Then two things happened in close succession. In my email inbox I received one of my monthly #LoveOzYA newsletters (sign up here if you haven’t already!) which featured a book from small publisher Pantera Press. And via my website, I was contacted by Elizabeth Foster, offering an ARC to review her debut Esme’s Wish, which was published by Odyssey Books. I knew next to nothing about either publisher, but a quick google led me to other small publishers in Australia, as well as information about who ran them and how respectable and/or successful they were.
Shortly after, I began my interview series, and amongst my other questions, I began to ask people’s thoughts on small publishers. I learnt that many have distributing partnerships with other publishers to get them into stores across the country, and book buyers pay more attention to the author, content and marketing than the logo attached to a book. Teachers choose their texts based on what will suit their lesson outcomes and student cohort, rarely noticing who the publisher is, but because they buy from bookshops rather than amazon, national distribution is a must. Small publishers could offer what self-publishing made extremely difficult. Plus, most small publishers take submissions from writers without an agent.
I didn't submit everywhere. But Ford Street was top of my list quite early on. Because Paul only publishes children's and YA, I was confident that he knew my market and had contacts that would be helpful to me. Previous Ford St publications included a number of authors I recognised, including YA great Isobelle Carmody. The name "Ford St" came up in one of my earliest interviews, with school librarian Sue.
There are some significant pros to signing with a small publisher. Regardless of how big the publisher, their marketing budget is very rarely spent on newbie authors and you're expected to do a lot of the hard yards in creating publicity yourself, no matter who takes you on. But Paul was clear about this from the start and upfront about what he could do for me, as well as sharing suggestions of what I could spend my own time on to increase my visibility. Having published dozens of children's books himself, he's familiar with both sides of the process, and he's always been more than happy to share his wisdom with me.
Paul is very responsive to emails (regardless of what time of day they're sent!) and because he only publishes a handful of titles a year, I have the sense that I get a much larger proportion of his attention than I might have with a publishing rep from a larger house. As I'd expected, he has many connections to schools, libraries and book clubs, as well as contacts with reviewers and magazines. He remained part of the conversation with my editors, and forwarded my thoughts to the cover designer all throughout the process, which, as the recent Terry Goodkind drama shows, is not necessarily a given!
But there are some aspects I've found a little frustrating, too. TTWCU has some controversial content, and Paul's experience of selling to schools and school librarians meant that he was cautious about the things that might set off warning bells to the "gatekeepers". At times we were constrained by "rules" that perhaps are more malleable for larger, better known publishers whose books will sell regardless of what Catholic schools are willing to buy. In the end this meant I had to compromise on things like how much was revealed on the blurb, which swear words got censored, and whether to include information like trigger warnings. All in all, these were only a small part of the process, and my experience of working with a small publisher has been a positive one. I wouldn't hesitate to do it again, or to recommend it to other writers.