More and more that's something I'm hearing writers say - their ms has been accepted by an exciting new small press. They're not asking money up front like a vanity publisher. So this is fantastic! Isn't it?
We are at a time when the publishing industry is catching up much of the rest of the world in realising that aggregation and merger are outmoded business models, and small, independent and flexible are the way forward. This is creating fantastic opportunities for new small presses. But, like all booms and bubbles, 95% of these new presses will fail, and do so quickly - through plain natural selection (in many cases, where they have not thought out a new business model that isn't successful/lucky, the issue will simply be - as always - undercapitalisation).
The future failure of so many new presses creates a very real problem that writers need to be aware of - when the business goes bust, their book (or the rights thereto) will be one of that business' assets - the chances of the author getting their rights back in a hurry are minimal (and the assurances of the lovely people who run the press are irrelevant - once they're wound up it's not up to them, it's up to the banks)
It's so early that we really don't know who the charlatans and incompetents are, and who will emerge victorious, so all we can do if considering a new small press is be as savvy as we possibly can. I would recommend considering the following checklist of questions:
1. There are many many more books than shelf slots. You may have experienced rejection after rejection. If someone approaches you it's flattering, but PLEAS, be self-aware enough to ask why. Have they really spotted what everyone else missed? Quite possiblyso, but almost certainly not.
2. Following on, if I were approached, i would want to a. make sure the contract protected my rights so they reverted to me in certain timeframes/scenarios and b. look at their business plan. You should, of course, discuss the publisher's business plan before signing even if they're HC, but in cases like this I'd want forecasts and figures, and if I didn't feel confident analysing them, and didn't have a manager/accountant to do it for me, I'd walk away.
3. Remember that submission followed by instant acceptance can amount to the same thing as being approached directly - like a cynical, jaded lover ask yourself, and them "why so keen?"
4. Always always always go to sites like Writer Beware and Absolute Write. DO remember that negative feedback can be as unreliable as positive, but consider any comments.
5. Use google - for two reasons - to find out what people are saying about them that may affect your decision, and to see just how wide their web footprint is
6. Consider approaching a reputable independent editor like Maria Schneider or Nicola Morgan. Ask them if they consider your book shelf-worthy, and if they say no, think carefully.
7. It's hard in a global age, but meet these people if you possibly can. This is a people business, and as a writer your instincts about people aer probably fairly good.
8. This should be obvious, but it may not be - ask to see the other books they're publishing. For new presses there may not be any on the shelves - ask to see the mss. Consider the following factors - 1. Does your book fit alongside these? It would be pointless, for example, for me to have The Man Who Painted Agnieszka's Shoes published by DIIArts - it just doesn't fit with their other books, and would get lost amongst them. It would fit very nicely in the portfolio of To Hell With Publishing, though - if a press is REALLY new, you need to talk serious turkey with them on this - it may be too early to tell what the feel of the press is (their website's "look" will tell you a lot, though - take a look at www.moxiemezcal.com for example - I KNOW my book would fit there) 2. Are the books any good? I would never really feel comfortable joining a group where I wasn't the weakest member (at Year Zero, I've got very lucky - because I do the tech donkeywork they let me hang out and put my writing up), but I do have a Groucho Marx approach - if they're right for me because it's such a strong portfolio, why would they think I'm right for them.
9. If you still like the idea, ask yourself: could I do what they're doing myself and would I want to? That doesn't mean, for example, "could you edit your own book?" You couldn't. It means "could you find an editor suitable and work with them?"
For me, number 9 is the one that clinched it. I know I can do as good a job as anyone I've come across for my particular brand of weirded out underbelly scuzz. And I love doing it. I REALLY love it.