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Small Publisher or Work on My Platform & Hold Out for the Majors?

What would you do in her shoes? Today I received an e-mail from a client asking me “writing coach” advice. I’ve changed a few details to protect her anonymity. It’s the kind of question you might be asking yourself, even if you don’t have a publisher yet.

“Lisa, I was offered a “direct” publishing contract for my book by a small independent publisher.  They were very excited about the book…(came to me through a friend) and though they don’t do a lot in my genre, they want to use my book to break into this market.

“They offered me a very small author’s advance ($16K).  My agent advised that I turn them down…and work to build my platform [national audience, mailing list, reach]– then go to a bigger, brand name publisher, where I might get better attention and more money.

“What do you think?  I’m torn…would love to get the book published and ‘out there’ … but also like the idea of getting a better known publisher behind me…even though this will take more time and effort on my part.”

My answer isn’t cut and dry.  Is $16K a bad advance? Not for a first book. In fact, a typical advance for a first book is around $3K – $4K. Could this author get a bigger advance? Yes. Is it worth waiting? Maybe. Let’s look at the issues: effort, money, timing.

Effort: Either way, she’ll need to build her platform– before or after the book deal–if she wants to sell books.  So the platform will need to be built. That effort remains equal.

In terms of effort to get books into bookstores, she needs to get a better sense of the sales force and past performance of this publisher. How big a run are they planning? How effective is their sales force? To whom does the sales force sell? Is it a match? If not, this author may have to spend alot of time trying to get her books in stores.

In terms of publicity, she can probably expect to expend equal effort with either publisher, but she shouldn’t assume that. She should ask the small press what they would do. Perhaps, if they want to get into this market, they’re willing to do more publicity than average.

Money: Yes, she could make more money with a big publisher, certainly in the short run with her advance.

Timing: Does she want to have the book out within a year? Will it help her reach other current goals, such more public speaking, more consulting clients? If so, the small press might be a good bet.

But if she wants to have a bestseller, she probably needs to focus on building her platform before the book comes out. Of course, even if she signs a contract today with the small press, she has some time before publishing to focus on building her platform. Yet the waiting strategy would probably provide time for a bigger, more solid platform.

What would you do in her shoes?

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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