Publishing, Writing

Working with indie presses

Indie presses are a joy. They publish unique, interesting and challenging content that can often be neglected by the big guys. And, they can be a great outlet for writers looking to get their work in print.

Meeting the editors

Last night, I attended a fascinating talk at Waterstones Newcastle at which editors of four indie presses spoke about their experiences of running an independent publishing firm.

It was led by the founder and editor of Mslexia, Debbie Taylor. Debbie is a writer (if you’ve not read Herring Girl yet do so immediately) as well as an accomplished editor, and epitomises the essence of a creative lady: an array of curly locks, a floaty cardigan and a collection of chunky necklaces that I covet from afar. She’s amazing, and I encourage you to hear her speak whenever you can.

Others on the panel were Neil Astley from Bloodaxe Books, Thomas Ball from Sacristy Press, Ed Handiside from Myrmidon Books, and Degna Stone, assistant editor of The Rialto and managing editor of Butcher’s Dog magazine. Quite the line up, eh?

The panel spoke candidly about their journey into publishing and the challenges of running an indie press; it’s not always as romantic as it sounds! They also shared some invaluable advice on how to get work published with indie presses, and I thought it only right to share it with you all.

Here are the top tips I gleaned from this extraordinary company of independent publishing experts.

Sympathy for the publisher

If you’re a writer, burgeoning editor or just want to bag some work experience in the publishing industry, contacting indie presses might be top of your to-do list. It’s also probably top of thousands of other people’s too.

Indie presses get inundated with submissions and requests for work experience so bear with them. It could seem like decades before you hear anything from them, if at all, but appreciating how busy they are can help to manage your expectations.

Independent publishers are often passion projects run by teams (sometimes duos or lone-rangers, too) of people who dedicate their time free of charge to ensure unique writing gets published. They could have another job, be juggling a family, or be busy dealing with funders, printers, distributors and all sorts of miscreants involved in the publishing journey.

How long do you think is the average wait for a response to submissions to indie presses? A few days? A week? A month? Nope. Degna said waiting three to six months is perfectly normal. If you haven’t heard anything in a year, it’s unlikely your submission will be picked up but a few months is pretty typical.

Submitting to indie presses

There are loads of indie presses to choose from. In fact, Mslexia has just released a wonderful directory of UK indie presses that is an invaluable index of publishers, literary magazine and competitions. It’s gold dust for writers.

Anyway, the thing all four editors stressed was to target the publishers that match your style or genre of work. Spamming every indie press you find will not work: think about what you have to offer, which publishers it will suit and target them.

Indie presses all have different submission criteria so make sure you check each one before sending off your work. AND MAKE SURE YOU COMPLY. This was the biggest bugbear for the editors – if you don’t comply with what they’ve asked for, they’re unlikely to take your submission any further. They’ll also have doubts about your professionalism and ability to follow instruction, which doesn’t bode well for the editing stage.

Publishers are typically looking for a covering letter explaining a bit about you and your work, and three chapters of prose or five/six poems. Their key tips for submissions were:

  • Check and comply with the submission guidelines
  • Send proofed, professional content that’s appropriate for the press in question
  • Tailor your covering letter to the press – generic ones can be spotted a mile off as can bulk emails
  • Don’t ask to submit – just do it (as long as you follow the tips above!)

It may not be much of a consolation but Degna did say that editors find it hard to reject work they know is good but they can’t take at that time. She prefers to view it as returning rather than rejecting work. Remember that if things get tough.

Relationships with indie presses

There are various business models for indie presses. Some of them are vanity publishers (ie they will publish anything an author pays them to); some ask authors to contribute to the investment costs of publishing the book and then share the royalties with them; others adopt a more traditional approach of offering an author a paid deal to publish their book.

Make sure you’re clear about what you want from an indie press and what you’re signing up for if you do get a deal.

Be prepared to get involved in the marketing of your book whatever deal you agree. Indie presses don’t have the sales and marketing clout of the bigger names so rely on authors selling and marketing books, too.

Literary agents aren’t as prolific in the independent world as they are in the big league. Ed said that submissions to Myrmidon Books are split equally between overseas publishers, authors with agents and authors without representation. In fact, he was pretty critical of the quality of submissions offered by agents, preferring instead the work he’d seen directly from authors. Others disagreed, claiming agents can work well for many authors, so I came away thinking it’s best to find what works for you and your type of writing.

While the large publishers are increasingly offering open submission opportunities or taking writers from the slush pile, indie presses remain the community in which to nurture writing talent. They are the ideal place to find your feet as a writer and work with people who are exceptionally passionate about getting good work on the market.

So, if you’re trying to get published, looking for opportunities to get your work in print or trying to make connections in the industry, find the indie presses that support your niche. They’ll be one (or two or three) out there and they’ll be as passionate about your genre as you are.


4 thoughts on “Working with indie presses

  1. Agree, good summary. But we DIDN’T say don’t send a stamped addressed envelope, that was Ed who was saying he only responded if he wanted to publish. Most indies which take submissions by post, Bloodaxe included (post only), do require an s.a.e. If you DON’T include an s.a.e., you won’t get a response from Bloodaxe.

    But the key point, emphasised by all of us, was to check website instructions for submissions, which are different for everyone. Some presses take submissions by post only, some by email only, some only in specified submission periods.

  2. […] met five editors of indie presses this month and got loads of information about how to work with an independent publisher. It was a brilliant insight into what indie presses are looking for, as well as an opportunity to […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *