option has its benefits and horror stories, and it's up to the writers to decide which path best works for their careers. To help a with that decision, please join me in welcoming Alex J. Cavanaugh to the lecture hall today, to talk a little about the pros and cons of marketing with a small press.

Alex has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm.

Website | Google+ | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

Take it away Alex...

Marketing is a big responsibility for an author. If we go the route of agent and big press, some of that weight is lifted from our shoulders. If we self-publish, it’s all up to us. But what about the small press?

There’s a lot of misconception about small presses. How much marketing do they do? Will the author be responsible for most of it? Would it be better to secure a big publisher, along with an agent, and let them handle book promotions?

The first thing writers should know is that no matter what, we still have a hand in marketing. It will be expected of us. We need to anticipate that and be prepared. Even if we aren’t sending out review copies and buying ads, we’ll still be making appearances and using social media to promote ourselves.

It also depends on the small press itself. Recently I asked twelve authors to list the pros and cons of small publishers at the Insecure Writer’s Support Group site. Some stated they received very little assistance with marketing and some said they were fully supported.

With the ease of self-publishing now, some might wonder if there are any benefits in going with a small press. There are advantages and disadvantages, and every writer has to make the decision which side carries more weight. Knowing that it also depends on the small publisher means we have to do our research as well.

Below is a summary of the basic advantages and disadvantages we might encounter with a small press.

Disadvantages:

A limited budget


A small press won’t have a huge budget for marketing. They might have enough for a few review copies and that’s about it. Ask up front what they intend to do to market the book and what it will take to keep that marketing going. Because it’s not just what they do before the book is released–it’s what they do afterwards. Some of this information will be in the contract, but the rest is up to us to discover, either by asking directly or asking other authors with that press.

A limited budget might mean we need to assist with reviews. Or set up our own blog tour. We might not get the bookmarks and other swag authors with big presses enjoy. We won’t get the same product placement in bookstores or ads in magazines and other publications. We’ll have to be willing to take up the slack for the sake of our book.

Less influence than larger presses


The bigger presses have a lot of weight behind them. They can secure the best reviewers and draw far more attention than a small press. Size, financial backing, and reputation play a huge roll. A small press usually hasn’t been around as long and can’t lay down as much marketing cash. They are David against Goliath.

Without that strong influence, our books won’t receive the same amount of press. We won’t be invited to as many conventions and conferences. Our books won’t receive a spotlight. It will be up to us to make them shine wherever possible.

Author expected to do a lot of the marketing


While we can’t escape marketing completely, a small publisher will expect us to spend our own money to promote our books. We might have to contact reviewers and send out books. We might have to set up all of our own appearances. Any advertising is at our own expense. Bookmarks, book trailers, etc. – if we want them, we might have to pay for them.

It takes money to make money, and without a lot of financial backing, our books will struggle to find their audience. We’ll have to use the creativity that went into writing the book and funnel it into unique marketing ideas.

Lest you think it’s all doom and gloom, there are advantages:

Advantages:

Small presses are willing to try new things


One thing I learned early on is that the bigger presses have a standard procedure and they tend to stick to it. Smaller publishers are more willing to deviate from the established path and try something new. They will work closely with us and give our books’ promotional plan a personal touch. They understand that every book is different and their authors aren’t just a number.

Sometimes this comes across as tossing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. But when you know your book won’t sell well under conventional methods, this approach might be what it needs to succeed.

Willing to work with author on promotions


They are more open to marketing ideas from their authors and willing to support different ventures. They might be limited by budget, but they will assist with special promotions and giveaways whenever possible. We are able to send them leads for reviewers and blurbs and suggest other marketing leads and ideas.

Not every small publisher will go above and beyond, but most will listen to our ideas and do what they can to drive more sales.

Willing to hang longer with an author or title


The big publishers expect success right away and will only market a title for so long. Small presses understand that it’s sometimes a slow burn. Most won’t give up on an author or title that doesn’t make them millions. As long as we keep promoting and driving sales, they will also continue to market. Even when sales are moderate at best, they are open to continued submissions from the author.

This might cause an author to slack off efforts, assured of a home. But if we keep writing our best and put everything into marketing our titles, we’ll continue to grow.

I’ve experienced all of these things to a certain degree with my own small publisher. But the pros have far outweighed the cons. A perfect example would be my first book, CassaStar. Its sales weren’t stellar, but when I submitted my second manuscript, they were still willing to take a chance on a sequel. They were also still promoting my first book, and I continued to be active with social media. Not long after signing for the second book, and about a year after the first book’s release, CassaStar hit the Amazon Best Seller charts, racing to the top of the science fiction category. Had my publisher not continued to support me and my book, that never would’ve happened.

In terms of marketing, is a small publisher a good fit for you? Weigh the advantages and disadvantages and decide for yourself. Either way, be prepared to market!

About Dragon of the Stars

The ship of legends…

The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?

One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?

Website | Google+ | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

60 comments:

  1. Great post, Alex. You really set out all the pros and cons of small presses. I think they can be a great fit for some writers.

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  2. Thank you for the clear and concise information. It gives me a lot to think about. However, the truth may be that very few have a choice between big vs. small publishers because it's so tough to get a contract from the big guys.

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  3. Either way, prepare to market. The writing of the book is only a fraction of the work involved in getting into the hands of readers. Thanks, Alex.

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    1. Even so, I MUST stress this, we are only one person, we can't do it all, let alone in any one day.

      That's not saying "Do Nothing" but we are not robots, I want writers whatever they decide to remember that, no matter how serious and vital you take your business, we can't kill ourselves with stress.

      I don't want to sound melodramatic here, but we can't be "The #1 advocate for our book" if we die from stress over marketing.

      All that said, I went with a small press with my middle grade novel "GABRIEL" and despite the "drawbacks" listed above, it was the right move for me.

      By going with a publisher (small or not), I'm getting the editorial help and the publishing platform (in terms of printing costs) I could never finance myself at this point in my life.

      What I don't think indie authors tend to mention when they advocate/preach the benefits of being your own publisher (however you define that) is that on top of "marketing", we're also paying for our own printing costs (RE: print books, which are especially still vital in the Children's/YA market, despite the ebook revoulution) and that's ON TOP of the costs of hiring editors, illustrators (if our book needs them) and a cover designer for any one book, and to have a career, we need to write and publish more than one book, and if your finances are limited...

      To be continued...

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    2. I'm in no way suggesting what's said above isn't true. It is for most authors. But I do wish more indie authors understood that while you made the right choice for you, not everyone can pull it off at the level needed to build your career at the pro level, and just because you can't pay upfront, doesn't mean you don

      The question I think we as authors need to ask each other FAR MORE isn't "Small press, large press, or DIY" but "What's a cost-effective way to market in general and/or indie publish that's still professional but a compromise when it's all on you?"

      My greatest fear is that publishing in general wil become yet another victim of "Class Wars" where only the rich can afford to publish at the pro level, and that's not a pressure to take lightly.

      Because I'm with a small press, a lot of the marketing's on me, but the trade off is I can have more creative control on matters of cover design and illustrator, but I get the benefit of the editorial help and publishing platform (RE: Printing physical books) I couldn't finance all by myself, and while my book is a novel, I wanted to have some illustrations.

      Plus, it would help my marketing efforts to have visual representation of my characters as a I neared launch, but since neither my publisher, nor I can't fund it all upfront, I'm turning to crowdfunding to help with that.

      Right now, I'm saving up to comission a sketch or two to give an idea of what the final book's art will look like.

      The campaigns that succeed, and I've backed myself, often have something tanigble that gives to potential backer an idea of what their pre-comiting to buy or review/recommend to friends if they pick a tier that gets them a copy of the final book. Often earlier than it's available to all.

      I have a Plan B, and I know there's debate about when it's okay to crowdfund and when it isn't, but especially because this is my first book, I want to be impression to be "This is a well crafted book" and as much as I believe story is paramount, how our book looks on the outside does play a part.

      Plus, like anyone else, I have passion/preference for visuals.

      I strongly believe that if what's standing in the way of publishing a pro level book is lack of financial resources, we should have no shame in doing anything in our ethical/moral/legal power to make it happen. Authors always tell each other no one will believe in our books more than us, so let us prove that withour judgement, just because you may not make a similar choice doen't mean it's unethical, right?

      Sure, you can save up your own money and fund it all yourself, but depending on what your book needs visually, it could many years, and this is assuming your book's written, decently edited and ready to go, and even that's a considerable expense, and what oppononents of indie publishing I fear fail to take into account is that printing costs are as high or higher than getting a team of editors for your book, on top of bearing the full burden of marketing alone, unless you also had a spare several grand to hire a publicist.

      To be continued...

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    3. I think part of the problem is some people thinkg auhors who crowdfund are begging, and I assure you, having part of a few crowdfunding campaigns, it's NOT begging, nor is it a shortcut to not do hard work on the part of the author.

      I'm not saying there aren't jerky scammers out there, but the majority of authors are decent, ethical people who simply want to bring a book that they couldn't publish tradtionally short of pulling a "Godfather" with a trad. publishier (I'm KIDDDING, but I'm making a real point, LOL)

      I truly believe that if publishing gets to a point where only the rich can afford to do it at a pro level, while we may see less half-done junk, we'd still shut out so many writers solely because our passion, even our skill and fortitude can't overcome out financial limitations.

      I don't think that's a good thing. No matter how business savvy you are, think about this a moment, of your many favorite books and authors, I'm sure at least ONE of them wasn't a financial success nor a household name, either in the beginning of their careers, or in their lifetime, but that didn't make their book(s) any less worthy of being published.

      Granted, there were more publishers overall decades ago, and some were more hands-on than they are now, but a lot of challenges were the same. Indie publishing is still hard, but I can only imagine how hard it was for Beatrix Potter to essentially publish herself before trad. publishing took notice and brought Peter and Co. global.

      On top of the expense of printing and binding, she was a woman and the ignorant, narrow-minded views that came along with it. But at least she could illustrate herself, something I and many authors can't say, and for some (myself included) wish more and more we could, not just for creative reasons, but to be one less expense (or if you prefer, investment) to budget for.

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    4. Self-publishing is expensive, more so if print books are involved. It's not an easy path. None of them are easy paths and for different reasons.
      Small press was the right path for me, because self-publishing was way more than I could've done and going after a big press might've meant I was never picked up at all. Besides, I never intended to write more than one book, let alone four!

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    5. Good point, Alex, I personally do want to write (and PUBLISH) more than ONE book in my lifetime, so I'm coming from a different stance and/or position than you in that respect I'm guessing.

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  4. This is helpful! Thank you Alex, and Janice, for your time.

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  5. Great post. Thank you. And thank you Janice for all of your topics. I don't comment much, but I always find your posts really helpful!

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  6. A fantastic post, Alex. These are excellent points, and I think sometimes the smaller presses are better at some things than the big ones!

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    1. They are certainly more willing to take a chance.

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    2. Sometimes, that's what makes all the difference.

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  7. Great post, Alex.

    I'm with both a small and big press, and I've worked with a NYC press before. The amount of support even varies between authors. What one author gets with a publisher might not be what you get. If you're lucky, you get more. But either way, you never rely on the publisher to do any promo for you. I've seen authors with NYC learn that the hard way. The PR support they were expecting never amounted to anything. And unfortunately, the author didn't do much in way of promo either, because they had expected full support.

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  8. Great post. The next question to address is what authors should do to prepare/learn the necessary ropes of good marketing.

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    1. There are a lot of great sites with information, like this one! We also have information on marketing at the IWSG site.

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  9. Some great positives indeed. Guess one can never get out of marketing

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  10. Alex! So nice to see you here on Janice's blog! I actually like the spaghetti against the wall theory. Why not see what else will work? And we won't know unless we try.

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    1. Julie! Some spaghetti is bound to stick.

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  11. I remember that question about small presses. Great way to gather information, then share it to wide audience!

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  12. I've had the good and bad experiences with small presses. It is nice to find a 'home' for your writing that makes you comfortable but also inspires you to work even harder.

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  13. This post is so timely. I've been sending submissions to small presses, but at the same time I really didn't know what to expect. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. This really helped me. I do have a question. What about hiring a photographer for the author photo or the book launch party? Is that usually in the budget, or no?

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    1. Hey Sue! Glad I could help. A photographer is something you'll probably have to hire on your own.

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  14. Thanks, Alex, for putting this information all in one place,. I know I'll have to tackle this question sooner or later.

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  15. It's so interesting that your first book didn't take off right away. It just goes to show you shouldn't give up as you never know when something is going to hit. So glad this experience has worked out so well for you.

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    1. Julie, it didn't, but I didn't quit, either.

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  16. interesting Alex, thank you for an insight on the publishing world to the general public like me, hola Janice

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  17. A small or medium-sized publisher can offer the advantages of personalized attention and keeping titles out there. Like it that you persevered, and it paid off!

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  18. I think this was valuable information to give and to have. Is it just as hard to be accepted by a small press as by a large one? Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @ http://www.lisabuiecollard.com

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    1. I think it's easier because they are more willing to take a chance on both a new author and a unique genre.

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  19. Alex, you presented some well thought out pros and cons. I know several authors that are very happy with the personal attention they get from their small press. You're right, some give a lot more than you would think to their authors but it comes down to how invested are you, the author, in seeing your books writing carreer succeed?

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

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  20. Great post. I'm with small publishers and have had good experiences. I do like that they are willing to listen to my ideas and work with me to promote my books.

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    1. Cherie, that's great! My publisher has worked with me on marketing.

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  21. As you know, Alex, for me marketing is agony. But I've got to learn to do it because, as you point out, it doesn't matter who publishes a book these days, the author still has to promote it. And kudos to you, because besides being a natural writer you really are so very good and generous at marketing and helping other writers.

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    1. Thanks, Helena! I do what I can to help others.

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  22. Awesome post! Very accurate. Have dealt with two different small presses, I know all about this. You're absolutely write that the writer has to be involved in marketing. Not that I've had a big 5 contract, but I suspect in this economy, with how much the world of publishing is changing, even with one of those contracts the author would still be expected to participate. A lot.

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  23. I think your last point is of great importance. Often people think if their book goes to a big press they'll get big marketing dollars and forget about the midlist that may be completely ignored by their big press. And if it doesn't sell well, forget it. Marketing isn't that hard as long as we stick with what's comfortable for us and maximize it, as many of us are doing right now on social media.

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    1. Karen, and I think there are a lot more midlist writers than anything else.

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  24. Exactly. Don't expect instant success. Do expect to work hard. We are our own biggest promoters!

    Well said, Sir!

    Heather

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    1. But we still have to remember we're not robots. We're human, and we can only do so much in any one day, and we can't let marketing stop us from ever writing new books, that's not helping our career, either.

      I feel we sometimes overestimate what any one author can do, especially when your finances are limited.

      That's not putting away the marketing issue, just trying to put it into perspective, that's all.

      I recently had to step back a lot of my writing-related, and while I don't want to jeopardize what little momentum I have, but I can't kill myself.

      Because I don't have a side job (or "side-hustle" as some call it) to aid my finances, I'm proably more intense on these issues than most authors I know, but just because I'm single with no kids to raise, it doesn't mean my finances and time are any greater or freer than most of the parents/writers I know, it's different, but it's not nesscarially easier.

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  25. Great post on small presses, Alex - I think that having someone being willing to try what fits best, and wait for the slow burn are pretty awesome pros!

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  26. Great analysis, Alex. Not sure if someone else has mentioned it, but a big publisher might only be willing to devote a large marketing budget to a select few books and not every author on their list. In that case, the individual attention of a small press might actually be more favourable.

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  27. Thanks for the information.
    Lots to think about...
    I like the fact that small presses understand that every book is different and their authors aren’t just a number.
    It's the personal touch angle. In the long run, it makes all the difference.

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    1. Michelle, the personal touch matters so much.

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  28. That sums it up nicely. No matter which way you publish, an author can expect to do a lot of the marketing himself.

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  29. Given my personality, I think a smaller press would be a better match for me. I like how they allow writers to retain more creative control, and pay more personal attention. Someday I'd love to turn my DBA into a real small publishing house of my own.

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  30. Thanks, Alex! It's nice so see the expectations so succinctly listed.

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