There are a lot of myths about lack of marketing power and prowess in the small press compared with the Big Six. I’d argue that actually the small press isn’t any less effective or less successful. Bridge House, thanks to enormous efforts by our marketing officer, Debz Hobbs Wyatt, got Gentle Footprints to the Hay Festival and on the Loose Women TV programme. As we, and the other imprints for whom I work- The Red Telephone and Chapeltown - use Lightning Source’s distribution package we have no problem getting our books to wholesalers and retailers. The Big Six, anyway, don’t actually have any more time pro rata per book than the little guys. They may have a few more connections.
Marketing efforts don’t always turn into sales in both the large and small press. There is a certain amount of luck involved, the book itself and the efforts and charisma of the author. Haven’t we all read Paul McCartney’s offering if we read Ether Books? A friend of mine makes a tidy living from her small press published books because of the effort she puts into selling them – selling, note, not marketing or publicising. It takes the time and guts that not all of us have.
The real difficulty is getting books into bookshops and into Waterstones in particular. In theory any book that has an ISBN is obtainable by any bookshop. Waterstones, however, has to approve of the publisher. This is also a whole different matter from getting the bookshop to stock the book on spec. It’s slightly easier if the author is local and it’s often slightly easier to get books into independent bookshops. The three sticking points are a distrust of print-on-demand technology, the amount of discount an indie will allow – normally more like 35% than the 45-50% the book seller wants- and the reluctance of the indies to offer sale or return arrangements. The former enhances the indies’ financial security and abandoning the latter two would threaten it.
Nevertheless, some counter arguments exist: not all books get into bookshops anyway – no matter how good they are and who has written and published them. Those that do often aren’t there for all that long, though naturally there are exceptions. Whatever did we do before Amazon? It is a great leveller. A few months ago, all you could find in the Teen section in Waterstones were stories about vampires. I’m glad to say that is no longer the case.
That is not the all that has changed. Waterstones recently has changed its policy about accepting work from small indies – local buyers can make their own choices about local authors. Recently also I saw a book I’d read written by a well-known award-winning author. Not unusual, you might think, but initially it was not accepted as a stock book. I read a copy borrowed from the library. I’ve made a bit of noise about it. I wonder whether I had any influence. Right next to it, in any case, was one I’d reviewed for Troubador, the magazine about self-publishing. I had given it a good review and now there it was, presumably reedited, and now published by one of the Big Six.
So, maybe the big disadvantage isn’t so big after all. And of course, e-book sales are not at all disadvantaged.