By M.D. Neu
I started my official writing career in May 2017 with my first contract from NineStar Press. Getting that first contract was such an exciting time. I couldn’t believe the news. Someone other than my family and friends believed enough in my writing to want to publish my work! I still feel that way every time I get a new contract.
At that time, I had zero knowledge about the publishing industry. So, everything that happened after that first signing started my new education. Since then, I’ve signed seven more contracts, and I’ve not only worked with NineStar Press but with ACX (for my audiobooks) and with an additional publisher for a new short story that has been picked up to be part of a new anthology (more details on the short story and anthology coming soon). Also, I’ve worked with two different author collectives to self-publish two more anthologies. With each new contract and with each new book release, I’ve learned more and more about publishing. I’ve also created a list of things I like and don’t like about the industry.
Being part of a small publishing house, you are expected to do a lot of work. Not only writing, but you also have to market your books, promote your books, advertise your books, find opportunities for you to showcase your work and spend a lot of time and money to build your following. All these new tasks are daunting.
Everyone thinks that, once you sign on the dotted line with a publisher, you are set: you get to sit back, write, and collect royalties. You get to go to a few interviews, maybe a book tour, but most of your time from then on will be you doing what you love: writing. That may be the case for some authors, but not the vast majority, including myself. Yes, I suppose you could just sit back and write, but don’t expect to make any money, unless you are lucky and hit the right mix of story and audience. As a member of a small indie publishing house, you have to put the work in, or your much-dreamed-of writing career won’t go anywhere. Small houses like NineStar Press don’t have the resources for huge marketing campaigns, or getting you on the speaking circuit. They don’t have people who will enter you in book competitions, get you on TV, radio, YouTube, or podcasts. In order to get into any of these things, finding these opportunities is up to you. Now, they might have sources and be able to point you in the right direction, but all the legwork that comes from you. Like NineStar, some may even have a contract source for a book marketing professional, but even these services can be limited.
As an example, I was looking into going to Saints and Sinners (Saints and Sinners is a LGBTQIA literary festival held in New Orleans each year). Several authors I’ve spoken with have told me it’s a wonderful event and worth going to, if you can. My husband and I looked into going and for the three-day event we were looking at a cost of about $3,000, and there are no guarantees that I would see any kind of return on investment, other than making contacts and getting to know people (which isn’t a bad thing). Going to this event is on hold for this year.
Keep in mind that’s just one event, and there are many book events throughout the year. Currently, I’m looking for literary events closer to home!
Because NineStar is a small publishing house, there is no way they could cover these costs; not only for me, but for any of the authors in their catalogue; nor would I expect them to. It would be nice, but what’s a small publishing house to do?
The advice all authors get is to keep writing and reading and build up your backlog of books. That’s the only way to get better royalties and, with better royalties, comes the opportunity to afford to go to literary festivals such as Saints and Sinners. Another must is to get those reviews. Reviews equal exposure and the exposure turns into money. This is why you’ll see authors begging for readers to review their works (myself included). When it comes to reviews, remember the author isn’t the only one looking for them. There are thousands of authors out there and only a limited number of reviewers. Some publishers will have a list of reviewers they work with, which is helpful. NineStar is building up that list, which will be a great help. However, finding review sites and people willing to review your work is mostly down to the author.
I have a small list of reviewers I’ve created and who I contact when I have a new book out. Still, those few reviews aren’t enough. You need hundreds of reviews to be a blip on anyone’s radar.
Another avenue for authors to build a following and sell books is to get their works in all the local bookstores and libraries. This again is something the author has to do on their own. Yes, the publisher will ensure your books are available for bookstores and libraries to buy, but, as for getting your books into a local bookstore, that’s up to the author. I have a list of LGBTQIA book stores I email to let know when I have a new book coming out. Some have been responsive, which is wonderful. Also, I have a list of local bookstores who I contact as well, in the hope they will carry my books, or, better yet, let me come and do a reading.
I’ve heard in large publishing houses they have people who will do this, which is wonderful. But again, small publishing houses just don’t have that capacity.
Being part of a small publishing house is a lot of work. With each new book title, you continue to learn more and improve on what you’ve already learned. As a small house author, you have to build up your network of followers and build opportunities for yourselves, because no one, not even the big five publishers, are going to give you a pass on selling your work. Sure, they have more resources to do more, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t involved. I’ve heard having a book agent can help (but they will take a cut of your royalties) in all areas of marketing, but getting an agent, let alone a good, well-connected agent, is challenging. I know authors who are much further down the path of their author career with several more books out than me, who still can’t find an agent. Which is a shame, because these authors are amazing.
Additionally, part of my publishing journey has included the realisation that I have to spend a lot of my money to hopefully accomplish my dream of becoming a well-known career author. To date, I’ve spent more than I’ve earned. That’s right… let that sink in… At the time of writing this article, I’ve yet to turn a profit. That was something I never thought would be the case. This lack of profit is also why I have my full-time job and am lucky if I can publish one to two books a year (with the pandemic it’s been more like one book a year), which I will admit is frustrating, as I have books written, but they are in the queue with my publisher.
That’s another thing. As a small house published author, you have to have a lot of patience, because publishing has its own time schedule. You may have two, three, five, ten books ready to go, but your publisher decides when they will be edited, proofed, have cover art created, and finally, when they will be released. All these decisions are out of your hands, so patience is key. Patience is also something I’ve had to learn quite a bit of and I can admit to you all that I’m not a big fan! NineStar has offered to translate my books into Spanish, which is wonderful. However, patience! I have to wait for my turn for my books to be translated. I don’t how long this will take and I can’t even be sure having my works translated will ever happen (unless I pay for the translations myself). My problem is, I’m used to working in a world where deadlines are created and we live and die by them. There are no delays. The world doesn’t stop moving for one reason or another. Work still has to be done and there are still expectations and obligations that must be met. Yes, there is some of that within these small publishing houses, but their timelines and their sense of urgency differ completely from what I’m used to or, if I’m honest, had hoped for. This isn’t one publishing house, this is the industry, even the big five, from what I’ve heard.
I don’t want you to read this and think that I’m not happy with being part of a small publishing house, because I’m grateful to them for the opportunities they have given me. I’m also grateful for the education I’ve had when it comes to publishing. It’s not as easy or as glamorous as you see in movies or TV. Being a published author means you have a lot of work ahead of you and you have to learn a lot and become a lot if you want to make writing your career.
Given all that, I’ve learned and I continue to learn. And after all the hardships (of which there have been many), being an author in a small publishing house hasn’t been bad. I can say I’ve enjoyed most of it. I’ve met great people and learned a lot. I can’t wait to see where this all goes and what else I’m going to learn. What do you think being an author for a small publishing house was like? Did you think it would be like this? Or did you have some other vision? I’d love to hear what you think!
You can connect with M.D Neu on his website: mdneu.com and on Twitter: @Writer_MDNeu.
You can hear great new ideas, creative work and writing tips on Write On! Audio. Find us on all major podcast platforms, including Apple and Google Podcasts and Spotify. Type Pen to Print into your browser and look for our logo or find us on Anchor FM.
Being part of a small publishing house, you are expected to do a lot of work. Not only writing, but you also have to market your books, promote your books, advertise your books, find opportunities for you to showcase your work and spend a lot of time and money to build your following.