Guest Post by Benjamin LeRoy
I’ve been a steady lurker on the Absolute Write forums since 2005. Every now and again I jump into a thread if I feel like there’s something I can contribute. Most of the time, though my impulse is to get involved when a new publishing company gets called to the carpet, I resist the urge. Because even though as a community we have a sense of wanting to correct people who are either intentionally deceitful or willfully ignorant, we know how they tend to respond, and we know it isn’t worth the effort.
Having started two independent publishing companies since 2000 (first Bleak House Books, then Tyrus Books in 2009), I’d like to think I’ve gained some perspective on what it means to run a small press in an ever changing publishing landscape. I also know that many of those lessons had to come through trial and error and that I couldn’t have understood where I was going wrong until I got there.
What’s the old saying? “It’s not what you don’t know that will kill you, it’s what you don’t know you don’t know.”
That. Or something like it.
One caveat that is frequently issued during the discussion of new publishers is, “Wait a year or two and see if they’re still around.”
Because anybody can get an idea to start a publishing company on Monday and hang a shingle on Tuesday, it’s important to understand that there are a lot of unqualified people claiming to be something they aren’t—at least aren’t in the way that an author needs them to be.
Many times when these new publishers are asked what they bring to the table, they make a half-hearted and ill-informed pronouncement that “New York publishing is broken. Big Six publishers don’t take chances on unknown authors. That’s why I started an independent publishing house!” A string of gibberish buzzwords usually follow. “We care about our authors,” etc.
There’s an effort to establish a war between the Big Six and Independent Publishers. (For clarity’s sake, I’m using “independent publisher” in its longer understood definition, and not as a synonym for an “indie author.”)
The problem with Fly By Night Publishing jumping into the fray of an imaginary war between the Big Six and Independent Publishers is that it, on some level, bunches all Independent Publishers together in some monolithic block. That there is some unifying agent among them. That the independent publisher that’s been around for decades is on near equal footing as the guy who started his company with no experience this morning.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Getting into publishing requires very little. There are no tests to take. You can file incorporation papers for less than $100, put up a website for even less. Creating a viable publishing program that gets respect from the industry and the attention of readers is another matter entirely.
This is the story of how I got to where I am (and I am still a relative unknown in the greater scheme of the publishing world). It shows that for all of the nice talk about “dreams,” there has to be a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and luck to make dreams come true.
And when they do come true—it’s kinda awesome.