Nowadays there are many options out there for getting something in print. Some of them are for digital publications only, while others cover various media (including videos). As someone builds a reputation, more options become available to him, and the possibility of getting published in one of the more recognizable names becomes more tangible. After all, what better way to promote one’s work than an established channel, right?
Well, things may be more complicated than they appear on the surface. The publication process involves four main stages, getting a contract going, producing the book, promoting the book, and then collecting royalties based on the sales. A bigger publisher is bound to be adept at the 3rd stage, since it has well-established channels for promoting its authors, but it can screw you over in the other 3 stages. A smaller publisher may require some help promoting your book, but it’s not anything excessive (as in the case of self-publishing). Let’s look at how the 3 stages where the big publishers fall behind are, in more detail.
The first stage takes a while. While a small publisher may be fairly straight-forward about it, a larger publishing house may take its sweet time to settle on an agreement about a title. You are basically expected to do all the work for them, including market research, and prove to them beyond a shadow of doubt that the book you are going to author is going to be successful. When I was experimenting with a big publisher, this took about a month.
The second stage is torture. A bigger publisher has a big reputation to uphold, so it’s not going to take any risks. Every milestone of the book-writing project is meticulously monitored. Regular meetings with a member of the production team are not uncommon. Although these may be helpful in some cases, the whole thing feels more like a full-time job. Eventually, you may come to see the whole project as a drag. Being with a small publisher doesn't have this much bureaucracy, while the project remains a creative endeavor to a large extent. Also, changes in the outline are permissible.
The fourth stage is also a bit strange. Although I haven’t reached that stage with a big publisher, it is quite clear from the contract that the royalties are not going to be that much (a typical commission is about 12%), while the book may be bundled with other titles, for marketing purposes. Being with a smaller publisher usually guarantees a higher royalties percentage, while you may have a say on how the book is sold (you may even create events to promote and sell your book, with the publisher’s support).
Also, a larger publisher may choose to discontinue the book production process at any time, effectively breaching your contract. Although you could theoretically take legal action against them, it is usually not worth the effort, since the costs involved make the whole process pointless. Besides, would you be willing to finish a project with a company that has openly tried to stop it? Smaller publishers are more honorable in that respect and develop wholesome relationships with their authors.
Finally, with the data science field changing so rapidly, publishers may be quite cautious about what book-writing projects they undertake. So, a larger publisher is bound to go with the safer options, producing books that are on more or less mainstream topics. If you have a different topic in mind, or a different angle for a topic, then too bad. Smaller publishers are more willing to take risks in that respect.
Of course, that’s not to say that all small publishers are great. There are small publishers that are a total waste of time. However, if you do your research, you can find a small publisher that makes sense for your book project. For me that publisher was (and still is) Technics Publications. What would yours be?
Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.