Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Small Press vs Large Press

small_press_month_2010_poster_largeMarch is the 14th anniversary of Small Press Month.

The organizers of the Small Press Month events state:

Held annually in March, Small Press Month raises awareness about the need for broader venues of literary expression.

That particular statement did make me curious. I’d actually like to see a little data to back it up. How much of a small publisher’s catalog does consist of strikingly different material? On average, do they have a higher percentage of notably original work than larger publishers?

I’ve written for both small presses (Midnight Ink might qualify as midsized) and large publishers. I wrote traditional mysteries/cozies for both. Small presses do publish genre fiction, obviously, just like the bigger publishers.

I tend to read more about the differences between small and large publishers...which surprises me. I think small publishers and larger ones actually have a great deal in common. My personal experiences at both the big and small publishers were basically the same. These are just my own observations…obviously, others will have different opinions based on their own experiences.

Copyediting/editing?—Excellent for both publishers. Contract?—The contracts were both of equal length and complexity (it wasn’t as if the contract at the smaller press was simpler or less-convoluted.) Amount of personal contact? I’ve had more contact with my editor at the larger press, but that could be due to the personalities of the individual editors involved. The editors are absolutely slammed with work at both publishing houses—regardless of the size of the publisher. This means there really isn’t much time for chatting. Willingness to work with debut writer? My contract with Penguin occurred soon after I’d signed my contract with Midnight Ink. Both were happy to work with a new writer. Their passion over the job and my book: The same. My input on cover art? The same. (Although that’s an area where I’d rather the art department and marketing folks take charge…not my forte.) Marketing plan? Mmm….probably the same. Obviously on a much bigger scale with the bigger publisher. The biggest differences between the two? The amount of the advance (larger at the big publisher…which might not be fair for me to say, considering that I did negotiate my contract with the smaller publisher and my agent would have, clearly, done better) and the distribution and placement in bookstores (obviously much better with the larger publisher). But—the distribution aspect is changing, since the popularity of eReading is increasing daily.

The biggest argument in favor of a small publisher, I think, is the ability of an unagented writer to obtain a publishing contract. For me, it was harder to find an agent than it was a publisher. When Midnight Ink contacted me about buying Pretty is as Pretty Dies, they didn’t mind a bit that I didn’t have an agent at the time. They offered to give me a week to look for one…and when I still came up empty-handed, they worked directly with me to negotiate a contract. And Midnight Ink is a larger independent press.

I love the idea of giving readers variety and choices in their books. But I’m not convinced that most small publishers have a 'broader venue of literary expression' than the big boys. And my efforts to find data on the subject fell flat.

What do you think? If you’ve also been with a big pub and a small pub, did your experience differ from mine? Which did you prefer and which would you recommend to writers? At the bookstore, do you notice a huge difference in the catalogs of big and small presses?