“What traditional publishers still don’t get is this: People in the publishing industry see traditional publishing as validation; Readers want good books and don’t care who publishes them. Once traditional publishers figure that out—deep in their bones—they’ll start offering successful indie writers better deals. But don’t hold your breath. The music industry is nearly 20 years ahead of us, and they still don’t get this.”—Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “The Business Rusch: Hurry up. Wait.” (June 13, 2012)
If you’re looking for prestige, and the respect of a few hundred PhDs who will dutifully pretend to have read your book, a university press might be right for you. If you’re looking for money, and a wider distribution, a mainstream press might be right for you. But if you’re not motivated by a desire for money or prestige, if you write, first and foremost, because you want to get your ideas out there, I can’t recommend either of these options. If you’re looking for intelligent readers, and you want to maintain creative control over your manuscript, I heartily recommend that you create your book with PressBooks and publish it with Create$pace.
Mainstream publishing isn’t what it once was: profit margins have been shrinking for at least a generation, many of the smaller players have been forced to close their doors, and those that remain are strapped for cash. Publishers are, as a consequence, far less likely than they once were to take a risk on a new writer or a genre-defying book. If you can manage to pique their interest, be forewarned: they’ll want to purge your manuscript of everything idiosyncratic before publication—viz., they’ll want it to look like everything else. For instance, after reviewing the manuscript that became Blue Notes (2014), one publisher—a Canadian, Montreal-based publisher!—told me that it was just “too Montreal” to publish. He liked it a great deal, but didn’t think he could “market” something that was so obviously rooted in “a second-rate city”. Apparently the only stories worth telling are those that take place in New York. Regardless, even if they do eventually publish your book, they won’t spend a penny promoting it.
Although the compromises required by a mainstream press are often soul crushing, at least they’re done with a worthy (albeit misguided) goal in mind: namely, to make your book accessible to a wider audience. The same cannot be said, alas, of the compromises required by an academic press. Be forewarned: when the editors and referees are done with your little brainchild, it’ll be weighed down with a whole lot of ugly: specialized jargon that deliberately excludes the uninitiated; an absurdly long introduction that bores all but the most specialized readers to tears; pointlessly long discussions of “the academic literature”; and ridiculously long footnotes. When the academic press is done with your beautiful baby, it’ll have a face “only a mother could love” (or a fellow academic specialist). Then again, maybe even you won’t love her when they’re done with her. Regardless, half the people that want your book in the ten years after it’s published by an academic press won’t be able to get their hands on it because it’ll be too expensive, out of print, sold out, lost, misplaced, or on back order.
I gave up after my third terrible experience with a publishing company—wherein they (1) ignored my explicitly stated wishes concerning the book’s color scheme and aesthetics, (2) changed the manuscript substantially without my consent, (3) introduced dozens and dozens of new errors into the final product (some of them quite embarrassing), and (4) retailed the book at twice the promised price. I decided, after this remarkably unpleasant experience, that conventional publishing wasn’t for me; I decided, as well, that it wasn’t a particularly effective way to get my ideas out there. I turned, instead, to social media, to Facebook, which—in this day and age—has the potential to bring writers and readers together far more effectively than newspapers, magazines, and books.
But then my friend Graeme Blake told me about this great new thing called Create$pace, and my friend Christopher Murtagh told me about this equally great thing called PressBooks. And I really can’t praise them enough. As an author, with Create$pace and PressBooks, you get complete control over your project: from the way it looks and sounds to the price it retails for. Your book will never be “unavailable” or “out of print” (for more than a few hours), and Amazon’s worldwide distribution network makes it possible for you to reach readers anywhere on Planet Earth. What’s more—and this is something only another author can truly appreciate—if you find a typo in your book after it’s published, fixing that typo on PressBooks and republishing the revised version via Create$pace takes less than 24 hours!
—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)