Independent publishers – an author’s perspective

Rosalie WarrenIn the increasingly competitive world of mainstream publishing, it’s hard to get a book deal – and that’s an understatement. In the gap between self-publishing and mainstream publishing are the independent publishers. These small publishing houses take on work that might be overlooked by their larger competitors, and while they do not have the resources to market books in any major way, many talented authors have found a home with them. For some, they hope that it will be a stepping stone into mainstream publishing, for others, like the acclaimed crime writer Val McDermid, who chose to approach independent publisher Flambard Press with her anthology of short stories, Stranded, it’s a strategic move.

The Crafty Writer spoke to first-time novelist Rosalie Warren about her experiences with an independent publisher.

rosalie-warren-charitys-childTCW: Charity’s Child is your first published novel. Have you completed any unpublished novels before this one? If so, what do you think gave this one the edge?

RW: I completed two previous novels when I was much younger. The first one, written when I was 15, faded into illegibility but I’m sure was not publishable. The second was rejected by a couple of publishers in the mid-eighties. After that I had a long break from creative writing while I pursued my academic career. I had the original idea for Charity’s Child about five years ago and did some early work on it. Then I wrote another novel called ‘Low Tide, Lunan Bay’ and started a third, before returning to finish Charity’s Child. Charity’s Child and Low Tide, Lunan Bay are very different so it’s hard to compare them. Lunan Bay has a more conventional theme – a middle-aged woman looking for a new partner. Charity’s Child, as you know, has quite an unusual plot, and I think this is one of the things that appealed to my publisher.

TCW: Your publisher, Circaidy Gregory, is a small, independent publisher. How did you find out about them?

RW: I met Kay Green, who runs Circaidy Gregory Press, through being shortlisted in a Science Fiction short story competition run by Earlyworks Press, which is also run by Kay. I got to know her and other Earlyworks Club members on their forum, which gives critiques, and began to get a feel for the kind of thing Circaidy Gregory was aiming to do.

TCW: Can you tell us a little about their selection process?

RW: I sent them the first chapter and synopsis of Charity’s Child; they liked it and asked to see the rest. Having read the whole, Kay was enthusiastic about it but had a number of suggestions of ways it could be improved, including a substantial change to the ending. I realised I had found myself an astute and competent editor and was very happy to rewrite the ending and make a number of other changes. We entered a two-way discussion process, which went on for several months until we had a text we were both happy with.

TCW: Tell us about Circaidy Gregory’s Writers’ and Reviewers Club www.earlyworkspress.co.uk – do they only publish authors who are part of this club?

RW: Kay Green was a freelance writer in a small way, then had her own book published by a small press and got fascinated by the process, plus realised that promoting small press and indie books is an uphill struggle. So she decided to start the Earlyworks Club, where small press and indie writers could help and encourage each other. Then, having seen one too many people get ripped off by so-called ‘self publishing services’, Kay decided to produce a small number of single-author books in collaboration with club writers. It’s not impossible that they would offer a Circaidy Gregory publication outside the club, but it’s unlikely, as time and resources are limited and there are several more club members with possible projects in the pipeline.

TCW: What, in your opinion, are the advantages of being published by an independent?

RW: I’m not sure how many big commercial publishers would have given my manuscript the degree of concentrated attention – and devotion! – that Kay Green has given to Charity’s Child. Perhaps some agents are prepared to do this – but I understand it’s happening less and less. It’s been great, too, to have a publisher who is accessible and very quick to reply to my queries. I’m sure I wouldn’t get this, either, from one of the big-name publishers. The personal touch counts for a lot when you are a nervous first-time author.

TCW: The disadvantages?

RW: One disadvantage is that the big booksellers and distributors work in millions and often elbow small press titles off the stage. Amazon, for example, list a lot of small press titles as ‘currently unavailable’, causing potential readers to give up the search when the books are available from the publisher and from indie bookshops, but the publisher hasn’t paid their dues to have the books stocked by Amazon.

Of course, there is an upside to this too. Circaidy Gregory isn’t a big, impersonal profit-driven outfit, and people who get involved through Earlyworks Press or through meeting them at book fairs or workshops have a lot more fun and a lot more contact with the writers than you’d get from walking into a big store and buying a book.

TCW: Do you think the controversial subject matter of Charity’s Child – a gay teen relationship in an evangelical Christian community – might have prohibited you from being published with a mainstream publisher?

RW: Good question. I didn’t try any mainstream publishers so I’m not sure. I would hope not… but I suppose it’s possible. Charity’s Child is in no way intended to be anti-Christian or anti-evangelical – but I’m hoping it will stir up discussion and debate. It covers a number of other “hot” issues besides gay relationships in the church – including self-harm and eating disorders.

TCW: (For a discussion of the content of Charity’s Child from an evangelical Christian perspective see When Churches Go Wrong).

I believe you are writing a sequel. Will this also be with Circaidy Gregory?

RW: I have no idea. The sequel is at a very early stage and for some reason has started off as a play. I’m not sure why this is, except that I love writing dialogue so it seemed a good way to begin. I’ve had no discussions with my publisher about it. My guess is that Circaidy Gregory would judge it on its own merits, and that is what I would want. There’s certainly no hint of a two-book contract involved, and the impetus to write the sequel has come from me. I just want to know what happens next to the people in Charity’s Child.

TCW: As an author with an independent publisher, how much work do you have to do yourself in promoting the book?

RW: I’m actively involved in seeking out publicity for Charity’s Child (arranging book-signings with local bookshops, contacting local papers and local radio, libraries, schools, reading groups and the like). But my publisher is always there with suggestions, advice and encouragement. Circaidy Gregory work very hard to promote the books they publish, including having a stall at the Winchester Writers’ Conference and promoting books with libraries and reading groups in their area. Because of their efforts, Charity’s Child is now on the East Sussex County Libraries Reading Groups list. Again, the personal touch is all-important – I’ve reported my triumphs and disasters and Kay Green has always been there with good-humoured advice and encouragement.

TCW: Their website says that they do not sell through mainstream bookshops. How do they sell your book?

RW: That’s not strictly true. Circaidy Gregory have just supplied a Borders order for 20 copies of Charity’s Child and they are planning on coming back for more. It says on the Circaidy Gregory website that ‘You may not find our books in mainstream bookshops’. That’s because some large chains, for example Waterstones, don’t list books on their computers unless the books are stocked by major distributors, so their shop assistants don’t know the books exist. Small presses often can’t afford distributors’ terms – for example, Gardners ask almost 60% of the cover price when they stock a book. For a small press, that would leave no money for the author or the publisher, in fact barely enough to pay the printer.

Circaidy Gregory would be quite happy to supply books to a company like Waterstones and would give them a discount of up to 30%, but if the company policy doesn’t allow dealings with small presses, it’s not possible. Other means of selling include book fairs and exhibitions, independent bookshops, by email from the Circaidy Gregory website and from my own website, www.rosalie-warren.co.uk.

TCW: Do you have a royalty agreement with them?

RW: Yes.

TCW: How can authors tell the difference between a vanity publisher and a reputable independent publisher?

RW: Vanity publishers will take your money and publish absolutely anything, with little or no editorial intervention, and they will offer no help with marketing. A reputable independent will select books on merit like any other publisher and will apply professional standards of editing to ensure that the finished product is of excellent standard both in content and presentation.

I should add, however, that the term ‘vanity press’ is often mistakenly applied to self-published authors who work very hard and very scrupulously in a specialist area, and pay freelance professional editors and proof readers to work with them. Just because a book is independent doesn’t mean it’s rubbish.

TCW: What other advice would you give to first-time authors when approaching an independent publisher?

RW: Find out as much as you can about them. Read the other books they publish and judge the output for yourself. Find out what makes them tick – why are they in this business? Do they love books, do they have a vision for publishing quality work, on however small a scale, or are they in it for the money? Will they edit your book? Proof-editing, or something more substantial? Do they know what they are doing in terms of publicity and marketing? Check out the contract they offer with, for example, the Society of Authors. If possible, speak to other authors who have been published by them – are they happy with their experience?

TCW: Anything else you would like to share with The Crafty Writer?

RW: I’d just like to add that one of the things I love about the Earlyworks Club/ Circaidy Gregory is that usually at least three members (in the case of Charity’s Child, Kay Green, Catherine Edmunds and myself) are involved in working together on the format and design of a book, and the covers have original artwork conceived especially for that book. My own cover, with original artwork by Catherine Edmunds, is perfect for the book as we were able to discuss exactly what I wanted. I understand that this isn’t always the case with commercial publishers!

TCW: Thanks Rosalie for giving us such a comprehensive and insightful look into independent publishing.

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One comment on “Independent publishers – an author’s perspective

  1. samantha priestley on said:

    I am also published by a small press, www.fygleaves.co.uk, and agree with much of the above. Interestingly enough, I also came into contact with my publisher by being short listed in one of their competitions! It is hard sometimes to get the attention a book needs withough the big campaigns the mainstream publishers have, but I agree, the personal touch a small press can give you is very valuable indeed.

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