Getting Published Part II: Independent Press vs. Large PressBy The editors of LEE & LOW BOOKS
A couple of years ago, while discussing a manuscript (unsolicited, by the way) with an author, she let drop a comment that drove home a troubling perception regarding Independent presses vs. Large Houses. While she knew her story "needed work," she thought she'd send it to us first for our comments before sending the story to "a REAL publisher" [emphasis is ours].
This author simply voiced what many writers, illustrators, and agents are already thinking–that getting published is "better" when the publishing house is big in every way. Big names, big building, big advances. All these equal big earnings and big career-moves, right?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Does Size Matter?
Whether or not bigger is better will always be in the eyes of the beholder. In exploring today's increasingly limited opportunities for getting published, children's book authors and illustrators seem more open than ever to considering independent presses. Following are some questions and answers (highly opinionated, of course) that may help focus the search. (No matter what you decide, be sure to research, research, research publishing companies of any size–see the last paragraph for more information.)
Won't I get more money from a Large House? On paper, and in the beginning only, the answer may be yes. That is, your contract from a Large House might include terms for an advance that's greater than what a smaller press might be able to offer. But keep in mind that a large advance does not guarantee sales; and you need to move books to "earn out" your advance and begin to earn royalties. A large advance does not guarantee exposure, either, with reviewers, awards committees, etc. Which leads to the next point….
Large Houses sell more books, right? Not necessarily. It's important to consider how your book will be positioned on a publisher's list. Will your book be one of 50 new titles in its season? Perhaps 20? If so, how much attention from the sales and marketing department can you expect for your title? We can't tell you how many talented, well-known authors and illustrators have complained to us that their books have been declared Out-of-Print after only three or four seasons with a Large House. Is it that the books didn't sell, or that not enough effort was put into selling them?
It's just more prestigious to publish with a Large House, isn't it? That depends on your idea of prestige. Big-name studio actors, for instance, often go after roles in small-budget independent films in order to be associated with a more "prestigious" product. Book publishing can work much the same way. Many authors and illustrators (especially those previously published with Large Houses) believe that the attention from manuscript to bound book they receive from a smaller, independent publisher can be more important to the final product than being part of a big conglomerate. Same goes for after the book is published. It makes simple business sense: A publisher with a very large frontlist might focus on selling more of what's selling; a publisher with an annual frontlist of 10 titles will make sure each of those books gets into the hands of reviewers, awards judges, bookstore buyers, etc.
There are many, many more points to cover than space allows. Your local chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators can provide more information about children's book publishers of all sizes, as can the Children's Book Council here in NYC. As always, the epicenter of your research is still the children's section in your local bookstore–take a browse and see who's publishing what.