What Would Goldilocks Choose: Small, Medium, or Large Publishing House?
By Kym Brunner
Like Goldilocks, I have had experiences with a small, a medium, and now a large publishing house and want to share what’s the same, different, and unique about working with each. Which one was “just right?”
Here now is a sampling of my experiences, a virtual “publishing smorgasbord”:
The Smallish Publisher: My first book, ONE SMART COOKIE, was published with Omnific Press in June 2014. They are an independent publisher of romantic fiction. Contract to publication (on-demand trade paperback and digital) took nine months.
The Medium House : My second book, WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, was published with Merit Press (part of F & W Media / Adams Media) in July 2014. The book came out in hardcover and digital fourteen months after the contract was signed.
The Big Guy: My third book, FLIP THE BIRD, will be out in November 2016 and will be published with HMH Books for Young Readers (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Contract to hardcover and digital publication will be sixteen months.
TAKEAWAY:There are many different routes to publication, but no matter whether you choose the traditionally published or the self-published path, nothing quite matches the feeling of holding a book in your hand with your name on the cover. My advice? If going the traditionally published route, work your way from the top down, querying the large publishers, then medium-sized, and finally the small independent houses if the larger houses don’t pan out. Submitting to the top 5 usually requires an agent, but there are many houses that still accept unsolicited queries.
THE MAIN COURSE
Acquisition Process to Publication
The Smallish Publisher:I sent a query via email to Omnific, they requested the full, and then after several weeks, I received an email saying they’d like to acquire One Smart Cookie. I accepted, made a few changes to the contract, and then we began the editing process. There were three rounds of revisions with various editors, each focused on a different aspect. Because Omnific is a romance publisher with readers of all sizes, any negative comments about body size from my sarcastic MC were traded for other types of jokes. Made me more aware of the types of jokes readers might find offensive in all of my novels after that. Omnific being a smaller publisher, the books are readily and inexpensively available via digital text, but for paper copies, they are print-on-demand. This helps save the publisher money so they don’t have a large print run, but these books generally are not stocked by brick-and-mortar bookstores because they can’t return them if they don’t sell after a certain amount of time (generally one season or three months).
The Medium House:My agent pitched the project to the sole editor of Merit Press, Jacquelyn Mitchard, who read the full manuscript, brought it to acquisitions within the organization, and viola! offered me a contract. After my agent negotiated some of the details of the contract, I signed, and the revision process began. It was relatively painless with only a few suggestions, mostly about expanding the ending. Book cover design followed, and then copyediting a few months later. It was super exciting to see my book come out in hardcover and appear on the shelves in Barnes & Noble. That distinction was definitely on my personal bucket list.
The Big Guy:As with the medium house, my agent pitched senior editor Julie Tibbott, who said she both laughed and cried (mission accomplished!) while she read my manuscript, prompting her to make an offer. After the contract was negotiated and signed, Julie and I went back and forth with four rounds of revisions. She gave me a list of about five scenes that felt “off” and why, but it was left up to me to figure out how to fix those inconsistencies to both our satisfaction. We then moved to the smaller issues, and finally down to word choice. During the last couple of rounds, additional HMH wordsmiths had eyes on the novel to make sure every aspect was the best it could be. I will say this novel was the most scrutinized and fine-tuned of the three. But since I spent soooo much time writing and researching this book (falconry lessons and observations for over a year), this was definitely my Cinderella book, so I was thrilled with the precision tuning. I can’t wait to see Flip the Bird hit the bookstores in November. Feathers crossed that it’s a soaring success.
TAKEAWAY:The acquisition process can be short or long, but it might be better for your psyche to NOT be aware if your book is under consideration by a publisher. The wait (and sometimes the answer) can be excruciating. Two of my books went to acquisitions but were not acquired at that time, crushing my spirit and making me analyze everything. Eventually other publishers acquired both of those books, so I could have saved myself some of that grief. Of course, I’m sure those pitfalls probably helped me to grow as an author.
The BOOK COVER – How Much Input Did I Have?
Smallish Publisher:I filled out a two-page questionnaire about all the aspects of the book (plot, setting, characters) as well as the feeling I wanted to invoke in the reader. I described what Sophie, my teen protagonist, looked like, as well as her relationship with her man-hungry mother and her adorable Polish grandmother, Busia. They asked what sort of feeling I wanted to invoke in readers as well as any ideas I’d had for how I envisioned the cover. I really felt involved in the process and loved the final cover, which perfectly depicts Sophie frowning at a cookie, which goes fabulously with the title. All in all, I had a lot of input about font, design, and color choices, and couldn’t be happier with how it came out.
Medium House: I was shown one cover for Wanted: Dead or In Love (bullet hole ridden – looked cool!), but others I showed it to said it appeared to be a nonfiction book instead of YA novel. I found a stock picture that I thought fit the main character and suggested maybe incorporating her into the original cover to help make it look more fictional. The next cover was completely different from the first. The art director used the picture I had sent as the main focus of the cover, which was great, but when I asked if we could tweak the font and/or colors, I was told that it needed to go to print. Readers have since told me that they picked it up because the cover was so catching, so there you go. Trust the professionals––they know what they’re doing.
The Big Guy:I was asked to find comps (or comparable) covers that conveyed the feeling I wanted for my book. That was an interesting task and one that I took to heart. I found maybe ten covers and I put a short note as to why I thought they went along with my book. By now I had learned that the art directors have a gift and you can let them work their magic. I was eventually shown five covers for Flip the Bird and was asked my opinion on them. We narrowed it down to two choices and eventually ended up with a cover that perfectly matches the humorous coming-of-age aspect along with a bird named Flip (a red-tailed hawk), while the protest sign shows that there might be some adversity inside the novel as well.
TAKEAWAY: The amount of input I had didn’t depend on the size of the publisher, but rather on the standard procedure for each publishing house. Art directors know what designs make readers pick up books, so while the publisher wants you to love the cover, they also have to make a financial decision and go with a cover design with proven sales.
Each of the publishers offered an advance against royalties, i.e. payment made by the publisher, which is offset against future royalty payments. The bigger the house, the bigger the advance, which of course is always nice.
Each of the publishers was concerned with the content being appropriate for teens and with sending out the story in the best possible shape. Alleluia for that!
All three publishers had knowledgeable literary professionals who helped guide me each step of the way. That said, I often checked with the Internet or friends who had been previously published if I had a newbie question about some aspect of the revision process before asking my editor. (Your agent may or may not know the answer because each house has its own particular preferences on how things are done).
TAKEAWAY: I have found that I only email my agent and editor when I have a pressing question, and they respond quickly. I’m guessing if you email them every little question, you might be viewed as “needy.”
IN CONCLUSION, there’s a familiar question authors are supposed to ask themselves when considering the size of the publishing house they would prefer: Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond (meaning lots of attention) or a wee fish in an ocean (meaning very little)?
MY ANSWER: I haven’t noticed any differences in the way I’ve been treated by the different-size publishers other than the variances with which any individuals interact with another. For the most part, everyone I’ve worked with has been professional and kind, with a rare, slightly abrasive response. As in every other aspect of my life, I’ve treated others the way I’d like to be treated, and that’s worked out just fine.
Have a question or comment? Feel free to contact me at one of the social media links listed below. Happy writing! KYM
Kym Brunner dreams entire novels in her head but needs about a year to write it all down. She wishes there was an app for this. She's addicted to chai tea, going to the movies, and reality TV. When she's not reading or writing, Kym teaches 7th grade full time. She is the author of three young adult novels. She lives in the Chicago area with her family and her two trusty writing companions, a pair of shih tzus named Sophie and Kahlua.