Publishing Alternatives to the Big Five – What Is Best for Your Book?
Big Five: The parent companies are Penguin-Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan, but there are so many imprints (or specialized publishing arms) within these. They rule the publishing world, in a way, and it’s harder than ever to get in the door. Agents are required. An agent I spoke with said that these publishers, if they accept your book, give you about two to six weeks to make a splash. After that, the book goes to backlist, which means it’s hard to get and gets no attention. The author is still responsible for all publicity, unless you score a really great deal. Advances are minimal. Authors do not front money, and most (so I’ve been told) do not earn back their advances through sales. Standard royalty after advance is paid back.
To me, it’s a bit like the lottery. You may win, you may not, and it’ll take a lot of luck and hard work (and your own money to hire a publicist–around $5000 on average–to help you get the reviews, blurbs, and promotion you’ll need for that splash). Some of my clients have scored, and I cheer them on. But it’s a long shot for most first-time authors. Luckily, there are many other options.
Mid-size, academic, and small presses: Included are J.P. Tarcher, Harbinger, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, Workman, John Wiley & Sons, W.W. Norton, Chronicle, Tyndale, and quite a few others; most university presses; and small, specialty presses. Some require agents, some do not. I sold most of my books to small or mid-size presses. I had an agent for five books, then he retired, and I used my contacts to sell directly. Both avenues worked well although I got a better deal with the agented books, which may have been the times. Advances are small, if at all. Some of my clients have gotten excellent publicity help from their press; others have not. These presses also expect the author to promote heavily, possibly hire a publicist too. My books are (mostly) still available and I found the presses (mostly) wonderful to deal with, often offering high-quality editing. Authors do not front money for production; standard royalty package.”