I like cows. Everyone who knows me is aware I was raised on a dairy farm and am still inordinately fond of cows. I am not snobbish about what breed. Nor was my father. We had different cows, Holsteins, Jerseys, Guernseys, and many who were crosses of those. We were an equal opportunity barn. I like that. It’s kind of like publishing today. There should be room in the field for all kinds of cows. You can’t always tell a good producer by her breed just like you can’t tell a good book by its publisher. You have to read it.
I hate the way the issue of publishing with a small press is often framed, i.e., as the default choice between the big publishers and self-publishing. Let’s turn the issue on its head: not merely why did I go with a small publisher, but why do small presses choose the authors they do? Be assured, they do make choices. They want a good story, well-written by an author who knows how to market and promote. If that sounds familiar, it is exactly what the big boys want too…and what the author who self-publishes is trying to accomplish.
The best thing a writer can do for him/herself is to be honest about what he/she needs to operate successfully. I have a friend who self-publishes and is wonderfully successful at it. She knows her craft. I know she chose to self-publish and not to go with a small press.
Me? I’m not so confident. I need to be needed and to hear the words, “here’s a contract” and to hear it from someone who has credentials in the publishing world. I now work with four small publishers, and I like all of them for different reasons. But I am confident they chose my work because they thought it was good, not just available, but really good. I think that’s flattering, that’s a boost to my confidence.
Recently, in attempting to procure a publisher for a new manuscript, my agent got back to me with a list of edits a small press wanted me to make. I looked at them and came to the conclusion that these changes would strengthen my work. It’s the kind of attention to an author that can be found with a small press. It’s difficult to imagine a large house saying “maybe for us if you do this.” Usually it’s the phrase, “not a fit” as if your manuscript was an ugly stepdaughter’s foot being shoved into Cinderella’s slipper.
One of my presses gives me more than their contract and their editing. The authors they represent have become my writing family. We can rant to one another and not feel embarrassed that we want to hurt, maim, smoosh, drown, or otherwise destroy the obviously deluded reviewer who gave me only one star for the book everyone else liked.
I’m not saying I will never self-publish. In the world of publishing it’s not wise to make absolute pronouncements on what one may do in the future. It’s also not wise, and it’s just plain unkind and professionally insulting to pass judgment on the method by which a writer’s book reaches the intended audience. If you must judge, keep it to yourself. You may find that writer is one of your colleagues at a small press one day. Some of the authors who once denigrated the small press have been let go by the large publishers and are looking at (horrors!) small presses. Welcome aboard. Now you won’t have to worry about selling through that large advance. We’re friendly, we’re helpful, we support one another, and we’re happy to have you join us to add your expertise especially in the areas of marketing, publicity and promotion. Who has more relevant experience in these areas than authors?
As for all you who are self-publishing? Good for you, you courageous and creative entrepreneurs. As with my self-publishing friend, providing me with information about how she does so well is encouraging to me. I learn from her. What is not helpful, and what she avoids because she’s a supportive friend/writer, is a conversation that begins,“ I sold xxxx books last month. How many did you sell?” She also does not refer to small presses as “vanity” presses.
Writers want to write and they want what they write to be read. I’ve never heard a reader give a moo about how a favorite book got published. The issue is not what’s the better way to publish, but how each author decides to reach the reader. That’s easier to do if we spend our time writing and not judging. It’s a huge pasture just made for everyone to get a bit of that green grass. What kind of a cow are you? I’m a little Guernsey. Moo. But I’m glad to share the field with you, you big ole Holstein.
Even if you don’t like cows as much as I do, there’s every kind of animal—alligators, horses, handsome cowboys, sleazy lawyers, bass and crappie and, yes, more cows—in Dumpster Dying, the first in my Big Lake Mystery Series set in rural Florida. Emily Rhodes discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer.
Lesley Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. Back north, the shy ghost inhabiting the cottage serves as her literary muse. When not writing, she gardens, cooks and renovates the 1874 cottage with the help of her husband, two cats, and, of course, Fred the ghost, who gives artistic direction to their work. She is author of several short stories and of two mystery series, both featuring country gals with attitude: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled. For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth. She invites readers to visit her on her blog and website.