I recently wrote a piece for LitReactor in which I tried to figure out why so many indie presses shut down (you can read that here). In the past couple of years, I’ve done my best to stay plugged into a plethora of branches in the indie scene. That, couple with the fact that I have many friends who also happen to be authors, has given me no answers, but I have theories. One of them, and the one that applies here the most, is this: between fluctuating markets, a recession that comes and goes like a bad hangover, competition from television, video games, life, and movies, and the constant unknown in the equation that is most of what happens behind closed doors and in the personal lives of publishers, most indie presses close down because of a variety of elements came together to kill them. In that regard, indie presses are dangerous, but they’re still the best thing going in contemporary literature. As an indie author, I’ve been lucky to have worked with three solid presses that have been good to me: Eraserhead Press, Severed Press, and Broken River Books. I look forward to working with them again and don’t expect any of them to close down any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t constantly plan ways to keep my writing going regardless of what happens. If you worry about things like this, here are some points to keep in mind.
1. You are your own marketing team
“Dude, you tweet about your book a lot!” You bet yours ass I do. No one wants people to read my work more than me, so I act like it. I spend a few minutes every day making sure that my name is out there, that my book stays in some corner of the collective unconscious. I don’t expect anyone else to do the work for me. If I sell 0 copies, I’m not going to be happy, but I’m also not going to blame my publisher. Tweet, write, scream, do readings, whatever. The hustle never sleeps, and neither should you. If one of my presses closes down tomorrow, I’m ready to move on, find new homes for my books, and keep working on the next novel or two to make sure the ball keeps rolling. I call it the Andre Williams mindset: I stay agile, mobile, and hostile.
2. Be Picky
I remember sending stuff to publications that didn’t pay and anthologies that paid a fucking PDF if you were accepted. I don’t regret that time because it taught me a hell of a lot. I was scammed, my work was changed by “editors,” and I worked hard to sometimes end up buying a print copy of a book I was in. Everything I learned made me a picky person. Nah, scratch that: it made me a hypercritical, unbelievably persnickety mufucka when it comes to picking who I work with. There is a powerful desire in me to share my stories and see my name in print. I haven’t done this long enough for that to get boring. However, my desire to work with professionals who will make me and my work shine is bigger than my desire to have a dozen books with my name on the cover. If you ask me to send you a novella, I will do my research. What’s in it for me? What’s your platform? How do authors who have worked with you before talk about you? I’m going to answer all those questions before I make a decision. If your covers are shit, forget it. If no one has gotten their royalty payments, fuck you. If you spend no time trying to help authors at least the first few weeks after a release, please don’t talk to me again.
I recently heard Brian Keene say this. If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. If Severed Press goes under, I still have Broken River Books. If I have something that is not a great fit for Eraserhead Press or Broken River Books, which applies to a novel I’m working on now and a nonfiction project that’s been kinda done for a while now, you can bet I will be looking at publishers like this was my first and only book. I know this is easier for folks like me who write in various genres, but you can apply to yourself no matter what you write. If a great relationship with a sharp, amazing press that loves your work and hustles for you is great, then two is better, and three must be amazing. Cultivate that. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket because baskets aren’t that great of a place to put fragile eggs anyway. Seriously, love the people who love you and support you as hard as you can and work every damn day to make your book work for them and for you, but remain open and diversify.
4. Ask questions and pay attention
Authors aren’t generally the quiet type. Some people are surprised DarkFuse shut down. I’m not. I saw this coming a long way off, and some authors who worked with them saw it way before I did. When contemplating working with an indie press, ask their authors, past and present, how they feel about them. Also, pay attention to what people say about the books they put out, how they behave on social media, what kind of reactions you get when you mention them to others, etc. Working with someone you know nothing about usually works as well as a blind date. Don’t do it. After all the work you put in, spend some time with you ear to the ground and study your options. I remember thinking a press I dig sold a lot of book, and then I learned from someone with access to BookScan that they don’t sell shit. I also had a press offer me a three book deal. I asked around. I said no. A couple of months later, they were gone. Want to write and publish here and there? Go with whatever shows up. Want to stay in this for the long run? Become a smart, informed, analytical, mufucking professional.
5. Put money at the bottom of the list
Exposure is something you die from and you don’t have to be too familiar with my work to know that I’ve written extensively about one simple rule: authors have to get paid. That being said, I’m not expecting to quit my job in 5 years and start getting that Stephen King money. Get it through your skull: only Stephen King makes Stephen King money. I’ve done no money and then coffee money once in a while and then taco money and then taco money a bit more regularly and I hope to one day make taco and pancake money.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS (Broken River Books),HUNGRY DARKNESS (Severed Press), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist. Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbcide, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at@Gabino_Iglesias