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[GUEST POST] Henry Herz (WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY) on the Advantages of Independent Publishing

Henry Herz writes fantasy and science fiction for children. His debut traditionally published picture book, Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, is due out from Pelican Publishing in January 2015. Henry and his sons have also indie-published four children’s books, including Nimpentoad (early chapter book, author), which reached #1 in Kindle Best Sellers large print sci-fi & fantasy, and was featured in Young Entrepreneur, Wired GeekDad, and CNN; and Beyond the Pale (young adult anthology, editor) with short stories by award-winning and New York Times bestselling authors Saladin Ahmed, Peter S. Beagle, Heather Brewer, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Kami Garcia, Nancy Holder, Gillian Philip & Jane Yolen, which reached #2 in Amazon Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Anthologies. Henry is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), and his picture book, Little Red Cuttlefish, won Editor’s Choice at an SCBWI Orange County Editor’s Day. He writes articles about children’s literature for TheWriteLife.com, and maintains a popular blog on KidLit, fantasy, and science fiction at www.henryherz.com. He was a guest blogger in Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo in 2014. Henry participates in literature panels at a variety of conventions, including moderating the Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2014 with New York Times bestselling author panelists David Brin, Jonathan Maberry, Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine, Jason Hough and Marie Lu. Henry created KidLit Creature Week (www.birchtreepub.com/kcw), an annual online gallery of monsters, creatures, and other imaginary beasts from children’s books. Henry reviews children’s books for the San Francisco Book Review.

Advantages of Independent Publishers

by Henry Herz

Let’s first distinguish between the terms independent and small publishers. “Independent publishers” (IPs) are publishers that are not part of a large corporation (e.g., the Big Five). “Small publishers” are defined in the 2007 Writer’s Market as those that average fewer than ten titles per year. So, while all small publishers are independent, not all IPs are small. Pelican Publishing, home of my first three picture books (Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, When You Give an Imp a Penny, and Little Red Cuttlefish), puts out about 60 titles a year. They are an IP, but not a small publisher.

Having a book put out by a large publishing house, without question, offers some powerful advantages, including greater market reach, publishing industry relationships, more staff, and bigger budgets (and advances), than are often the case for smaller publishers. That said, there are significant benefits to working with IPs, as outlined below.

  1. Access – Arguably the most important advantage of IPs is their relative ease of access. While most of the large publishers can only be queried via a literary agent, that restriction is rarely present with IPs. This makes IPs particularly appealing to newer, unagented writers.
  2. Relationships – IPs’ smaller size tends to promote a closer relationship between the author and the IP than may be possible with a large publisher. I feel comfortable contacting my editor and publicist at Pelican whenever it’s necessary. This ease of interaction promotes a more pleasant working relationship.
  3. Influence – By virtue, at least in part, of the closer relationship, authors may also have more influence with IPs than with large publishers. IPs may be more likely to solicit and consider author feedback on cover design, artwork, font choice, etc. That said, trust your IP to know their business.
  4. Author’s Efforts More Visible – This is the big fish in a small pond phenomenon. An individual author’s promotional efforts and resulting sales are more visible and account for a larger percentage of sales at an IP than at a large publisher.
  5. More Flexible – IPs, by their nature, and more flexible than large publishers. This can enable them to focus on niche or regional markets, and offer a home to a book that would not be considered by a large publisher. IPs don’t invest as much on a single book, and can thus more easily take calculated risks on innovative or unusual manuscripts.
  6. Longer-Term Perspective – IPs typically don’t place themselves under the pressure cooker of achieving best selling books within the first 90 days of publication. Their philosophy is more aligned with a marathoner than with a sprinter. Slow and steady wins the race. Pelican keeps its books in print indefinitely.
  7. Speed – IPs can use their smaller size and greater flexibility to produce books faster than a large publisher. This was particularly true for my experience with Pelican, since I had complete artwork accompany my manuscripts (note: that is neither typical nor recommended for non-author/illustrators).
  8. Stepping Stone – IPs are quite capable of producing top notch books. A well-written and commercially successful book put out by an IP offers an effective stepping stone for authors’ careers, including gaining access to literary agents and, with their help, larger opportunities.

So, don’t be afraid to submit to IPs. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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