Henry L. Herz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations
Let's first distinguish between the terms "independent" and "small" publishers.
“Independent publishers” (IPs) are publishers that are not part of a larger corporation (e.g., the Big Five).
“Small publishers” are defined in the 2007 Writer's Market as those that average fewer than ten titles per year. So, while all small publishers are independent, not all independent publishers are small.
Pelican Publishing, home of my first three picture books (Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes, When You Give an Imp a Penny and Little Red Cuttlefish), puts out about 60 titles a year. It's an independent publisher, but not a small publisher.
Having a book put out by a large publishing house, without question, offers some powerful advantages, including greater market reach, publishing industry relationships, more staff, and bigger budgets (and advances), than are often the case for smaller publishers. That said, there are significant benefits to working with independent publishers.
1. Access – Arguably the most important advantage of independent publishers is their relative ease of access. While most of the large publishers can only be queried via a literary agent, that restriction is rarely present with independent publishers. This makes independent publishers particularly appealing to newer writers who aren't represented by agents.
2. Relationships – independent publishers' smaller size tends to promote a closer relationship between the author and the independent publisher than may be possible with a large publisher. I feel comfortable contacting my editor and publicist at Pelican whenever it's necessary. This ease of interaction promotes a more pleasant working relationship.
4. Author's Efforts More Visible – This is the big fish in a small pond phenomenon. An individual author's promotional efforts and resulting sales are more visible and account for a larger percentage of sales at an independent publishers than at a large publisher.
5. More Flexible – Independent publishers, by their nature, and more flexible than large publishers. This can enable them to focus on niche or regional markets, and offer a home to a book that would not be considered by a large publisher. Independent publishers don't invest as much on a single book, and can thus more easily take calculated risks on innovative or unusual manuscripts.
6. Longer-Term Perspective – The philosophy of independent publishers is more aligned with a marathoner than with a sprinter. Slow and steady wins the race. Pelican keeps its books in print indefinitely.
7. Speed – Independent publishers can use their smaller size and greater flexibility to produce books faster than a large publisher. This was particularly true for my experience with Pelican, since I had complete artwork accompany my manuscripts (note: that is neither typical nor recommended for non-author-illustrators).
8. Stepping Stone – Independent publishers are quite capable of producing top notch books. A well-written and commercially successful book put out by an independent publisher may offer an effective stepping stone for authors' careers, including gaining access to literary agents and, with their help, larger opportunities.
Henry L. Herz's latest picture book is When You Give an Imp a Penny (Pelican, 2016).
Before you lend an imp a penny, there’s something you should know—such a simple act of generosity could set off a side-splitting chain of events!
A colorful picture book full of mythology, mischief, and magic, When You Give an Imp a Penny shows us just what happens when an accident-prone—but well-intentioned—imp comes along asking for favors!
The same writer/illustrator duo that brought you Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes brings to life a comedy of fabled proportions.
Find Henry at Facebook and @Nimpentoad at Twitter.