Thursday, March 12, 2009

Should You Go With the Big Guys or the Small Guys?

I have had books published by both large, international publishers and small, local publishers and I’ve found each have their advantages and disadvantages. Deciding who to go with will depend on what you want as a writer. Of course I’m operating from Botswana where we don’t have agents and approach publishing houses ourselves (Gasp!) so some of what I’m about to say may be mitigated a bit by a committed agent who will hide the ugly side from you.

First the Big Guys. Big guys have a lot of ammo at their disposal. They have clout. They have money for marketing and good editors. The have a well oiled machine in place that will take your tattered manuscript and turn it into a sexy new book. Also as a writer it’s nice to have a few of the big publishers on your list.

But the Big Guys also have a lot of writers. You become just another one. Also big publishers have set procedures and set contracts, often with little wiggle room unless you too are a Big Guy. It’s often take it or leave it. Also, in my experience with the Big Guys, you are the writer- hand over the book and they’ll get experts to do the rest. They’ll call you when they need you to pitch up for something such as book signing, otherwise they’d rather not hear a lot from you.

Now for the Little Guys. Little Guys don’t have the resources of the Big Guys and all that entails. They won’t have big marketing budgets for your book. You will have to be creative and initiate a lot of the marketing yourself. They might not be able to hire the top notch editors, so you will have to get the book almost print-ready before you hand it over to them. As a writer, you are sometimes taking a risk with the Little Guy- will the money hold out long enough to get my book out there? is a question you might ask yourself more than once with the Little Guy juggling a shoestring budget.

But what I’ve found with the Little Guys is that they are flexible. You can negotiate terms; contracts are not set in stone. You can have a say about a lot of things such as book cover and blurb. They welcome all help the writer is willing to give. My experience with small publishers is that they are more personalised and the writer feels part of the process not a cog in the wheel of a mammoth machine.

A writer needs to ask themselves what they want. If you want big bucks behind your book, but not a lot of say about how the process from manuscript to bookstore shelf goes, then go with the Big Guys. If you, instead, want to keep some control over your baby, and don’t mind that the splash you make might be a bit smaller, then team up with the Little Guys.

What has your experience been like with large and small publishers? I’d love to hear about it!

Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time writer living in Botswana and blogs at Thoughts from Botswana. She is a member of the One World group, a group of international writers who met on the internet. They put together a collection of short stories and went searching for a publisher. New Internationalist stepped up to the plate and the book, which includes stories from Orange Prize winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, is now on sale at Amazon. Buy it! All royalties go to Doctors without Borders.

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  1. Thank you for this information! I read you all the time. I had a book accepted last year by a small publisher. Unfortunately, her money was running short and she kept telling me that and the books were being pushed further out. I was able to get out of the contract because of some of her changes. I am now trying for a medium sized one and hopefully will be successful.

  2. Sometimes you can get your book out faster with the little guys. If you've had a lag between books, you might want to consider that route. It doesn't mean you have to do it the same way the next time.

    Morgan Mandel

  3. Terri- so glad you found the info helpful. Yes, that is definitely a downfall to small publishers. Hope the medium size one works out great for you. Also thanks for stopping by and giving BRP a read!

    Morgan- Yes, that's another thing, small publishers can get things done very quickly.And like you've said nothing is written in stone. You can always switch back and forth- I do.

  4. Lauri, Had to laugh at your "they will take your tattered manuscript and turn it into..." As if that would ever happen. (snort)

    I have been published by small and medium houses and really like the personal touch they offer. I think a writer really has to know how important it is to him or her that the book get published by a big publishing house. The reasons can vary considerably.

    But regardless of who publishes a book, it is still up to the author to be out there promoting and selling. UGH!!!

  5. I had a play published by a small university press about 10 years ago and they were great to me. Seven years ago I had a contract with one of the big publishers and they dropped me at the last minute. It's a very long story but it really put me off. In the future I'll be looking for small to medium as I do think there is a bit more of a personal touch with them. Thanks for sharing your experiences. You really do offer a lot of good advice!

  6. Selma- tsala ya me- thanks for stopping by. Sorry about your experience with the Big Guys. Despite the bad experience, please for the sake of the reading world, do not avoid getting your writing published. It would be such a loss. Go with the small and medium publishers.


  7. Both my books (poetry and novel) have been published by the same small press. Everything you have said about them has also been my experience. As a writer starting out, it is wonderful to be that involved and to feel that nourished (as long as the "food stamps" don't run out). I am now looking to try to land a contract with a bigger publisher for my new book, though, and that has to do more with wanting to get a larger readership and at least the possibility of some money. But I know no matter who I am with, I will have to put in the marketing, pr time. I suppose the bottom lone, though, is that I'm grateful I'm published at all.

  8. Maryann and Sue- Yes nowadays all of us need to pitch in with the marketing.

  9. It's nice to read this from someone who has experience both small and large presses. Thanks for giving us something to consider.

    Lynnette Labelle


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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