Despite the optimistic hopes of many electronic publishers and authors, all economic indicators show that traditional publishing isn’t going to disappear, but ebooks are here to stay too. Ebooks are poised to take over many of the roles of the now-struggling small press. Small presses throughout history have flourished when they offered readers something the larger companies didn’t. Electronic publisher Ellora’s Cave has made huge profits by offering erotica, just as Olympia Press did two generations ago. They went places the traditional publishers wouldn’t go, and the readers rewarded them for it. Erotica has been the lifeblood of electronic publishing, and to a lesser extent the traditional small press as well, but there are other types of books that can thrive in an ebook/POD/small press format.
Large publishers tend to be conservative. Paranormal is hot now, so they churn out hundreds of books about vampires and werewolves. Soon they’ll saturate that market and have to find something else. In the meantime, they’re turning down good books just because the subject is a little different. Try getting a Korean hero into a mainstream publishing catalog. Try getting an old-style "farm and family" book published with a major YA publisher. And if you have a book with an unusual setting (
Yes, there are exceptions to all of these, but the vast majority of titles toe the line of what’s safe. The marketing department, not editorial, is what determines which books get published in the mainstream press.
Not that I can really blame them. They made $25 billion last year in the
I think epublishing and the small press has a niche with the books that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day, the books that don’t quite fit. Too many of the smaller publishers churn out cheap imitations of mainstream books, when they really should be trying to grab the readers who mainstream houses leave behind. The small press can never move forward if it is trying to directly face off with the big boys.
The small press can thrive only if it offers something different. And those small publishers that have realized this are the ones rising to the top.
Why is the bulk of fiction set in
Editors need to get authors who skew the reader’s perceptions, who break the boundaries and mores of the genre. They need to publish books that make the reader say “Wow, I’ve never read something quite like that before!” and then look through the catalog to find another book that will make them say the same. The small press also needs to nourish the older subgenres that have been discarded by the mainstream press but still have a readership.
The small press should not be a smaller imitation of the major publishing houses. It should offer something different. Some publishers are already doing this, and they’re already reaping the benefits.