Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What's Up With Indie Presses

During my recent visit to ConFusion, I had a number of new authors ask the same question - although always in different terms. However, the central theme was about Indie and large presses. Basically, they wanted to know "what" Indie presses were and why would authors go with them.

Of course, the question is a tough one to answer quickly. So my fast-response was: Indie presses are moderate to small sized publishers, usually with far less overhead than the "big" publishing houses. Unlike some of the larger houses, most Indie presses do not purchase shelf space in stores (though some do), which means a new title may have less representation in bookstores. The mega-size of larger publishing houses provides them with the clout and the ability to secure shelf space for all of the titles they publish. Indies tend to rely upon book appeal, author appeal, and proven sales.

Now with this said, you might expect indie presses to sell less than the larger houses. And quite often this would be correct. However, on many occasions indie presses compete or out sell their larger counterparts. It seems there is an advantage to basing published books on "appeal" rather than a "shotgun" approach. In fact, in the the last few years, indie presses have made giant leaps in sales, although mainly in trade paperback books (those are the larger books). Mass Market books (the smaller ones printed on pulp paper) tend to be the domain of large publishing houses - there are exceptions, though many large houses start new authors with low print-run trades, or reward strong selling authors with higher royalty trades. However, even mass market books are no longer the sole domain of large houses as several indie presses are venturing into this area. It is a bit more risky as quite often a larger number of mass markets books are not sold (selling 50% of a print run common with MMs). In this case, quantity or "mass" sales is the key to success. Print 20,000 books and hope to sell 10,000 (the actual numbers vary). And the author is paid on final sales, not total number printed. those MMs that are not sold have the cover removed and the book is destroyed. Meanwhile, trade paperbacks (TPs) are physically returned to the distributor or publisher, and either destroyed or re-sold.

As a result of the success of indie presses, many notable authors have started working with these moderate sized publishing houses. There is money to be made in this market, and authors of all backgrounds are usually interested in increasing their income. Likewise, there tends to be a bit more creative control for the author, and more personal interaction.

Now back to the question I was commonly asked at ConFusion. Although it was unsaid, I believe the main interest was in how to select or whether to go with an indie publishing house. With any size publisher it is important to find the right one. And with large houses, it is a given they have distribution. If you're a writer shopping indie presses, make sure the house has strong distribution either through a commercial distributor, or direct distribution. It is these connections with distributors or through distribution that allows indie presses to compete in the marketplace and provide writers with strong sales. That is how the books get out to stores.

All in all, there are many more options for writers today (and artists). Selling several thousand books through an indie house or a larger house is pretty much the same. In all cases, the sales numbers usually come down to the amount of promotion the author does. Yes, publishers promote titles, but for the vast majority of writers, the bulk of promotional work is left to the them- Indie or large press. Sadly, this dispels the myth that writers sit at home, never venturing out into the world. Large or moderate, the publisher still calls upon the writer for assistance in selling her or his book.


Charles Gramlich said...

I like the quirkiness of a lot of Indie houses too. You never quite know what you're going to get.

Rick said...

In my day job, I've attended plenty of sales courses that I think would be great for writers with a little tweaking. Instead of reading book about how to promote their books, maybe training directly from sales trainers would actually help them. Just a thought. Great posting, William.