How Not to Approach an Independent Publisher

Plus a list of local, regional & unusual publishers for readers & writers to explore.

I’ve not been in this game long, it’s fair to say. What I really want to do is share a wonderful list of independent publishers with you, which I will. But I would like to ask you aspiring-to-be-published-writers to treat this gift with a little respect. Yes, the publishing world can feel like a pretty cold, heartless place to the novice writer. But make no mistake, the independent sector is run mainly on passion. These people will not get rich doing it, they will work their socks off, make a livable wage (hopefully) and reinvest most of the income in publishing more books.

The reason you may still find this world a little ruthless is because there are so many writers trying to get work published and many treat publishers like they have a lot of time on their hands. They really don’t. I went to a talk on the subject of approaching an independent in Sheffield last year. The speaker was Ra Page of Comma Press, a short story publisher based in Manchester.

He said: “People think publishers laze around reading manuscripts all the time. Reading manuscripts is what I do for fun in my spare time on holiday.”

He made several other excellent points which are worked in below and was also refreshingly honest about the lack of originality in the much of the content submitted to the press. Even from writers fresh off their Creative Writing MA.

So, a few important issues to think about.

Is your work finished? Many writers approach publishers with initial rough drafts. Some haven’t even finished the first draft. I sheet you not. Would you approach the curator of an art gallery with a half-finished painting? No. A publisher needs to know you are capable of finishing the job (by having finished it). Yes, lots of work, years of work, may have gone into that first draft. But you need to show the same passion and commitment to developing the work. You need to have sought out feedback, from a writing group, a creative writing tutor, or a friend/peer you can do an exchange with. You need to have re-researched, rewritten, learned to be less precious and capable of trimming some of the fat from the work. Yes, there will be more editing to come in the publishing process, but you give yourself a better chance the less work a piece needs.

Have you evolved as a writer? This goes in with the first point to some extent. There is skill you have naturally, but you must still hone your craft. Most published writers are over thirty. That’s because they spent their twenties developing. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule – S.E Hinton (who wrote The Outsiders and Rumblefish) was first published at age 17. Many writers pen a novel in their late teens or early twenties, but the writing and ideas often don’t have the maturity to make them publishable. Few people can make a full-time career out of fiction or poetry writing, so don’t think rushing to finish that novel will create you a ‘career’ as a writer. You need something else to fall back on anyway.

Leave your ego at the door. This goes with the first two points. “I am soo incredibly talented, these publishers should feel lucky to discover me as quickly as this.” Even though you’ve not completed the first draft/shown commitment to developing as a writer/shown you are an open, friendly person to work with and can accept criticism maturely? Publishers aren’t just dealing with your work, they will need to work with you as a person. You are not a genius waiting to be discovered, you are a work-in-progress. Progress takes time, elbow grease and co-operation.

Is your work right for this publisher? Every day publishers receive round-robin emails from writers trying to get published. They can see you are sending your cover email/sample etc. not only to them, but to a bunch of other very different publishers. This shows you haven’t taken any time to research what they publish, you’re just tossing an empty fishing line into a pond hoping something will bite. Suitability goes from the simple (Comma Press get sent novels and poetry, even though they only publish short stories), to the more complex – what style/themes/likely readership does this publisher favour? The best way to work that out is to read their stuff.

In this case it’s beneficial you discover them while still developing your work. It gives you time to research properly, go to independent book fairs, buy books, chat to them as a reader, be part of things. It is so much easier to say ‘I think my work is right for you’ if you can back it up with, ‘I read books x and z that you published a while back, I really liked them because…’

Of course you may already have your work ready, but still do research. Read samples, read their submissions guidelines, read press articles and reviews about their output. Treat them individually.

Are they accepting submissions? Some publishers only accept submissions at a certain time of year, or they may have a backlog of stuff ready to publish, or they can only afford to publish a small number of books a year. If the website says ‘we are not currently accepting submissions’ and you send something anyway it will likely be deleted. If you nag and pester they will likely not want to work with you anyway. It is often a waiting game, use the time as suggested above, research, read, go to book fairs, sign up to newsletters which will likely announce when submissions are open again.

Read their submission guidelines. Do they accept unsolicited work, or do you need an agent? Can you only submit at a certain time of year? Do they want a cover email first, or is it okay to send a sample with it? Everyone has different preferences, read the guidelines, then read them again. If they use a term you don’t fully understand, look it up. Bees Make Honey publish magic realism, lots of people seem to think this is a pretentious word for fantasy or paranormal. While there is crossover certainly, magic realism tends in our opinion to lean towards the metaphysical. While there are both ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ versions of fantasy and paranormal, I don’t think magic realism exists in commercial fiction because it’s always complex. Tuck into Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges or Yann Martel for more insight.

Never say you think your work is ‘perfect’ for a publisher, this sounds assumptive, they have their own unique wish list for work they want to publish. It’s a bit like a dating website. If someone says they want ‘tall, dark and handsome’ with ‘good sense of humour’ you may think you fit that bracket. But you may have a clownish sense of humour when they like dry humour, you might be prom-king handsome when they want rugged good looks. Independent publishers publish books they fall in love with. At least that’s what I do.

Make things easy for them. Soo many writers make basic mistakes like sending work in a sans serif font and not spacing it on the page. Sure, the reader can change these things according to their preference, but it’s the difference between a waitress offering you condiments when she delivers your meal, or just leaving you to work out where in the cafe the ketchup is. It’s better to show attention to detail. There are some great tips on small reasons agents and publishers reject submissions here on Flourish.

Don’t let the game ruin your self-esteem. For all I’ve said here, there is no magic formula to getting published. Don’t feel inferior because you maybe don’t have a Bachelors in English Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing. Don’t let pretentious types name-dropping Satre and Borges (sorry!) make you feel stupid. You can develop your writing talent without spending a fortune, it’s just more difficult and you need to be more wily. Mentoring from e.g. Flourish (yes, I’m bigging them up again. I know they’re worth it) is cheaper and more personalised than an M.A. Writing East Midlands (WEM) also offer mentoring schemes particularly tailored to those on a low income. All you really need to do is be pro-active and see what’s available.

But you will need to be tough and not take things personally. Remember lots of writers versus a few niche publishers. Expect Daisy Steiner’s classic refrain “Rejection! Rejection! Rejection!” It can be very draining, but it is not necessarily a reflection on you as a writer. You may eventually find the perfect match. Literary Agents are also on the whole, a good investment. They won’t taken money off you in advance, they usually take 15% of your royalties once published, so are invested in your success. They also often know the industry better than many publishers.

A List of Local & Regional Independent Publishers

Notes: I’m collecting & adding to this as I go along. If you have any suggestions pop the link in the comments or email fox.beesmakehoney@gmail.com

Some only publish electronically & some are magazines/e-zines. Some are just creative collaborations that will never be open to submissions, but this is as much a list for readers and fans as writers.

Miscellaneous Publishers (unique objects)

Tangible Publications

Miel

Panspermia Press

Here Comes Everyone/Silhouette Press

Short Story Publishers

Comma Press

The Alarmist (Literary Magazine)

Salt

Pewter Rose Press

Nine Arches Press

CB Editions

Route

Like This Press

Bamboccioni Books

Dog Horn Publishing

Celandor

Ghostwoods Books

Here Comes Everyone/Silhouette Press

Red Squirrel Press

Poetry Publishers

Skysill Press

Five Leaves Publications

Salt

Cinnamon Press

Shoestring Press

Soundswrite Press

Leafe Press

Nine Arches Press

CB Editions

Offa’s Press

Shearsman Books

Magma Poetry Magazine

Candlestick Press

Like This Press

Carcanet Press

Celandor

Longbarrow Press

Templar Poetry

Burning Eye Books

Red Squirrel Press

Longform Fiction Publishers (novels and novellas)

Tindal Street Press (now owned by Profile)

Five Leaves Publications

Salt

Weathervane Press

Cinnamon Press

Pewter Rose Press

Bluewood Publishing

Route

Peak Platform

Carcanet Press

Bamboccioni Books

Dog Horn Publishing

Ghostwoods Books

Burning Eye Books

Canongate

Non-Fiction Publishers

Five Leaves Publications

The Professional & Higher Partnership

Route

Peak Platform

Canongate

Comics/Graphic Novels

Factor Fiction

Dog Horn Publishing

7 thoughts on “How Not to Approach an Independent Publisher

  1. Hi bees, yes I run a second hand book shop but we also do epublishing and print on demand. If you are interested in getting a book published, just email it to citywallsbooksandmusic [then the at sign] hotmail.com. I also provide proof reading and literary criticism.

    1. So, you offer services for self-publishing? Otherwise it sounds like you’re a vanity/subsidy publisher? It’s best to be clear in this area, else novice writers get confused. Thanks 🙂

  2. Thanks for including us on this list!

    It’s worth reiterating that publishing is a conversation, not a one-way movement. The writer’s half of the conversation comprises both submitting work *and* familiarizing him/herself with publishers’ lists. It’s out of respect for the press/writer relationship (as well as in order to better their chances of finding a place where their writing really fits) that writers should read both broadly and deeply, paying attention to the textures and qualities of the work that presses they admire publish before deciding where to submit. I can tell you that as a small press we *always* can tell who hasn’t taken the time to read anything we’ve published before submitting (sometimes not even our guidelines!)—and that we do remember people who’ve ordered books before ever submitting. While the latter doesn’t mean we’re more apt to publish those writers (that always comes down to best fit, what we love, and what we can afford), it does mean that we take them maybe a little bit more seriously as participants in this conversation. After all, a writer submitting to us is asking us to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds editing, designing, publicizing, and marketing his or her book. We do that for love, but we also appreciate the gesture of confidence (and curiosity) that is a writer’s spending £10 on one of our books even before sending us work.

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