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.