Big Days for Small Publishers

11 June 2013

These are tough times for authors, especially if, like me, they mostly write non-fiction. Sales are down by at least a third compared to three or four years ago, there are fewer publishers to pitch to, and most of them are following extremely conservative strategies, buying only what they think are guaranteed sellers and offering advances which we’d have sniffed at a few years ago, but which now we’re pathetically grateful to get.

Even worse, the growing consolidation of the industry into a few giant publishers and the continuing obsession with “the front list” – mostly celeb-, TV- or film-linked titles – means that mid-list authors (and don’t even get me started on the back-list) are struggling to secure even the most modest promotion of their work. It’s a vicious circle: if publishers haven’t paid much for a book, they’ll spend very little to promote it. PR will almost invariably be handled by someone with little experience of the media, and who will be overloaded with work, since another aspect of the concentration process is that jobs are being shed faster than ever. Unless you’re lucky, the PR person will send out a few review copies and knock out a quick press release and that will be pretty much it.

Now the good news! As publishing becomes ever more dominated by the giants, there is more and more room round the edges for smaller, niche publishers to establish or expand a foothold. The bad news for authors is that they tend to pay even smaller advances than the majors, but the good news is that, since they don’t publish books in industrial quantities, they have time and energy to devote to promoting and marketing their titles much more effectively. Providing authors are willing to meet them halfway and devote their own time and energy to making the partnership work, there is every chance of doing better with a small publisher than you might have done as just another minnow in a giant publisher’s private pond.