Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Importance of the Mission Statement in Small Press Publishing

A well-worded mission statement is a must-have for small press and independent publishers. It's important not only to editors, but to writers.

There are two angles to discuss when considering the importance of the mission statement in small press or independent publishing. First, the mission statement acts as a measuring stick by which unsolicited submissions can be judged by the publisher. Consequently, it is also the most valuable submission guideline a writer should review prior to submitting work to any publisher.

The Consistent Rubric

The greatest value of the mission statement for the publisher is that it is a consistent rubric, or "yardstick," for an editor to use when having to make decisions about unsolicited manuscripts. Regardless of whether or not a manuscript or submission is "good" writing, if it does not meet requirements as stated in the mission statement, the writing should be returned to the writer so that he or she can submit the work to another publisher. Although this is arguably important to all publishing companies, large and small, the small or independent press is often run by a skeleton crew of people who probably also have day jobs. It's exceptionally important that their "labor of love" publishing business run as efficiently and effortlessly as possible.

The Company Identity 

An additional benefit to the publisher is that having a finely-worded mission statement available on a Web site will also reduce the number of ill-suited manuscripts and submissions publishers will have to read, judge, and otherwise handle. It's important, then, that the publisher include in the mission statement two pieces of invaluable information: what exactly they want to publish, and what it is they do. Once this information is made available, the quality of writing a publisher receives will shift and change to better meet the needs of its readers. Once this happens, the identity of the company, as stated in the mission statement, is solidified.

The Window to the Publisher's Soul

For the writer, the mission statement of any given small or independent publishing company should be seen as the "window to its soul." The mission statement of any publisher should be reviewed as carefully as any of the other submission guidelines. For example, if a writer wants to publish chapbook of pastoral odes about Upper Michigan, he or she should not send the manuscript to a publisher whose mission statement reads, "We are publishers of regional Finnish and Polish recipes," whether or not they meet all of the other submission guidelines. Furthermore, a writer who has written a novella and wants to sell books internationally on a book tour should not submit the manuscript to a publisher whose mission statement reads, "We publish novellas in limited numbers for bookstores in the metro Atlanta area." Writers should always avoid the mistake of scatter-shot submissions and aim directly for publishers that can help them reach their intended audiences.

Although the advice here is simple, the benefits are numerous. All small press and independent publishers should have finely-worded mission statements published in prominent places on their Web sites. All writers wishing to be published by small press and independent publishers should carefully review the mission statement of any publisher prior to submitting work. In the end, it will help both writers and publishers work more efficiently to help put the right work into the hands of the right readers.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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