Whenever I see writers talking about publishing, they always seem to lay out two pathways. Consistently, the prevailing wisdom in publishing is that there are only two pathways and nothing else. Either, you go traditional publishing, or you self-publish. Obviously, there’s more than one way to have a literary agent, and I’d like to highlight a publishing avenue nobody is talking about with an agent.
This is especially on my mind today because, for now, these two publishers can’t consolidate, yet. I’m sure bigger publishers will consolidate in the future.
First, Let’s back up and examine some incorrect assumptions writers have about literary agents. The most common one I hear is that agents are gatekeepers. It’s better to think of literary agents as author advocates, not gatekeepers. Agents can fight for you to get more money. That’s their job, after all, is to sell your book, and make sure you’re getting the rates you deserve. If they’re not advocating for you, then they are just not a good literary agent, period.
While it’s true that an agent is supposed to sell your book to an editor, there’s a whole lot more things agents do, however, from contract negotiation to keeping track of your royalties, to acting as your literary contact for blurbs. You and your agent are a team. The better you do in your career, the more money they make in return. The both of you are meant to be a team and this includes working together on planning places to submit.
Even though agents will have their contacts already, it doesn’t hurt to keep a spreadsheet of smaller, independent publishers to try. If they’re an amazing literary agent, they won’t have contacts in just the big publishers. They’ll have a roster of contacts at indie, or independent, publishers as well.
There’s a publishing avenue that I haven’t seen getting talked about before, but it’s an avenue that could benefit a lot of writers. You can still have a literary agent and publish with a small, or indie, press.
An indie, or small, press is usually exactly what it says in the term, small press. Independent presses are publishers that have a very small team, and not a lot of budgeting to toss at you or your agent, but indie publishers can be a fabulous way to develop some very strong networking ties in the future.
Independent presses won’t have the marketing budget bigger publishers have. Some won’t have any marketing budget at all. Independent presses, though, will still edit your book, still design the cover for you, and still provide sensitivity readers if needed all for free. You just have to meet deadlines and turn in the product you promised, just like with bigger publishers.
Because independent presses don’t make a lot of money, your advances won’t be very high. In most cases, you won’t get an advance. My agent has advocated for an advance every time I’ve worked with a small publisher, though, so they can still give out advances, just don’t expect the advances to be equal to the bigger publishers.
Even though independent presses might not have the marketing budgets found at bigger publishers, there’s a lot of other benefits working with a small or indie press.
One of the biggest benefits is an ongoing relationship. People that usually run small presses love writers like you, so they’d keep you in mind for possible editing work or sensitivity reading work. In fact, one of the publishers I’ve published with hired me as a sensitivity reader several times after publishing books by me.
Another benefit is that you get the chance to have more control. While they’ll still design the cover and edit your book and distribute the book, you get more opportunities to have an input on how you want your cover, royalty statements, and more. Your agent will also have a much easier time communicating with an independent press because they are a small team so don’t get shuffled around as much.
You have publishing professionals ready to answer questions. I’m sure You’ve heard the expression small but mighty? Indie presses are a fabulous resource to try some new books and some new authors as well. More importantly, though, it gives you the opportunity of working with a skilled professional team without having to do everything yourself and it gives your agent the chance to build their lists while you work with a team to get your book published.
Because indie presses are a small team, they’d be more than happy to slow down and walk you through publishing matters. They’re also more than willing to promote you on their social media accounts because they work with fewer authors.
Literary agents won’t make as much money submitting to indie publishers, but they will still be more than willing to be what they signed up for, to sell your book and to be your advocate.
Even though you do get to have more control, the best thing about indie publishers is that they work with you to publish your book, so you don’t have to publish on your own.
It’s important that your agent be present for all meetings, even if the editor seems friendly. After all, they are still a publisher, and you wouldn’t want to be caught off guard by an addition to a contract or similar. You also want the best deal for your book. An agent is your advocate. They don’t work for the publisher, the agent works for you.
Before going on submission with your book, consider telling your agent about some independent presses you’d like them to pitch. You don’t have to just aim for the bigger publishers, nor do you have to self-publish or give up your agent. Small publishers are a fabulous alternative for you and your agent. don’t discount them because they are independent publishers.
Below, you’ll find links that can help find independent publishers.
- Agent Query’s list of indie publishers.
- Query Tracker list of publishers.
*Submission grinder finds magazines and publishers.
- Indie publishers from poets and writers, always updating.
- Directory from Publishers Archive.