Saturday, June 12, 2010

Is it Still P.C. to Call Them Small Presses? -- by Dave Boop

(For those of you looking for the complete version of It Started With the Cat, please check the entry just below this one. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the round robin. If you enjoyed it, or if you just enjoyed reading the submissions as they came in, let us know in the story comments. Thanks again and now back to our regularly scheduled blog. Let's give a big welcome to Dave Boop.)

Timing, they say, is everything. Who the “they” are and what the specifics of “everything” are going to have to be left to the imagination. For me, the timing of my first novel, She Murdered Me with Science was everything.

Let’s take the Delorean up to 88 MPH and scoot back to 2006. I had workshopped and revised three chapters of my yet untitled book. They were, as it turned out, three really good chapters followed by several mediocre ones. I was considering what to do; send the three chapters out with an outline, or finish the novel? As is most the cases with my incisiveness, the decision was made for me thanks to higher powers at work.

I attended a local convention named “Mile High Con” that October and attended a pitch session by a small press. The publisher was looking for manuscripts. I printed out and gave him my first three, more for the critique than anything. He loved them and wanted the rest of the novel. As I set about the task of finishing, I considered my options; again, I could go with an untested publisher in an unsaturated market, or if his tastes counted for anything, maybe the book was worth shopping to the major houses?

About that time, Denver was chosen to by the site of the 2008 Worldcon. The big leagues were coming to Cow-town and, while I had a few short stories under my belt, I was nowhere near ready to meet some of my idols with no novel to speak of. [Note: This was my own damage and should not imply that you must be published to attend WC. I’m in therapy for my delusions of grandeur. Thank you for the well wishes.] After the publisher read the manuscript and offered to publish it, I told him I had one condition; it had to be out by Worldcon. And it was! I was a published author, finally.

But is quicker always better? Not necessarily. While the editing job on my piece was stellar, I’ve read several novels released by independents that were not. It’s bad enough when self-publishing houses allow crap to hit the bookshelves, but when a small press leaves typos, poor punctuation and seizure causing grammar on the first page, then they are not doing the author, the industry and potential sales any favors. I read another that left a first chapter filled with technical inaccuracies. If I could spot them, so could others.

That being said, I don't want you to think that it’s small press bashing time. I can cite a dozen different independent publishers doing it right, as shown by their representation at the Hugo and Nebula awards. I’ll give a shout out to Fairwood Press for a commitment to excellence, Apex Books for a dedication to breaking new ground and Night Shade Books for supporting The Wind-Up Girl the way a novel of such caliber should be promoted.

There is good, bad and fugly in the world of independent publishing. Some presses will remain small. Others are destined for greatness and longevity. Tread with caution and do your research before entering into any agreement. Remember, it’s not the size of the press that matters, but what they do with it.


Anonymous said...

Quality v Quantity. Pick one. Please. Preferably both, but...

This is a problem any self publisher has to face as well. With e-publishing becoming so easy, we all need to be very careful about pushing the send button before the manuscript is really and truly ready.

Which is tough, the third time you go over it. Needed: Cheap but excellent proof reader.

It'll be interesting to see if any small press can adapt to the new tech while keeping up the quality. They'll have the potential to really increase their business, IMO.

Dave said...

>Needed: Cheap but excellent proof reader

That's nearly an oxymoron. If you have the skills to be excellent, you're not going to give them away for free (or cheaply.) I have excellent first readers AND a writer's groups AND we still find typos. There is no such thing as a perfect edit job, but there are levels of excellence all publishers, be it self, small or traditonal, should aim for.

Dave Freer said...

Proof reading and editing remain skills we're going to need. If you have the patience and bloodymindedness to do it, Matapam, you can do what I did for THE FORLORN - read it from the back, sentence by sentence, crossing out each one you have done. It does work, but it isn't much fun ;-).

Dave - the line between 'big' and 'small' press blurs more every day. I heard a couple days ago of 'big' press printing... 4500 paperbacks(not distributing, printing). Not hardcovers, paperbacks. The author would have been better off with a small press that tried and cared than a big house that set them up to fail.

Brendan said...

Of course it isn't only the small presses that can get things wrong. I have seen books released by the big names in publishing that needed serious editing. Things like massive info dumps, mistakes in facts, badly written prose; all from the big names.

Cheap, Quick, Good: Choose Two

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

well... Not in your case, but a lot of small press books I've read in the past could have benefited from a LOT more editing -- particularly on plot. OTOH at the same time, a lot of the ones I've read recently (mostly electronic) have been more readable than many big press books.
I think the difference is whether it's a newby running a shadow press and REALLY publishing himself/herself, or a "real" small press.

BTW, Dave, there is some problem with comment posting today, so you're not being ignored. Blogger just seems to hate us today.

Dave Freer -- that's now the "normal" printrun for a no-pushed pback. Again, my double secret, cross my heart mystery which came out small press only sold more than all my books but DST in hard cover (though DST is of course TPB). And this with no bookstore distro. And both my collections, from a micro press, sold solidly in the middle of my distro from big presses. Go figure.

Proof reading -- I know an excellent proofreader but... he's nowhere near cheap. OTOH he's insanely thorough. (Actually he's an editor, not a proofreader. He'll make continuity notes, etc.) When he was unemployed I tried to get him interviews/look sees with the houses I work for. No dice. Even though he was willing to accept the running rate for copyeditors and he has massive experience as an editor. Why? Search me. I got nothing.

Dave said...

The important thing to note is that I'm not saying all small press is bad, nor all traditional perfect. They all have strengths and weakness. However, ANY publisher that won't take the idea of editing seriously is doomed, and doing so adds to the predjudice against small press. However, in most cases, traditional presses do spend the appropriate amount of money to have respectable editors on staff. Small presses that work out arrangments with decent editors show a higher quality of product, such as the ones I mentioned.

I got lucky. I got cheap, good and quick. Andrea at Blue Falcon Editing was brought in on a profit sharing deal to edit my book. Are there still typos, sure. Were there a thousand more plus poor grammar and continuity errors before she touched it; hell yeah!

As anyone who has read a first draft of mine knows, I'm a horrible typists and do a lousy job editing my own stuff.