Ask a Publicist: What Are the Publicity Advantages and Disadvantages of Your Company’s Size and Position in the Market?

Today’s Ask a Publicist question: What are the publicity advantages and disadvantages of your company’s size and position in the market?

Jill Maxick, Director of Publicity, Prometheus Books and Pyr:
As a small to midsize press, it may be easier for us to establish a unique identity and brand (for many reasons: easier to maintain consistency and control; people tend to be more comfortable being fans of boutique operations rather than multinational conglomerates; etc.). There’s less bureaucracy to deal with when making decisions or brainstorming ideas. We may be more able to do more for a book that might get lost in the shuffle of a larger list, where resources are allocated differently (say, larger publicity campaigns for a few star authors). We can switch gears quickly and do more or less outreach than anticipated for a book based on its early reaction (when a sleeper starts to deliver, or a priority book does not, we can re-prioritize our resources quickly).

On the disadvantage side, we have a smaller budget for traditional marketing (advertising and such). It’s harder to compete with large author advances or bidding wars, or to keep "star" authors long-term (Joe Abercrombie, it’s been great!). We have less leverage with buyers, media, etc. There’s a heavy workload for everyone on staff and the Editorial Director has to wear many, many hats.

Brett Alexander Savory, Publisher, ChiZine Press:
Being a small press definitely lets us take more chances, since our overhead is lower and–in our case, anyway–we don’t need to sell buttloads of copies to break even. We can sign lesser-known authors with little worry of their performance. It’s nice when they do catch on better than we hoped, but if they don’t, no one loses their shirt. At least that’s how we’re set up.

Erin Galloway, Manager of Marketing, Dorchester Publishing:
At Dorchester we view our smaller size as an asset.  It allows us to take risks and respond quickly to new opportunities.  We also do not have pre-established marketing programs the way some larger companies do.  We address the marketing for each book on an individual basis and promote accordingly.  I think our only disadvantage stems from outside perception.  There is an assumption that a smaller publisher cannot provide the same opportunities a larger company can, but our mass market books receive top distribution and we are very proud of our tradition of growing the careers of best-selling authors.

Gavin Grant, Publisher, Small Beer Press:
We basically take a chance on existence with every book we publish (well, maybe not the short story collections, which are by their nature, usually smaller books), so we’re nimble and all that, but also careful. Working with Consortium (and before that SCB Distributors) means that our internal deadlines are the same as other publishers. We have until Jan 20th to add our Sept. ’09-Apr ’10 books, so we’re trying to hammer every last minute detail that we can into place.

Corinda Carfora, Sales and Marketing Director, Baen Books:
We have a very small staff so grass-roots, word of mouth, and guerilla marketing is very important to us.  Because of our size our lines of communication are direct and we can react quickly.  However, bigger publishers generally have much bigger budgets and larger staff.

Vincent W. Rospond, North American Sales Manager, BL Publishing:
While we at BL Publishing are among the top sales in SF&F, we are small in terms of personnel in our office.  Because of that and limitations on available budget we tend to look very hard at how we spend our advertising and promotional budget and tend to look to non-traditional venues.  On-line advertising, work with bloggers and shared community sites are different and nontraditional publishing venues that need to be more fully explored, but hit a nerve for younger readers.

William Schafer, Publisher, Subterranean Press:
We’re small enough that the majors (most of the time) don’t consider us any sort of competion, and have been supportive of their authors working with us. Because of our size, niche, and flexibility, we’re able to pay well for less-than-novel length fiction and present it as a standalone book, which makes publishing novelettes and novellas with us a good alternative to the big three print mags. Whereas they may pay $2000 or so for a novella, we can frequenly offer up to five times that for the same piece.

Vera Nazarian, Publisher, Norilana Books:
Norilana Books is a small press owned and operated by one individual since 2006, with over 200 books in print (trade hardcover and trade paperback), and you might notice I tend to I use the Royal "We" profusely when I talk about our acquisitions and our business practices.  The disadvantage of being a one-woman business with a small, slowly growing budget, is that I am doing absolutely everything myself.  You might say I am juggling all of Cirque du Soleil in one hand and the Moscow Circus in another–book packaging, text proofing (with irregular professional editor and copyeditor help), book interior design, cover art and design, website programming and design, data entry, software, bookkeeping, promotion, acquisition, ARCs, Bowker Books-In-Print data entry, shipping, taxes, royalties, gasp!  A hamster galloping in a cage has nothing on me. At least I am lucky to have a stable of excellent anthology editors (who handle the short fiction acquisition and editing for the annual anthologies Clockwork Phoenix, Lace and Blade, Warrior Wisewoman, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress).
 
The advantage is the freedom to acquire whatever I damn well please, regardless of market trends.  The bread-and-butter bulk of our list is the Norilana Books Classics imprint which reprints classics of world literature and keeps a roof over our heads. This, in turn, allows me to go wild with the originals. I cherry-pick fantasy and SF and romance and mythic poetry and historicals and unclassifiable other fiction that appeals to me. I love traditional storytelling and beautiful language, both. For example, starting in 2009, Norilana will be publishing Tanith Lee’s backlist and select originals in the new, dedicated imprint TaLeKa.  Then there’s the imprint Leda for romantic fantasy, Curiosities for poetry and "unclassifiable delights", YA Angst for YA fantasy, the forthcoming The Sword of Norilana for traditional otherworld fantasy, and Spirit for things like chivalry and ancient classics, and vague platonic ideals — "an imprint of the soul in search of meaning."  Truly exciting, heady stuff, for the connoisseurs of reading as a sensual and intellectual pleasure and deep immersion.
 
Thus, because I choose books that I feel should be published, a typical urban paranormal is a hard sell for me because they are all over the place and I am frankly sick of the whole fast-paced furry vamp urban elf thing (even though I still love and adore some books in that genre).  Let the other guys publish them; there are plenty of major publishers who do. I’ll take on the non-trendy and the works that I believe will become future classics by being true to themselves and to the immortal, tribal thing called "Story."


If you’d like to suggest a question, email it to rose.fox@reedbusiness.com with "Ask a Publicist" in the subject line. The next question on deck is "Is an imprint a brand?".

5 thoughts on “Ask a Publicist: What Are the Publicity Advantages and Disadvantages of Your Company’s Size and Position in the Market?

  1. T. M. Moore, owner of Ikthalion Press

    As a small one room publisher I also take a risk with every book published. I have been in business since 2006 with only 8 titles in print and 3 more on the way, but I also do all the publicity and marketing myself. I use the small “we”, too. But I stand behind every book I publish and I am working to make my brand better known than it is now.

  2. Sadie

    As a publicist for a small publisher, my hardest task is dealing with my boss on Mondays. He is convinced that all the BIG houses get all the important review space. And why aren’t our books reviewed.

  3. Rose Fox

    Sadie: I don’t know which publisher you work for, but if you’re referring to review space in PW’s SF/F/H or mass market sections, I can assure you that I make a particular effort to consider small press books for review. The key is to send two copies at least three months before publication, in accordance with our submission guidelines. If you do that, and if it’s clear that your books come from a non-vanity press and aren’t self-published, they get considered for review just like books from the “big houses” do. Feel free to email me directly at rose.fox@reedbusiness.com if you’d like to discuss this further. I’m happy to help any way I can.

  4. Sadie

    Hi Rose: That is so kind of you. My boss looks at the NYT Book Review and other major papers. As for advance copies… Do you realize how much each one costs? We can’t afford advance copies. I could send you something on a disk perhaps, but would you read it that way? We’re not a vanity press, just small.

  5. Rose Fox

    Sadie: Unfortunately, PW does not accept digital review copies. I know the cost of printed advance copies is high, but if you’re not sending them out, that would probably explain why you’re not getting a lot of review coverage.

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