The Hybrid Writer – Guest Blog by Gail Z. Martin
There are traditional, big publishers like the Big 5 in New York, ‘small press’ publishers which range from medium-bigger publishers to micro presses, and self-publishing. In today’s marketplace, if you’re serious about making a living off your writing, you’re wise to work with all three type of publishing.
For the record, I write for Orbit Books (a division of Hachette, one of those Big 5), Solaris Books (a UK-based big-medium publisher), about a dozen small presses, and self-publish short stories and novellas. There’s a method to my madness, and I see many other authors creating similar hybrid careers at every stage in their writing life.
Big publishers pay advances. They bring a lot of clout to the table with the remaining bookstores, and have promotions people in-house to build visibility for forthcoming books. They’re still an author’s most likely path to making the New York Times’ list, and have the budget and wherewithal to negotiate nice things, like front of store placement. While there have been staff cuts in recent years, you’ll still get an editor, copy editor, and cover artist who have gotten to the top of the publishing heap. (Cue to start singing ‘New York, New York’.) There’s still some cachet to having your book chosen by the New York houses. In some circles, it’s validating.
But big publishers are also somewhat risk averse. They want new hits, but nothing too different from the old hits. They have bureaucracy. Decisions are often made by committee. Nothing moves quickly. And like prolific parents, they may love their individual children, but you’re one of many, so take a number—there’s only so much time and love to go around, so you have to share.
Small presses are more agile. They don’t usually pay as high an advance, but a book that sells well will quickly earn royalties. You’ll still get an editor, copy editor and cover artist at all but the smallest micro presses. You’ve still got the bragging rights of being chosen by professionals who believe in your book enough to invest in publishing it. Small presses exist to fill the gaps and thrive on providing books to underserved niche markets. Their overhead is lower, so they can take more risks – and they often see taking those risks as part of their reason to exist.
On the other hand, bookstores generally won’t pre-order or stock books from any but the largest small-medium publishers. (Solaris Books is big enough to get great distribution, but many of the smaller presses with whom I do anthologies aren’t.) There’s no bureaucracy, but sometimes that’s because there are only a handful of people in the company, so decisions can get bogged down because the acquisitions editor is also the graphic designer. There is often a little more personal attention, a bit more hand-holding, but sometimes (especially with the smaller presses), that’s because there isn’t much money.
Then there’s self-publishing. I know a lot of well-established authors who have brought their out-of-print books back into circulation by self-publishing those books when the rights reverted. This is a win for readers who get a chance to grab a copy of an old favorite and authors who see money from books that have long been mothballed. I also know authors who have continued series that were popular with readers but not profitable enough for big publishers. Again a win—because readers get the books they want and a self-published book with decent sales can provide a tidy revenue stream for an author that might be chump change for a big publisher.
Then there’s the idea of series extensions, where an author who is currently under contract with publishers brings out additional stories in active book series. I fall into this category. I write the Deadly Curiosities Adventures (tied into the urban fantasy series of the same name), the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures (prequels to The Summoner in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series), the new Blaine McFadden novellas (filling in a time gap in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga) and co-authored with my husband, Larry N. Martin, the Storm and Fury Adventures (spin-offs of our Iron & Blood Steampunk series). These stories take place before, after, during and around the actual books, and keep readers happy waiting for the next novel to come out. They can fill in background on characters and do some worldbuilding that doesn’t fit in the novel story arcs, and accomplish it without info dumping because they are meant to be tangential plots. These stories can also attract new readers who try a low-priced ebook short story and may decide to buy the rest of the books. And the sales produce an independent revenue stream, which every author needs.
Thanks to desktop graphic design and layout tools like the Adobe suite, online bookselling and print-on-demand, small presses and self-published authors can produce books of equal quality to those by the big publishers. That’s also a win for authors and readers alike.
Which Should You Choose?
So if you’re just starting out, which route should you take? That depends on what you want from your publishing career. There’s no wrong way to go, and people have found success with each path. Just make sure that you do your very best no matter which way you choose to publish. Sweat the details (or hire someone who’s meticulous, if you’re not). Make it the very best product you can produce, from the storytelling to the editing to the layout to the cover art and promotion. You’re only as good as your last book. Make every book count.
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Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March 2016, Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June 2016.
Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.
Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.