I was going to blog about this last Sunday – but I got too busy. Who says irony is dead? Or I could re-write history and say I re-scheduled it for this Sunday – and now I’m early.
Small presses can’t compete with large ones in terms of advances or print runs. We can offer competitive, even superior, royalty rates but can’t promise robust marketing to produce sales sufficient to it will make a difference.
I think we can match big presses by producing well-edited and attractive books of which an author can be proud. We can even give the writer more say in what the final product looks like. However, even there we have our limitations.
One of the few things we can offer writers is speed. For example, a book I first saw in December has gone through a couple of edits and will launched the second week-end of August. Eight to twelve months from submission (my slush responses have averaged under two months for novels) to publication is the standard I’ve set for myself and, with an occasional exception, it is one I think I can stick to for the foreseeable future. Given that a lot of books sit in the slush pile of big houses for longer than that, that’s pretty good. In fact, even with established authors with multi-book deals, a lag of 18 months between submission of the first draft and actual publication is normal.
One of the most commonly cited reasons self-published authors give for going that route is the lengthy delays in the traditional publishing system. While we’re not as quick as dumping a word document into the automated system at Amazon, I think we produce a better final product – and we pay writers to boot. So, given the efforts of small presses and self-published authors to speed the plow, you’d think other people in this marvelous industry called publishing would change their systems, too.
But you’d be wrong. Printers get it (though some still want you to send contracts and approvals by FAX! You know, those old-fashioned ones that make the funny whistling sound.)
For example, major reviewers ask that you submit galleys or ARCs three to four months prior to the official publication date. PDFs aren’t good enough. E-books aren’t good enough. They want physical copies sent through the mail. The mail! I got page proofs for the books to be launched August 9th last Saturday by PDF; the physical copy (one) arrived on Monday by courier. Clearly I’m not going to make the review deadline of Publisher’s Weekly.
Or am I? The catalogue information for distribution companies has to be submitted five months before the catalogue goes out. To get in the December catalogue, I have to submit the info by July 31. The books coming out in August are in the October catalogue; that’s why on-line sites will say ‘available for pre-order’ some months after they’re printed. At least with the catalogues I can enter some data – including guesses at final page length – to start the ball rolling and then submit the rest as it becomes available. Which is why the books initially appear on-line without cover art.
Even simple things like cataloging data from Library and Archives Canada (which you need right before sending things to the printer) needs to be ordered well in advance: they say 10 working days but 20 or 25 is more typical. And they want a final cover page (if you have one) – which I often don’t have that far in advance.
And of course, with everything being done as close to a deadline as possible, there’s little room for any errors at all. No wonder small press publishers look old before their time.