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Thread: Respectable small presses for science nonfiction w/ good distribution and advances?

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  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Respectable small presses for science nonfiction w/ good distribution and advances?

    Hello AW community! I am a new member and this is my first question.

    I am a neuroscientist and a freelance journalist/blogger with a decent sized platform and some great bylines. I found a great nonfiction agent and we recently submitted my first proposal to the Big 5 and a couple of independent presses that are actually massive (I think W.W. Norton & Company falls into this category, as they call themselves independent but publish books like Neil deGrasse Tyson's new books and others I see in every bookstore).

    Unfortunately, they all passed. Most thought it was a fascinating project, but since I am a neuroscientist (PhD) and the book was a "big picture" book, about the evolving cosmos, a couple editors thought they would have difficulty marketing me. There is a spiritual component to the book, but it is not quite self-help. I have had research published in big psychology and neuro journals, but only a handful, and am not a big name in the field (I immediately began science journalism after getting my doctorate, but stayed active in research just to get one publication a year or so).

    So now we are trying small presses. But my agent really only suggested we submit to two so far, Prometheus and BenBella. He said BenBella has better distribution, and does advances from 10-20k, and Prometheus is smaller (advances from 5-10k, with less distribution), but still very respected and decent distribution. I believe he also submitted to one called Shambala, which passed, and they focused on spiritual or eastern style nonfiction books.

    He wanted me to write a second proposal to give to big houses, something more related to my degree (neuroscience or psychology), but my heart is set on this book and I have already written multiple chapters. Also, my articles on this topic have gone viral, and I know there is a niche that no one has filled, Also, I tried a second proposal, but it inevitably started to go in the same direction as the first. It seems I have some things to say, and I have to say them.

    Because of this I am willing to take a smaller advance (5k-10k) than most people in my position would (if it takes me a year to write the book that is far far less than minimum wage).

    My agent is concerned that if the indie press is too small with poor distribution and marketing, I won't sell above 10k copies and won't be able to get another book deal. But I believe in the project so much, and am willing to promote it so heavily, that I want to try it, especially since I can't see myself doing anything else. Freelancing barely pays the bills so I wouldn't be making that much less.

    I'm looking for suggestions for small presses beyond the ones I mentioned, that are good for science nonfiction and/or spirituality.

    There are probably only a few for the U.S., but these could be just what I'm looking for. There are lists but it's hard to tell which one are vanity presses in disguise, or so small or unrecognizable that it would be career-suicide to go with them.

    Anyone have any suggestions? Thank you for your time in advance!

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WeirdPsyence View Post
    Hello AW community! I am a new member and this is my first question.

    I am a neuroscientist and a freelance journalist/blogger with a decent sized platform and some great bylines. I found a great nonfiction agent and we recently submitted my first proposal to the Big 5 and a couple of independent presses that are actually massive (I think W.W. Norton & Company falls into this category, as they call themselves independent but publish books like Neil deGrasse Tyson's new books and others I see in every bookstore).

    Unfortunately, they all passed. Most thought it was a fascinating project, but since I am a neuroscientist (PhD) and the book was a "big picture" book, about the evolving cosmos, a couple editors thought they would have difficulty marketing me. There is a spiritual component to the book, but it is not quite self-help. I have had research published in big psychology and neuro journals, but only a handful, and am not a big name in the field (I immediately began science journalism after getting my doctorate, but stayed active in research just to get one publication a year or so).

    So now we are trying small presses. But my agent really only suggested we submit to two so far, Prometheus and BenBella. He said BenBella has better distribution, and does advances from 10-20k, and Prometheus is smaller (advances from 5-10k, with less distribution), but still very respected and decent distribution. I believe he also submitted to one called Shambala, which passed, and they focused on spiritual or eastern style nonfiction books.

    He wanted me to write a second proposal to give to big houses, something more related to my degree (neuroscience or psychology), but my heart is set on this book and I have already written multiple chapters. Also, my articles on this topic have gone viral, and I know there is a niche that no one has filled, Also, I tried a second proposal, but it inevitably started to go in the same direction as the first. It seems I have some things to say, and I have to say them.

    Because of this I am willing to take a smaller advance (5k-10k) than most people in my position would (if it takes me a year to write the book that is far far less than minimum wage).

    My agent is concerned that if the indie press is too small with poor distribution and marketing, I won't sell above 10k copies and won't be able to get another book deal. But I believe in the project so much, and am willing to promote it so heavily, that I want to try it, especially since I can't see myself doing anything else. Freelancing barely pays the bills so I wouldn't be making that much less.

    I'm looking for suggestions for small presses beyond the ones I mentioned, that are good for science nonfiction and/or spirituality.

    There are probably only a few for the U.S., but these could be just what I'm looking for. There are lists but it's hard to tell which one are vanity presses in disguise, or so small or unrecognizable that it would be career-suicide to go with them.

    Anyone have any suggestions? Thank you for your time in advance!
    I'd say listen to your agent. That's why you sought an agent in the first place, is it not? I'd suggest academic presses, but your dichotomous degree/topic would probably be an issue for them as well.

  3. #3
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I'm not going to suggest you go against the guidance of your agent (I've never had one, so you're farther along than I've gotten!), but perhaps ask him what his opinion is of university presses? Is your subject matter too non-technical, especially with the spiritual angle?

    Were I in your shoes, and perhaps you've done this already, I would research who is publishing the titles most like your book, and run these past your agent. Not quite spiritual, but hard science for the masses, two titles come to mind: In Search of the Double Helix and In Search of Schroedinger's Cat, both by John Gribbin (who seems to be widely published on these and related topics), are published by ReAnimus Press and Bantam, respectively. Fritjof Capra has several books linking science to spirituality/metaphysics and his titles are published by Cambridge University Press, Anchor, and Shambhala (which I see you've already pinged).
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  4. #4
    Swan in Process Siri Kirpal's Avatar
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    Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

    The combination of science and spirituality, while perfectly sane to me, isn't a big thing at the moment. The main spirituality press for spirituality is Skylight Paths, which IIRC is now part of Turner. I'm not sure that they'd take that combination. John Hunt probably would take that combination, but don't look for an advance; and you're usually better off without an agent with them; they don't do deals, except for letting you keep movie and foreign rights.

    I haven't looked at New World for a long time, but they might be one to look into. And then there might be Behler and if the book is controversial, there are a couple that take those.

    That's it that I can think of. Your agent has probably already checked out Harper One.

    There is the problem that if your books don't sell at least 10K copies, other publishers won't take a chance on you. That's been a problem for me, going as I did with one very small publisher and then John Hunt.

    Blessings,

    Siri Kirpal
    "The only freedom any of us ever has is the freedom to choose how we will not be free."

  5. #5
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thank you all so much for your answers.

    Cornflake, that is indeed why I got an agent, and I don't intend to go against his advice. I am just looking for small press suggestions to give him that he might not have thought of, as he seems to be more focused on the big houses.

    Chris P., the subject matter is fairly technical although I try to make it as accessible as possible. It is a bit against the grain since it is proposing a new scientific paradigm, so there might be some resistance to it by some scientists in the field. However, there are respected philosophers that have published books that are much more speculative through university presses like Cambridge and Oxford (one that comes to mind is Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, which is extremely similar to my book, although I'd say mine is even on firmer scientific ground.) Being that I am a neuroscientist, and this is a book that discusses everything from the origin of life and complexity to the ultimate fate of the universe, I'm not sure how that would all work. I will look into that option more and ask my agent what he thinks. He mentioned the idea, but seemed unsure due to the somewhat radical worldview the book is proposing (it's not all that radical, but it argues that the universe is becoming increasingly complex rather than increasingly disordered).

    Thank you so much for suggesting ReAnimus, Bantam, and Anchor. I will look into them and pass them by my agent.

    Siri Kirpal, thank you for your insights. Not having an advance or an under 5k advance isn't an option for me or my agent, as I can't afford to write the book with no income, and I don't think he would see it as worth his time. I'll look into Skyline, New World, and Behler.

    Thank you all again.

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