The Sexy, Sexy Indy Press

Troy Cook, here, filling in while Simon goes under the knife for a little nip/tuck, or so I’ve heard. <grin> Or maybe he’s off promoting his new book. Either way, I’ll be filling in next week as well.

Have you ever fallen for someone mysterious? Someone with a smoldering intensity?
As you got to know them better, you found out that they were hard working, unique, and full of passion—but at the same time broke. Before I make this too confusing, I’m not talking about the opposite sex, I’m talking about my recent love affair with the magnificent Independent Press. We all love the big NY publishers and want to be published by them, so why does Indy get me excited?

It probably starts with my background in independent filmmaking. In the film business 80% of all films are produced by the independents. Yes, a lot of them are crap, including plenty of the eighty films I made in my career. But it’s also where you discover the next great filmmakers of our time: Quentin Tarantino, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola, among others. These guys, with their crazy ideas about filmmaking, explored and created works of art in the independent world before being snatched up by the big guys.

I think it’s the same with big publishers as it is for the studios. Big publishers are defined by their stockholder value, which makes it next to impossible for them to take too many risks. And every new author is a risk. That’s where the sexy Indy comes in. They can take a chance on a new author because they don’t need huge sales numbers to be profitable. They can grow an author from scratch all the way to big sales.

Of course, then the NY pubs swoop in and lead the author to bigger and better distribution and sales. Which is pretty cool.

Will this happen to me? To you? It remains to be seen, but it is possible to make a splash even when you’re with a small press. My debut mystery picked up rave national reviews and won multiple awards, garnering interest from a big NY pub and landing me a film deal. So I think it’s plausible.

A couple of examples of the small press rags to riches story are Sean Doolittle and Victor Gischler. Well…rags to riches might be a stretch since very few authors get to the riches stage. But these guys were with a cool small press called Uglytown, with good sales, and eventually got snatched up by Bantam/Dell. One day, I hope to follow in their footsteps.

And I think you can, too.

This post is about the “why” of going with a small press. Do you agree or disagree? Next week I’ll write about the “how”—the positives and negatives of going with a small press. You definitely want to avoid some of the pitfalls.

Troy Cook
47 Rules of Highly Effective Bank Robbers

23 thoughts on “The Sexy, Sexy Indy Press

  1. Guyot

    Wow, Tarantino mentioned with those other guys… my head is spinning.

    I think basically you’re right, but people need to watch out for the same thing in the pub biz as they do in the film biz – themselves.

    See, every aspiring filmmaker thinks they are worthy of a studio paycheck, every one of them thinks they are the next QT, or better.

    And every writer thinks they’re the next Pelecanos or Lippman.

    So what happens? With authors, they get impatient, they aren’t objective about their work, they don’t listen to those that might have more experience, and they sign with the first publisher to make an offer – usually something a step above a vanity press – and then go around telling everyone they’re with a “Sexy independent.”

    Writers really need to check out publishers that show interest in their work. It’s so easy to get sucked into the “They want me, they want me!” mentality, that you lose your common sense.

    Then you get pub’d by some lame-ass house, and soon find yourself not being carried by certain stores, not qualifying for membership in certain organizations, having your publisher go belly up while still owing you dough, and on and on.

    I wish Uglytown was still around. Those guys were an example of exactly what you’re talking about. They were legit, they championed their writers, and they worked their asses off. Though a small press, they had RESPECT within the industry. A long way from pubs like Quiet Storm (RIP) or Tico, though Tico is trying to mend their ways after being outed by Goldberg.

    So yes, indys can work and great things can come from them, but just make sure the indy is legit.

    Other thoughts:I am in the minority in that I don’t subscribe to the theory that there are hundreds of undiscovered writers out there with the talents of Connelly or Eisler.

    The pub industry is just like the film industry in that everyone is looking for great writing. They want it. They need it. They get rich off it.

    Good writing will always find a home. Always.

    Sometimes maybe a small home at first, but a solid, well-built home. Bad writing can find a home, but often the house is equal to the writing.

    And for every good writer who has to start out with a small press, there are the Marcus Sakeys, Brett Battles, Phil Hawleys, Rob Brownes and Sean Chercovers of the world. All first time authors without any great connections in the industry, and all found homes for their first novels at major houses.

    Advice to the undiscovered: Don’t ever settle, but at the same time, don’t lie to yourself.

  2. Troy Cook

    Hi Tasha, nice to see you too!

    Guyot-Thanks for the great response! You’re right, it’s very difficult for authors to accurately judge whether their work is ready for publication. And quite a few small presses are the WRONG way to go. The same is true in the film industry. I worked for some fantastic indy companies and some rock bottom production companies. You definitely need to check out a small press before signing any deals. My post next week talks about a couple of things to look for in a small press to increase the odds of success.

    BTW, my pub just sold the mass market reprint rights for one of their authors to a major NY publisher. A perfect example of what’s possible, though very difficult to achieve. She was discovered by having her book published by a small press.

    As for Tarantino belonging in a list like that, only time will tell. But his first films have certainly made an impact. 🙂

  3. Guyot

    You mean the ones he ripped off from HK cinema, or the ones other people helped him do?

    (wink, wink. I just like pushing people’s buttons about QT because I can’t stand him)


  4. Naomi

    Brett Battles has an exceptional story because he was supposed to be published by UglyTown. The UT guys sold the paperback rights to Bantam Dell, and now Battles will be published in hard cover by the Delacorte imprint. Pretty fantastic.

    Back to my fellow Tiger man, Troy–

    Independent publishing is a little different than independent filmmaking because of distribution. Filmmaking has Sundance and the festival circuit to aid lucky ones to get a distribution deal. Independent publishers need to show evidence of a strong body of work before they get a good distributor like PGW (and see what they dealing with now!).

    Publishers Weekly recently had an article about an author who had debuted in the small press and was happy for it. His work was edgy–too much for the mainstream. He then sold his second book to a larger publisher. He was glad that his first book was published independently–that was the intended market, so the sales numbers, high for a small press but perhaps low for a NYC house, were not liability.

    So I’m all for the independent press, but like guyot says, make sure to research the financial viability of the publisher and have a lawyer/agent look over your contract. (Never sign anything that indicates that you are doing a work for hire!!!) Many, many friends have been burned badly and have had their rights tied up in bankruptcy court.

  5. Guyot

    I forgot about that – Battles is a great story, Naomi. You’re right.

    And it shows how great the Uglytown guys are. If it weren’t for them, he wouldn’t have his deal right now.

    Brett! Come here and tell us your story!



  6. louiseure

    I was lucky enough to start off with a big NY house, and continue with another one. So I don’t know much about the indy press.

    But as a reader, indys have always been the black-haired poets on motorcycles for me. Writers who touched me where only high school bad boys had before.

  7. Brett Battles

    I’m here. I’m here. I’m on west coast time, and do my writing early, so I’m just checking in…sorry for the delay.

    Yeah…my story is an interesting one. To me anyway. I’d pretty much given up on selling THE CLEANER when I ran into Nathan Walpow. He’d had some success at a small publisher called Ugly Town and offered to give me an introduction. I sent them my manuscript and didn’t hear back from them for 11 months. Thought for sure I’d made the round file, but then I got a call from Jim at UT saying they wanted to buy my book! Talk about a high point.

    That was in a January. The plan was to bring my book out that following October. Things were moving along great, then all of a sudden in the summer I realized something was up. The UT guys finally told me that due to some business issue (mainly due to their previous distributor going bankrupt) they were going to have to suspend operation. Talk about a low point.

    I thought for sure that was it. Done.

    But then Jim and Tom said, we’ve got an editor friend at Bantam Dell who has bought a few books from us in the past (Sean Doolittle, for example). We’re going to send her your manuscript and see what she says. That was in that September.

    In, I think, late October, I get a call from Tom telling me that the editor would like to talk to me, basically to get a feel for me and how I work. Shannon called and we ended up talking for about an hour.

    A week later I get the call from UT that Bantam has bought my contract from them. Talk about the highest point yet! Then when I’m talking to Shannon a few weeks later, she says they’d like to give me a 3 book deal. I was floored.

    I’ve often said it was like being traded from a Single A (maybe Double A) minor league baseball team to the New York Yankees. But without that Single A team taking a chance on me, none of it would have ever happened.

    I can never thank Jim and Tom enough for their faith in my work and their efforts to see that my book didn’t just disappear. I wasn’t published by a independent publisher, but it is because of an independent publisher that I am where I am today.

  8. Elaine Flinn

    Well said, Troy.

    And – as usual – Guyot is a hard act to follow. He really laid it all out there.

    So – I’ll just say welcome to Murderati, Troy – am looking forward to the next installment.

  9. JT Ellison

    Hi Troy! Welcome to Murderati!

    You lay out an interesting perspective, and I think Guyot and Naomi make really important distinctions. While there are really excellent indie presses out there, there are some serious duds. Anyone looking at a publisher should do their homework. Caveat emptor, and all that.

    And Brett’s story is my favorite publishing story yet. He’s proof that excellent work does find the right home if the author is willing to persevere and never settle. Hey, brother B!

  10. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Hey, Troy! Welcome.

    Brett’s story is just a marvel. I don’t think I’d ever read all the details before.

    As to small presses . . . I’m one of the authors who has a home in that world. And, I’m still undecided. As far as credibility, the University of New Mexico Press is well-respected. But distribution is more of a challenge in national chains — and even some mystery bookstores.

    Yes. I’ve gotten wonderful national attention in reviews and have an audience that spans the country (and beyond), but I feel this kind of glass ceiling that I want to break — with my current series — and that glass is pretty thick.

    I know my character has broad appeal, but I think I’m butting against preconceptions about where I set my works in this series.

    Hell, I don’t know.

    One thing about the big houses is that I’ve also seen many writers get really, really burned — dropped or abandoned.

    For all the frustrations I feel with UNMP, they treat me very well.

  11. Naomi

    I think university presses are in a different category. The academic institution has a vested interest in keeping the press going; it may or may not make money, but it elevates the status of the university. If you sell fairly well, I think that your backlist can last a pretty long time. So that bodes well for Sasha.

    Pari, I think your strategy of starting a new series is a good one. Maybe the new series will help pull Sasha into a larger market.

    I’m actually thinking of starting a new series, too. Mas will be my very pungent protagonist that I keep returning to, as long as my publisher will have me. But I want to explore sleuths with a more fragrant feminine scent in the near future. We’ll see what happens.

  12. Troy Cook

    HI J.T.

    Pari, I think there’s a glass ceiling too. In general, you can only sell a certain number of books through small presses because of their distribution so they’re not perfect by any means.

    But a story like Brett’s keeps me going. You keep your chin up because I know you’ll make it where you want to go. You have too much talent and savvy that they’ll have to notice.

    I’ve also heard way too many horror stories about talented authors being dropped. Bad enough to keep you up at night.

  13. Elaine Flinn

    Pari said: “One thing about the big houses is that I’ve also seen many writers get really, really burned — dropped or abandoned.”

    Well, gosh – that happened to me and despite selling through, four nominations and one award – I am now with Peserverance Press (my decision)and I couldn’t be happier. My reason for telling you all of this – is simple. Be careful what you wish for – for once published – you’ll be burning the candles at both ends from now on to keep the hungry beast fed and if you don’t you’ll still be – as I tell newbies – mud on the wall. Some mud sticks, some doesn’t – and the why is a mystery.

  14. Naomi

    We gotcha, Flinn-sensei. And amen to burning the candles at both ends and feeding the hungry beast. Is that why my house is a mess and my eyes are bloodshot?

  15. David J. Montgomery

    There are many more lousy small presses than there are good ones, unfortunately. I see so many desperate authors get hoodwinked by these scam artists. It’s sad.

    Based on my experience, I have a less-than-favorable opinion of the job done by the majority of small presses. Even the good ones tend to have big problems when it comes to distribution. (And the overall level of quality is generally a problem as well.)

    Every author has different goals and different expectations, so for some people a small press makes sense. And there have clearly been success stories in that arena.

    At this point, I’d rather leave my manuscript in the drawer and keep trying for the big time.


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