Traditional publishers can be broken into two types of publishers: imprints of the Big 5 and smaller, independent “indie” publishers. Though Big 5 imprints and indie publishers are all traditionally publishers, there are some important differences.
Indie publishers and indie writers are different and unrelated.
- An indie publisher is a publisher that is not an imprint of one of the Big 5 publishers.
- An indie writer is a self published writer.
Big 5 vs. Indies
Imprints of the Big 5 and indie publishers are both traditional publishers. They share some characteristics and benefits, but they also differ in significant ways. Not all traditional publishers are created equal! Let’s walk through some of these differences.
- Advances. Indie publishers generally offer smaller advances. Many offer no advance at all.
- Design and editing. Quality indies offer editing and cover design just like the Big 5 imprints. Unfortunately, the quality of these services can be lacking at some indies, particularly the very small and new.
- Bookstore distribution. Only the largest and most established of the indies offer any kind of bookstore distribution. All will tell you that they list your book in the Ingram catalog, which means any bookstore can order your book. Realistically, though, none will. A few partner with larger publishers for distribution — this is a good thing. If you consider an indie publisher, be sure you find out exactly what distribution they have. Many can offer you no more than you can do yourself.
- Cost. Neither imprints of the Big 5 nor indie publishers charge you ANY money. If there’s any cost to you, that is a vanity publisher, no matter what they call themselves.
- Marketing. The imprints of the Big 5 have a higher budget for marketing. Some indies do absolutely no marketing, though most do a little.
- Agents. Nearly all the Big 5 imprints are closed to unrequested submissions, which means you need an agent to submit. Most indie presses, on the other hand, are open to unagented submissions. There are exceptions to both.
Not created equal
I see two questions commonly asked by writers who want to publish traditionally:
- “Should I get an agent, or should I submit to indie publishers directly?”
- “Can I query agents and indie publishers at the same time?”
There are some great indie presses out there. Nevertheless, my personal recommendation is to start at the top — query agents. If you exhaust the list of agents who rep your book’s genre, you can then submit directly to indie presses.
Do not do both at the same time, however. Agents can’t submit to publishers you have already queried. They won’t appreciate it if you reduce the pool of potential editors they can approach.
In the next several publishing posts, I’m going to talk about querying. Although the information works for querying indie presses as well as agents, I’m going to focus on querying agents.