Indie Versus Small Press, Which is Better?

Well, I got Prizm up. So, this little image on the side of the blog page here actually clicks through to the right Amazon page now. Hurrah! 

Can you pass the wine, dear, no not the bottle, the carton, thank you. It is truly cause for celebration. I mean, really. That book has taken quite the journey since its inception in 2007. Didn’t take that long to write, of course. It had other detours. Which leads me to this blog post. 

Some people may be wondering whether or not to self-publish (go indie) or go with a small press. I had that question too. I don’t anymore. In my mind there are two levels: big New York House and Indie. The in-between doesn’t work. Not for me and here’s why.

I have gotten two novels published with small presses. Each time I made the mistake of thinking that going with a small house would open me up to a fan base. I thought that if I was on their roster, I would be introduced to their loyal cult of eager readers. These things were assumptions on my part and I have no one else to blame. Really, I don’t. 

I was very hungry for validation. I wanted that seal, you know, the one that looks like a passport stamp and says, “This Work is Certified Good” displayed on my book covers. I wanted someone else to say, “Kid, you got a future here!”

Yeah…all that went out with the manuscript you wrap up in brown paper, tie together with twine and mail to yourself because you’re too poor and too romantic to get a real copyright. 

In order to understand this ridiculous mindset, you have to understand this next part. As a young man growing up, I loved bookstores. We had a B Dalton’s or something very similar in the local mall of my one horse town in Minnesota. And I would go in there and stare at the books, the covers, mesmerized and in love. When I found out about Dungeons and Dragons, well, no other places on earth could hold such wonder for me.

Every few months when I would visit my mom in dirty, stinking Minneapolis, down on Hennepin Avenue in that section eight apartment that smelled like boiled cabbage, after eating government issued cheese and powdered milk, we would go to the big bookstores. Well, it was Narnia all over again and better, Dark Narnia.

In those days, my parents (dad and step-mom) wouldn’t let me have that stuff. Now, get a load of this, it wasn’t drugs that I smuggled into my room, no pot or booze (though once I made a terrible, chalky wine out of apple cider in a glass jug at the bottom of my closet for six months) or even nudie photos. No sir, I smuggled in books. Novels and artwork.

Once my dad caught me bringing in The Art of Dragonlance under my over sized T-shirt. Long and tiresome (oh, my God) family “discussions” were had over the image of the dark wizard with a dragon’s head hanging in block and tackle behind him (Raistlin Mejere, in case you’re wondering) and so, I read my secret books at three a.m., my eyes wide, mind ablaze with all that wonderful, dark imagery. 

I remember staring up at the wall, the whole wall, where Piers Anthony’s books were displayed thinking: who is this guy and how do I get a wall of books devoted to me? I started writing Tales of Mulglania when I was twelve and got about two pages into, well, maybe four, handwritten…oh, it was so painful, I had no idea what I was doing and, well, I gave it up, but the images, the story, would bloom in my mind like some kind of angelic vision, and I would wander all around the parks and deserted farm roads, eyes cast skyward, divining visions and fancying myself some kind of other worlds prophet.

Well, my dream was and is to see my books on the shelf. To go into B Dalton’s or Barnes and Noble and see that wall of all my books. So, now you can see why, in going with a small press, craving approval and validation, played such a huge part.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I think artists need that. After all, they spend untold hours creating things with the purpose of having them viewed and appreciated by other people. That’s all it is. Not having your stuff viewed and admired…well, it’s like being a ghost, I mean, you’re dead. No one sees you.

Therefore, I went with two small presses and wish I hadn’t. Without slinging any mud, for this is not what this post is about, I found that what I can do, on my own, produces a far superior product. In the one case, no editing was done. Zero, zilch. I didn’t believe it, until I got the manuscript back and looked. Oh wow. Nada. And the cover, oh, as kindly as I can put it, was not competitive.

But then, who can I blame? In theory, I should never had submitted a manuscript with even one tiny error. Okay, true, but if I’m going to edit it myself, promote it myself and…the artwork I am commissioning now is (sigh) miles and miles and miles above what I was getting for “free.”  Only, it’s not free, you pay dearly. 

It is a hell of a thing, I suppose. A small press will want you to promote your books anyway, every step of the way. You will have to work harder at promotion too, because you won’t be able to do things like change pricing on Amazon, update descriptions and categories and otherwise steer the destiny of your book as well as if you owned the rights.

In one case I found that I had signed away audio rights. It’s too bad because my own voice is perfect for that piece. I don’t say my voice is perfect for everything that I write, but that one, it is. When I inquired about it, the publisher did not want to relinquish those rights and was conveniently absent when I asked about actually producing the audio book. I will eat my shoe if they make an audio book out of that thing. Without hot sauce too.  

But there again, my fault. I should have paid attention, should have…what, cared? I was too enamored that someone else thought the work was “good enough.” 

In the end, the work was always “good enough.” Better than “good enough.”

All that is the downside. The upside and it is an “up” is in one case I got to see how a pro editor operates. That helped me. Though honestly, the thing that helped me more was reading. It’s almost laughable, but if you just read a lot, so much of this stuff becomes apparent. 

I don’t think you should do it all yourself. I mean, you need perspective, you need someone to say, “air brush the nipples” so to speak and hunt for typos, tell you when one paragraph will work quite nicely instead of three. Well, I do, but you can pull all that together yourself. 

I still want a New York publishing contract (or several), not because I think it will help me produce a better product particularly, but because it will open up distribution lines and exposure. 

Yes, I still want to see that wall. 



Indie Author Digest #102

So many developments since I decided to jump out into the abyss I figured I should install an update. I was going to wait for some major achievement, but it’s the little steps that are so important. 

For years I had been doing this thing as regards my art: trying to figure out what’s wrong with it. Man, what a sink hole that is. You get so desperate for feedback and approval, it reduces you to a lump. And that’s how I had approached my art for several years. 

As a lump. 

Once, my wife said to me, “I can count on one hand the number of days your writing has made you happy.” 

My God, what a statement. What a statement. I wondered how something that is supposed to bring me such joy and happiness and fulfillment only brought such heartache. 

Last year when Damnation Books offered a contract to publish DOM, I cried. I cried. Because finally something was good enough.

Recently, I’ve changed on the subject of my writing. And its good. A couple things happened. One, I decided to just do this indie thing. I mean, no more doubts. Off into the water. That alone brought relief. Because the absolute worst thing is doubt. It will stop you more than any cement wall. You just end up holding yourself back. So, I dispensed with the Doubting Thomas routine. 

Second, I decided to blog about the intimate details of it. To hell with trying to keep some public facade going. All sunshine and rainbows. No, I will give the real nitty-gritty. The hope, dreams, loss, hopelessness. All of it. Well, doing that made me real. At least to myself. I’m not a clown trying to make the kiddies laugh at my jokes, anymore. I’m the drunk clown now, getting grease paint all over my cigarette. 


Third, I decided to do this: experience my emotions and see what happens. That is strange. I was so used to reacting to the situation and feeling bad about not being some famous icon that I was just drowning. So, I sat back and let them go. This last week I just roller coastered between hope and despair. I considered giving up. For real, just saying “fuck this” and making more money or feeding the homeless or something. Then I thought, Yeah, you’d just go out and write a fucking novel. 

That didn’t let me off the hook.

Then I realized. I am a writer. I just am. Always have been. Always will be. I’ll be a writer even if no one ever reads anything I write. That put some demons to rest. The demon that just loves to tell you how much time you’re wasting. And the other sonovabitch that tells you what a loser you are. I’m not a loser, I’m a writer. 

This is all rather personal melodrama, I know, but I am putting it here because these are MY barriers. These are the reasons I haven’t succeeded the way I want to. 

Then at some point this week, I became enamored with another idea: opportunity does not always appear in the guise you think it should. I had watched something happen with my business. Something magical that I had never dreamed of and it meant taking my day business in a direction that was profitable but not what I had planned. But who cares? It’s still opportunity. 

Well, the internet gives a lot of opportunity to writers. You can publish your stuff. Duh. So, I decided it was okay to accept the opportunity, rather than fight it because it didn’t or hasn’t appeared in the form of me being miraculously discovered and given a $100,000 advance, or a Twilight or Harry Potter phenom. Because maybe I’m not writing that kind of book anyway.

The Buddhist principle of being like water became my new philosophy this week. Flow like the river, not crack like the oak tree.

And then I decided to communicate en mass. To just let it go and not be ashamed of what I had to say or write. To not worry about whether I am being socially acceptable, presenting a “right face” or whatever. But to be genuine, to be myself as a writer and an artist.

These things have been plaguing me for so long, I can’t tell you. I didn’t really even know what they were. I was just…punishing myself, I guess. 

Then I got to work and started playing around with cover design. I never knew MS Word could do so much stuff. I designed two covers for short stories and cut my cover design bill down from $200.00 a pop to $15.00 for stock imagery. I would post them now, but haven’t bought the images so don’t think I’m supposed to yet.

This was huge for me.

I had thought that I HAD TO HAVE an artist. And could not do it without an artist. Well, actually, I had been designing covers and telling the artist what to make already. So…if I could just learn a little bit about MS Word’s design templates, I just might be able to do it.

The first one got a thumbs up from the wife straight away, while the second one got shot down out of hand. Then I redesigned it and got a “Wow.”

This, for me, is freedom.  It takes the limit off what I can post on Amazon. It takes the stress off, financially. You have to realize that I have about 1,000,000 words of material that I have been saving to my hard drive. Some of it is previously published, most not. That’s a fair amount of material and it all needs covers.

I also began formatting my first Smashwords short story. I am using Mark Coker’s book called Formatting for Smashwords, or something similar and he just walks you though it. There again, I found, hey I can do this. I am learning all about Word too and feeling better. 


Then I went back to DOM. It just isn’t getting reviewed. And it actually galls me and breaks my heart at the same time. You see, I know it’s a good book. I just know it. But…nothing. Makes me crazy.

So, I decided to apply my new attitude to the problem and went online to see who the hell reads stuff. I found this: I am all about helping you out in any way I can. I would also love to do interviews to go along with your reviews if you are interested. I would love to help promote your book in any way that I can.

I about fell out of my papasan chair. And that is not easy to do. You can break the base, but hard to fall out. Anyway, the penny dropped.

I have been barking up the wrong tree.

Next penny.

I have been engineering my own defeat.

Next penny.

I have been making the whole world responsible for my failure.

I would do this: approach my friends to read my book. Well, they are my friends, right? Wouldn’t they, shouldn’t they read my shit?

Yeah, but they’re not readers. Many even say, I just DON’T read and I feel bad about this?

I feel shunned about this?

You hear all the time, know your market. I never knew what that meant.

I looked up someone who agreed to do a review for me awhile back. A reader. I found 2,000 books on their to-be-read list. What?

I started to understand.

Stephen King calls them the Constant Reader. Well, they read ALL THE TIME. That’s who you want. Not the mother-in-law if she’s not also a reader. Not the Non-fiction reader. Of course, if you bark up the wrong tree all the time, you’re going to be disappointed all the time. And you have to understand that readers have huge lists of books to read. I do too. I buy books I never read. And I only review because I am a writer and would want someone to do the same for me. I wouldn’t normally write a review. 

It made me stop taking it all so damn personally. 


And I am not talking about being the obnoxious social media guy who only wants to talk about his book to every would-be reader he can find. I just mean, there are people who want to help and you should approach those people.

That’s it. Makes it pretty simple. No more banging my head against the wall because all my Goodreads friends don’t go out and buy my titles or whatever.

Anyway, it’s the simple things. This week saw a lot of simple, but powerful changes in me as regards my writing, my writing career and what I am doing.

I am taking control back from my demons. And I’m pretty sure that has to be done before anything else can be. 

Thanks for reading and I hope this helps someone else out there who may be feeling…well, frustrated.