Writers (and illustrators, in the case of many children’s books) want to be published. They want to see a book with their name on the cover. They want their efforts to be enjoyed by a wider audience than just their family and friends. But a surprising number of unpublished authors choose to ‘hold out’ for one of the big publishers to pick them up — somehow, a small/boutique/independent publisher isn’t quite good enough.
I confess I wasn’t really aware of this phenomenon until a writer friend mentioned it to me, but since then I’ve encountered it a few times — ‘Oh, I don’t want to send my manuscript off to X publisher, because I’m hoping I’ll be accepted by one of the major ones’ — so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the great Big v. Small debate!
There are pros and cons to each. With the big name publishers, you have immediate brand recognition, great distribution into bookstores as well as online, a dedicated sales and marketing team working for you, and the possibility of international sales through the company’s overseas offices and foreign rights department.
You are also one author among hundreds if not thousands on their list. The major publishers produce lots of books every year; in fact, they produce lots of books every month. Despite their best efforts, you can feel like a very small cog in a very big wheel, and your turn in the limelight can seem to pass in the blink of an eye.
With a small publisher, it’s likely that all of those ‘departments’ at the disposal of the big publishers are reduced to just a handful of people. Distribution might not be as extensive. Marketing budgets are almost definitely going to be smaller. But you are going to be one of far fewer authors on that publisher’s list. In order for a small publisher to have survived in today’s market, they are going to have learnt how to maximise every sales opportunity they get, and you and your book are going to receive more of their attention for far longer than is usually possible for the major publishers.
These, however, are generalisations. I know of several boutique publishers with impressive distribution networks and outstanding track records in foreign rights’ sales. I also know of major publishers who make their authors feel like well-loved members of a close-knit family. So, what does that really mean for an author? The answer, as far as I’m concerned, is that sometimes size really doesn’t matter!
I’d throw away any preconceptions of ‘big’ or ‘small’ and instead I’d focus on ‘fit’. When sending out your manuscript, focus on publishers whose books you like. If possible, talk to people who’ve been published by them and see what they have to say about how they were looked after. If you’re lucky enough that one of those publishers likes your manuscript and wants to take it on, then check whether you’re comfortable talking to the key staff you’ll be liaising with. Do they seem to ‘get’ you? Do you feel like you’d be part of a team? Do they seem to have integrity? Are they the right ‘fit’? (After all, you’ll be working together for months, if not years, and you want to enjoy the process.) If the answer to all those is yes, then go for it!