Doors Will Open, but Not All: Traditional Publishing with a Small
known LJ Cohen since 2008, when we met in a local writing workshop
and later became part of the same critique group. Since then, our
approaches to our careers have taken somewhat different paths, since
(happily) authors now have many publication options and ways to make
mostly self-published novels. I tend to traditionally publish short
stories, selling my work for flat fees in anthologies and magazines.
Recently, my career got a big shot in the arm with another move in
traditional publishing, the publication in January of my first print
short fiction collection: THE
RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES. Hooray!
"Kabza's stories [are]... powerful work that is wholly original, delightfully strange, and emotionally resonant." —LJ Cohen, blurbing my book, because she is awesome
I've dabbled in self-publishing before with two ebook-only short fiction collections, IN PIECES and UNDER STARS, but unlike LJ, I lack the fortitude to make self-publishing my primary career tactic. So I was excited to see the difference that having a real publishing house behind me would make.
Well... I did see a difference. And doors did open. But my publisher, Pink Narcissus Press, is very, very small—only five people, who each have varying degrees of part-time involvement—and if you publish with a small press, be warned that not all of those Magic Traditional Publishing Doors will swing open for you.
Here are some doors that DID open, working with Pink Narcissus:
Greater chance of gorgeous cover art (and interior illustrations). My editor, Michael Takeda, dealt with finding and paying an artist, which I know almost nothing about.
Access to better production quality. Pink Narcissus has vastly more experience in font selection, layout, ISBN registration, actual book printing, and so on than I do, and that experience is reflected in the finished product.
More outlets, reviewers, and bloggers hearing pitches for my book. My publisher wrote the review pitch we used, and with my editor's help, I could query far more places than I ever could have on my own.
Coverage by major review outlets. RAMSHEAD got good reviews in Booklist, RT Book Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, which are all outlets that are (to say the least) wary of reviewing self-published work.
However, here are some doors that did NOT open:
No possibility of coverage on several big review platforms. Many outlets were explicit about saying that they only covered books published by a "big 5" publisher.
Almost impossible to organize a blog tour. For the same reason as above.
Separate, harder process for asking Barnes & Noble stores to stock physical copies. I had to follow a procedure for small press books outlined via the B&N website, which is not a procedure that "big 5" books have to follow—meaning that the odds of B&N stores carrying RAMSHEAD are much slimmer.
No placement in Books-A-Million stores. Pink Narcissus, like many small presses, prints their copies on demand, and Books-A-Million does not accept POD titles.
Some stores are only willing to sell RAMSHEAD under certain conditions. Two local bookstores are currently selling copies of RAMSHEAD on consignment, which is great—they're selling it!—but not quite as great as being an author with a big publishing house whose books are more likely to be ordered from a bookstore by a distributor.
Of course, these are only the circumstances that surrounded THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES in particular. Other small presses may be able to step up (or have to step down) in different areas. And in RAMSHEAD's case, there are other variables at play: it contains both science fiction and fantasy (and some reviewers aren't interested in things outside one or the other), and it's a collection of short stories (and many outlets only want to review novels).
Still, I've learned a lot. The launch of RAMSHEAD was a rough road, but at least I have a few data points now. I know where the doors are.
So if, next time, all those other doors DO swing open for me, I'll be ready to sprint on straight through.
Thank you, KJ, for your post. I'm a big fan of your work and have been since that writing workshop so many years ago! And to my readers here - if you are looking for short fiction that is magical, unsettling at times, and always unique, please go read KJ's work.
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