Get to Know Potential Publishers
Like authors, publishers come in all sizes, shapes, and specialties. The major houses are the best known, in large part because they are the ones that generate huge publicity for books that win seven-figure advances. Many authors set their sights solely on the big players, but there are plenty of opportunities with the plethora of smaller, lesser-known publishers.
The major houses, like Random House, are part of multinational corporations and usually have several imprints, each with its own distinct identity. As a rule, they tend to focus on books that are likely to have significant commercial success; literary fiction and nonfiction are likely to be overlooked by the big houses. The sheer size of these publishing houses gives them clout in attracting authors and marketing their titles through booksellers and the media. But this very influence can make it difficult for new authors to break in, unless they have an exceptional book.
Midsized and Small Presses
It used to be that midsized and small presses struggled to get their books into bookstores. Often, their books could only make it into independent bookshops. Interestingly enough, the increasing popularity of superstore bookstore chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble has helped smaller publishers get their titles into the mainstream retail markets. This has happened in part because of consumer demand and in part because the superstores need a larger inventory to fill their shelf space.
Smaller presses don't have the economic resources of the publishing giants. They can't offer the massive advances or huge marketing budgets, and this fact sometimes makes both authors and agents shy away. However, the midsized and small presses will take beginning authors that larger houses turned away.
Even if your book doesn't make the bestseller list, it can generate respectable revenues for quite a long time. According to a study conducted for the Authors Guild, backlist books — those that have been on bookstore shelves for a year or more — can constitute as much as 50 percent or more of a bookseller's sales.
Small and medium publishers have served as the launching point for many new authors. In fact, many of the large publishers routinely review the titles published by their smaller competitors, looking for promising books that they can pick up to publish in paperback, for example. Starting your career at one of the smaller publishers can lead to lucrative offers from the big players.
University presses have begun expanding their lines from traditional scholarly books to more mainstream nonfiction. Reductions in financial commitments from their universities and declining purchases from academic libraries have helped fuel an increase in the number of general-interest titles acquired by these presses. Some even publish fiction titles.
Like their small-press counterparts, university presses can't offer large advances or a big marketing budget. However, they can provide a starting point for your career. Remember, the hardest part about breaking into the book-writing business is getting that first book published. And having a book published by a prestigious university press can add a good deal of heft to your credibility.