Friday, May 4, 2012

A Third Alternative—the Small Press: by Bharti Kirchner

by @bhartikirchner, Bharti Kirchner

Tulip SeasonWhen I first wrote a draft of Tulip Season I believed it fell in the mainstream category (like my four previous novels), but had a mystery element in it. In time, I showed it to my editor at a big New York house. Her response stunned me. She said she liked the main character Mitra, her relationships, the twists and turns, and the Bollywood aspect of the story, but added, “Take the mystery out.”

But the mystery of the disappearance of Mitra’s best friend was at the heart of the story. How could I eliminate that and the severe effect of that disappearance? My expectation has met cold hard reality. I told my editor I’d take some time and think about it. In effect what I did was to put the novel away.

Then my editor left the publishing house, which didn’t make it easy for me. I began to wonder: What should I do with this manuscript? I believed Tulip Season was as a good a book as I’d ever written, possibly better, and that it deserved a home. Every so often I’d take out the manuscript and work on it, aware that it was actually becoming more of a mystery novel. To make a long story short, a friend suggested showing it to a small publisher and after some thought I did. To two of them. Both seemed enthusiastic about the book, the fact that it was an unusual mystery novel, and made offers. I accepted one. Happily for me, Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery is just out in Kindle and Nook formats, with the paperback to be released next week.

What have I learned? That there are other alternatives to a big publisher. That for each book there is a perfect fit and you have to find it. If you’re struggling to find a home for a manuscript, you might do well to consider all possible venues for publishing, one of which is a small independent press.

Note that small presses come in different colors. There are academic presses (such the University of Michigan Press) which do few trade books, but function more like a legacy publisher. There are small but distinguished literary presses (such as Algonquin). Then there are also e-publishers, who might or might not do print books. Check the history of the press and its reputation before you plunge in. Many websites have “Authors beware” type of information.

What are some other differences? You might get little or no advance money, but can often expect a higher percentage of royalty. Your book may not take as long to hit the market, but you may have to forgo pre-publication reviews (such as in Publisher’s Weekly or Kirkus Reviews). You might work more closely with your press, but may have to assume more responsibilities. If predictions of pundits are correct, small presses will play a big role in the industry in future.


kirchner_headshot-210Bharti Kirchner is the prolific author of eight books -- four novels and four cookbooks. Her fifth, a mystery novel Tulip Season: A Mitra Basu Mystery is due out in 2012. Her work has been translated into German, Dutch, Spanish, Marathi, Thai and other languages. Her fourth novel Pastries: A Novel of Desserts and Discoveries (St. Martin’s Press) was selected for the Summer Washington Reads program. Darjeeling (St. Martin’s Press), a third novel, received endorsements from top national authors. Shiva Dancing (Dutton), her first novel, was chosen by Seattle Weekly to be among the top 18 books by Seattle authors in the last 25 years. ("A finely crafted novel," says Publisher’s Weekly. "A fresh literary terrain," says San Francisco Chronicle.) Sharmila’s Book, a second novel, was published by Dutton. (“Smart, swift, and funny,” says Publisher’s Weekly.) You can find Bharti Kirchner at her website ( ) or on Twitter at @bhartikirchner.