Why I turned down a publishing deal

Several weeks ago, I was more or less knocked off my feet. On the other side of the table I was sitting at, the charismatic publishing director of a smaller press had just told me they were interested in publishing my forthcoming books AND my entire backlist. I sort of soared out of that meeting, let me tell you.

Now, before we go any further, allow me to crawl off my high horse and say that everything that follows would probably not have applied had I been approached by one of the big publishing companies. In fact, had they offered, I’d probably had said a resounding yes while still sitting at the table. Why? Because they could have afforded me a highway to retail exposure, which is one of the constant difficulties indie writers grapple with. Truth be told, had any of the big publishing companies offered, I’d gladly have sold out a part of my creative soul, more or less blinded by the whispered promises from Mammon. This despite knowing that Mammon is a character best not trusted…

A small press cannot afford to push all their authors. A small press has to be very commercial and business oriented in their thinking. The publishing director I met was clearly a savvy business person – but so am I, so I wasn’t intimidated by this. Rather, I respected the person – I like people who are direct and don’t beat around the bushes. So when the publishing director explained that their normal practice was to first publish as e-book and PoD, only upgrading to print runs if the initial formats enticed enough interest, I totally agreed with the business reasoning behind it. But. I already have e-books and PoDs, so how would this benefit me? My royalty rates would go down, my exposure would all in all be more or less the same – albeit that there were tie-ins the publishing house could offer to other authors in similar genres.

All the same, I was tempted. Very tempted. So I did some further research.
I produce my PoDs to a very high standard, Truth be told, I make very little money of my pb sales, but on the other hand I have the satisfaction of knowing my books are printed on good quality cream paper, are adequately typeset with adequate margins, and have covers that are thick enough not to curl upwards like a third into the book. I can afford to be picky – I am not running a business, I am pandering to my artistic ego, ensuring the packaging conforms with the (I hope) quality of my writing.

A person running a business has to think margins. All the time. Two percent higher margin may be the difference between a healthy cash-flow and liquidity issues, so the conscientious business owner will go for acceptable paper quality rather than good, will go for the lower grade cover material and will keep a hawk’s eye on the page count – which may result in over-crammed pages.

The business person in me studied the copies of the paperbacks produced by the small press that had contacted me, and was not surprised. Lightweight paper, equally lightweight covers – but nice cover art. The creative person in me studied the way the cover curled and offered a loud “hmm”. Very loud.

The creative person in me was further put off by the occasional odd font change and the somewhat hasty feel to the editing. I had read a couple of e-books published by the small press and in some cases been less than impressed by the formatting (they have subsequently been reformatted) and the recurring typos. In brief, the creative me cringed.

And then there was the matter of control. The publishing director was very direct, explaining that yes, I would lose control. Not all control, obviously, but a lot of it. I didn’t like that. Like most indie authors I know, I’ve developed a protective and somewhat control-freak attitude to my books. I spend a lot of money on edits by accredited editors, I don’t stint on the cover design and will rework and rework until I am happy with the end product as presented by my excellent cover artist. Obviously, a business on the lookout to defend their earnings can’t do that. I understand that. But I don’t like it.

So, all in all, I decided to say no thank you. I was immensely flattered, and I will be forever grateful to the publishing director for the huge compliment she offered me, my branding, and my writing. Plus, of course, this entire process made me realise just how much I enjoy being an indie, in total control of every facet of my book production. But hey, Random House et al, don’t let that put you off, okay? You come calling and I’m sure we’ll work something out  Oh, yes!