Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Who are the Big 6 publishers?

To continue my commentary about the indie press vs the Big Guys, I thought it might be helpful to know exactly who the Big Six publishing houses are. This is something you need to know if you have written a book and want to see it in bookstores, as almost all of the books in a brick and mortar bookstore are published by one of the Big 6 publishing houses. No doubt you’ll recognize the names of all of them:

Simon & Schuster
Harper Collins
Random House

It may say something else on the spine and copyright page of the book. That’s because books are published under an imprint, the trade name under which the book is published. Sometimes an imprint is a business entity that comes under umbrella of the parent company. For example, many smaller publishing companies live on in name, despite having been absorbed into a larger company. But an imprint may just be a name that the parent company uses. A random check of books on my shelf that came from Borders (may they rest in peace) or Barnes and Noble turns up the following imprints:

St. Martin’s - owned by Macmillan
Signet - parent company Penguin
Berkeley - Penguin
Ace - Penguin, via Berkeley
Dell - Random House

I found one exception among my books: the surprise best-seller, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is published by Quirk books. The aptly named Quirk is an imprint of Harlequin, which is owned by Torstar, a Canadian company that publishes newspapers, including the Toronto Star. They’re not exactly a boutique publisher. In case you’re interested, a quick search of Wikipedia will get you a list of the Big 6 publishers’ imprints.

Independent and specialty bookstores are typically more flexible than the big bookstores (bookstore?) about carrying works by indie publishers. I define “independent publisher” here as any publishing company that’s not one of the Big 6 or their imprints. Some of them are niche-market publishers that may or may not actively solicit submissions. You’ll sometimes hear the term “boutique publisher” or “boutique press”, which I think has a nice ring to it. If you decide to self-publish, by default you become a publisher.

The defenders of the status quo like to deride independent publishers, calling them “vanity press”. To me this sounds a little bit like whistling in the dark. Unfortunately, I can understand where this comes from. I’ve seen independently published books that are simply dreadful. This is not always the case, though, and I’ll discuss this in more depth in a future post.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

While we're on the subject

Just a quick note to all you would-be writers out there, my friend Kathy sent me a link to a most interesting article that's worth a read:

And another interesting article I found:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why you might need to go the traditional publishing route

In a recent post, I wrote about why it used to be necessary for writers to go around cap in hand looking for a publisher and why that paradigm has changed. There’s now absolutely nothing between you and seeing your book in print but you.

But for some reason, independently published books don’t have quite the cachet books from the Big Six have. It’s up to you as an author to decide whether the prestige of having your book published by a “name” is worth the 60% of your royalties. With a traditional publisher you might only get 10% of the book price in royalties, where with Kindle Direct Publishing, for example, you can take 70%. This might seem like a no-brainer until you consider that there are some very real services that publishing companies provide that you will be responsible for on your own if you self-publish. When you self-publish, you are responsible for the editing, the book cover design, the layout, and everything else.

One of biggest criticisms I hear of small-press books is the quality of the editing. This is often a very valid criticism. Many self-published books are full of mistakes. I’ve read a few that are all but unreadable, they were do badly written.

For everyone who doesn’t know the difference between you’re and your, there’s someone like me who can spot an amateur editing job from a block away. And it’s people like me who read.

And something that would-be authors would do well to remember is that the book’s manuscript is only one component. All books, even e-books, have a cover and some degree of interior layout. The cover is the first thing that attracts people to your book. It has to compete with thousands of other books among a dwindling audience, and very few talented writers are also talented artists. There’s a certain elusive difference between a book that’s been professionally designed and an amateur job, and it goes way beyond mechanics like margins and gutters. Take typography, for example. I know the very mention of the word fonts probably makes you go glassy eyed with boredom. This is not a good sign--it means you probably need to leave the typesetting to a professional. if you don’t know the difference between sans serif and serif fonts and the basic design principles for when to use them, you are not ready to self-publish. That goes double if you are still using Comic Sans anywhere in anything intended for public consumption.

The key thing to understand, is that you will pay for an editor, a cover designer, proofreader, and a layout artist, whether it comes out of your pocket or out of your royalties. If you are not willing or able to invest the time and money to find professionals to help you put your book together, you might be better off seeking a traditional publisher.