Should You Worry About the Size of Your Publisher?

Because I grew up in the heart of the publishing world, New York, I thought nothing could be better than having a book published by a big trade house. Or at least a prestige publisher like Scribner’s or Knopf.

I got my wish some time ago.  But my experience with that publisher was bitter.  Yes, it was the heftiest advance I had ever received from a publisher, though nothing extravagant. And they took me, my agent, and my co-author out to lunch and talked big.  But that’s all it was. Talk.

The editing wasn’t better than editing at any other publishing house I’d had before or have had since. The big difference came in how I was treated.  They ignored my input on the ugly cover by saying they’d spent a lot of money on it and they knew what they were doing.  The implication was that I didn’t, even though I had published a handful of books already and had two more in press.  On top of that, I was a book reviewer and saw hundreds of books every year and knew the difference between a great book cover and a dud.

This publisher promised me a book tour and then reneged for no clear reason, trying to convince me that they were 100% behind the book, and that sending out postcards would be very effective.  Again, I wasn’t a newbie in publishing, and I could tell I was being played.  The ugliest little betrayal was when I gave them a very idiosyncratic choice of someone famous to do a blurb.  They loved my suggestion so much that they had this celebrity blurb somebody else’s book.

All this came back to me when an author friend of mine recently won an award and was celebrated by the publisher.  I noted that celebration meant being taken out to lunch (not dinner, of course) and despite the fulsome praise from the publisher and editor, none of it meant more money in the next book contract or any advertising.

When I’ve published with smaller houses, the relationship has always been closer and more productive.  One publisher sent me six possible cover designs and I actually had several long conversations with the art director (an author friend was stupefied when I shared that experience).  Two independent publishers sent me on tour.  All of them worked hard to publicize my books and all of them welcomed my experience and insight. I wasn’t just someone on their list, I was a partner in this venture; I felt valued and respected for what I had written and for what I had learned as an author and a reviewer.

So even though I grew up in New York City with New York ideas of success, I thankfully got over it.

Lev Raphael is the author of Writers Block is Bunk and two dozen other books in genres from memoir to mystery.

Closed-Minded Reviewers

A common complaint among indie authors is that it’s hard to get their books reviewed, no matter how well written, edited, and produced they are.

But reviewer prejudice is nothing new.  Take a look at Best Books of 2014 lists.  The one from the New York Times is typical: ten books, and only is from an independent press. Back when I reviewed crime fiction for the Detroit Free Press, I watched as my colleagues around the country routinely ignored trade paperback originals and books from small houses like Bitter Lemon and City Lights.  Independent presses and university presses still struggle to get their books reviewed.

I saw this myself in my own writing career when I moved my mystery series from a large New York firm to an independent press: the number of reviews my books got shrunk dramatically when I appeared in trade paperback vs. hardcover.  You’d think my being a reviewer, too, might have made a difference.  It didn’t.

Too many reviewers still seem to think that big press = quality.  That makes me laugh.  I’ve just read books in a row from major new York houses with gross typos all the way through: missing words, words stuck together without a space between them, and a whole host of basic errors that should never have seen their way into print.  This happens often enough to make me think that copy-editing is no longer high priority for many New York house houses; getting product out there is.

Too many reviewers, whether in print or on sites like Salon, seem to instinctively reach for the big press books.  It’s less work, but it reveals prejudice and a lack of imagination.  It’s also self-indulgent.  When I was at the Free Press, with with hundreds of books coming to me every year, I felt I was doing my readers a disservice by not digging deeper into those piles to find books they might never hear of or see otherwise.  And it was always exciting to discover a writer I didn’t know and could champion from my corner of the reviewing world.  As a writer myself, I looked for these treasure that would make my own writing life richer and found them just as often in places other reviewers ignored.

Man-Reading3Lev Raphael is the author of Book Lust! (Essays for Book Lovers) and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery.  Check out the trailer here.