By Elizabeth Christopher
Say you’re thinking about trying to get your book published. Maybe not now, but someday. You’ve heard that going down the traditional road—securing an agent and then landing a contract with one of the Big 5 publishing houses—is a chance in a million, so you begin to consider other options: independent and small presses or self-publishing. Then up pops an email from Poets & Writers announcing “515+ small presses for you to research!” as if this were good news rather than a paralyzingly huge number. So, where do you start?
I recently spoke to three local authors who published their debut books by taking alternative routes to publishing with the Big 5. In this series of blog posts, these authors share their experiences and advice to help make publishing your book feel a little less daunting.
- In Part 1: Sara B. Fraser tells what it was like to publish her debut novel, Long Division, with small press Black Rose Writing.
- In Part 2: Linda Malcolm discusses why self-publishing Cornfields to Codfish, her collection of personal essays celebrating the Midwest and New England, was the right choice for her.
- In Part 3: Calvin Hennick, author of memoir Once More to the Rodeo, which was recently selected as a Must Read by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, shares how winning the Pushcart Editor’s Book Award kept his book from becoming the “weirdest wedding present” ever.
I hope you find these authors’ tales of the publishing journey helpful. More importantly, I urge you to pick up a copy of their books.
Set in Massachusetts and spanning five decades, Sara B. Fraser’s debut novel, Long Division, interweaves the stories of a grandmother, mother, and daughter. “The book is a family saga that explores the way emotional baggage gets handed down through generations,” says Fraser. The idea for the novel came out of one of the very first short stories Fraser wrote about “a girl who comes from a broken home and how she deals with her alcoholic mother.”
Fraser, who is a high school Spanish teacher in Belmont, MA, started working on the novel 15 years ago and recalls writing it as she waited to pick up her son Aidan from kindergarten. “I would write in a notebook in the car,” while Aidan’s little brother Emmet was asleep in the back seat.
When she finished the manuscript, Fraser sent it to a publisher. “They wanted me to pay $3,000, which I didn’t want to do, so I stuck the book in a drawer.”
Years later, when she was finishing her second novel, Fraser pulled her first book out of that drawer. “I thought it wasn’t bad,” says Fraser. She consulted an alphabetical list of small presses and started sending query letters. “I got to the letter B.” Fraser’s book was published by Black Rose Writing in March 2019.
Responsive and Ethical
Fraser’s experience with Black Rose has been largely positive. “They are super responsive and very ethical,” says Fraser about the Texas-based publisher. They provide a lot of support to their authors, such as podcasts and YouTube videos that offer advice on how to market a book. Fraser is also part of a Black Rose authors Facebook group, where authors share ideas on marketing, promotions, and using social media. “I have like 120 Facebook friends,” she says, adding that she is learning a lot from authors who are more knowledgeable about social media and marketing. She cites a fellow author who grew his Twitter followers to over 1,000 and another who created a poster offering giveaways of her book to display at the upcoming AWP conference. “The marketing part is something I’m trying to approach with a sense of adventure, discovery and curiosity. It’s a steep learning curve. But you have to do it.”
Fraser’s biggest frustration has been with distribution. “I can’t even get my local bookstore to carry the book,” because Black Rose does not use standard book distributors, according to Fraser. Long Division is available online through Black Rose Writing’s website and on Amazon.
Black Rose’s catalog of marketing services enable authors to pick which services they want to use, for a cost, such as Goodreads giveaways, which Fraser has done. She recently kicked in $100 to market her book on BookBub, a Cambridge-based website that helps readers find deals on e-books.
“I talk to myself about it this way: writing is a hobby and most hobbies cost money,” says Fraser, whose other hobby is surfing. “When you consider the cost of a board, wet suit, and lessons—it adds up.”
Advice for New Authors
Fraser’s advice to anyone trying to publish a book with a small press is to research their distribution channels before you query them: “Try calling bookstores and asking if they have books by this publisher to see if they distribute there.” She also suggests writers look at the publisher’s authors and visit their websites. “Check out how many Goodreads reviews they have and how their reviews look on Amazon,” she says. Fraser also advises new authors to arrange readings before the book is published.
What’s Next for Fraser?
“I’m working on a third novel and I’m pitching my second one,” says Fraser, who is looking at small presses again, including Black Rose. “There are a lot of small presses that are passionate about getting good work out there,” she says, and recommends writers start their research by checking out Poets & Writers’ Small Presses database.
Fraser offers this uplifting thought about the industry: “People are depressed about book publishing because getting an agent is so hard and there are only five big publishing houses. But once you start looking, you see there is a great community of small publishers. You’ll find there are supportive people out there.”