Home » Paths to Publishing 2 | Small Presses (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Paths to Publishing - Small Press

Paths to Publishing 2 | Small Presses (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Last week I talked about traditional publishing, specifically discussing large publishers. This week I’m looking at another area of traditional publishing: the small press.

Small presses and micropresses follow the same business principles as the major traditional publishers. Small presses take on the full financial responsibility for publishing and distributing the book, although you’re less likely to see their books on the shelf at your local store, or in your library.

Many will accept direct submissions from authors.

Few small presses pay advances, but all pay royalties. As with trade publishers, reputable small presses don’t charge you for publishing or require any compulsory book purchases (if they do, they’re a vanity press, which we’ll get to in a later post).

Paths to Publishing: Small Press | The potential problem with small presses is that they are often less experienced publishers, which can impact on quality. #WriteTip #PubTip Click To Tweet

The main differences between a larger publisher and a small press are:

Small presses are more likely to be owned by individuals.

Trade publishers are often owned by multinational corporations or churches (in the Christian arena). This means the person you are dealing with in a small press has an actual stake in the success of your book.

Small presses will have a smaller team

The owner may well be the acquisitions editor, the structural editor, the line editor, the copy editor, the proofreader, the formatter, the cover designer, and the sales and marketing department. This has advantages and disadvantages: it means the person you’re dealing with is the one with the power to make decisions, but it may mean the publisher becomes stretched too thin, or are undertaking roles they aren’t suited for.

A small press is less likely to pay advances.

However, they often pay higher royalties than the major publishers, especially for digital sales (although it can be argued a higher royalty rate is only useful if the book is selling).

Small presses may offer digital-only or digital-first contracts.

This means only books with a high enough ebook sales record will get printed and distributed. Alternatively, they may sell paperback copies through a print-on-demand service such as IngramSpark rather than printing and distributing stock (because printing and warehousing costs money).

Small presses may not distribute to bookstores.

This is a factor of cost: books are distributed to bookstores on a sale-or-return basis, and a small business may not have the financial backing to make in-store sales financially viable.

Advantages of a Small Press

Most small presses accept unsolicited submissions from unagented writers.

However, just because you can submit doesn’t mean you should. I find many small presses produce books with bad writing, amateur covers, insufficient editing, and little or no marketing support. You might be better off self-publishing (or not publishing) rather than submitting to a bad small press.

Here are some suggestions of what to look for before submitting to a small press:

A good small press will operate in a niche (e.g. Christian romance)

They can’t be all things to all people, and they don’t try.

Cover art will be professional, and reflect the specific genre.

While their cover art won’t reach the standard of the best Big Five publishers, it will be as good as the cover art of the best indie publishers. Readers do judge books by their covers, and many of the small presses (unfortunately) feature cover art best described as average.

The writing and the editing should be excellent.

I often find the copyediting is solid, in that there are few or no typographical errors, but there are fundamental writing issues (e.g. headhopping, or telling not showing). Mistakes like these show the publisher or their editors lack an understanding of the essentials of good fiction. Small presses who produce excellent non-fiction may well be lacking in the necessary skills to produce excellent fiction—and vice-versa.

Books are available in major online stores.

However, books may not be available in physical bookstores, especially if the small press utilises a digital-first or digital-only model to control costs.

Prices are competitive for both ebooks and paperbacks.

Readers are unlikely to pay more than USD 5.99 for the ebook version of a full-length novel (80,000–90,000 words) from an unknown author or publisher. Paperbacks should retail at USD 12.99—USD 15.99 to be competitive with the major publishers.

What next?

Once you are confident the small press has the high standards your book deserves, make sure your book shines. To employ a cliché, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you don’t want to waste that chance on a manuscript that has issues you didn’t fix because you didn’t know they were issues.

Paths to Publishing 2 - the Small Press | Advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a small press #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #PupTip Click To Tweet

There are an increasing number of small presses and micropresses publishing Christian fiction. To receive a current list, click here and sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Next week I’ll be looking at self-publishing and hybrid authors (authors who trade publish and self-publish).

Meanwhile, what questions do you have about small presses? What advice do you have to share?

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:
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  1. As always, Iola, this is wonderful information. Solid and helpful. I can’t wait until I have full-length books to be able to use this. I think I’m leaning toward small presses for my memoir about attending college as a mother of five. I’ve signed up for your newsletter.

    I’ve ear-marked the post and shared it online. Thanks for all you do to assist your fellow writer.

  2. Adam says:

    Very thorough analysis.
    As with all things, it’s a matter of deciding what pros matter the most, and what cons don’t trouble one.
    I think your point about quality is particularly noteworthy. As you say, many small publishers feature a few key players fulfilling many roles.
    In some ways it strikes me that whether it’s submitting to a large publishing house, a smaller one, or self publishing, the author still has to do a comparable amount of work. Granted, self-publishing is a lot easier if one’s goal is publishing, but if a story is not of a high enough quality to warrant publishing at one of the big venues (setting aside the many factors besides quality that can prompt a rejection), then self-publishing may not be the way either.
    Definitely interesting stuff.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Iola says:

      Thanks, Adam. Yes, no matter which path to publishing an author chooses, they’re still going to have to do a lot of work. There is no easy path.

  3. I had no idea that churches owned small presses. How interesting. One thing that’s interesting to me is reading the Publisher’s Marketplace emails, because I see smaller presses being rolled up into larger ones, and I suspect that as with e-startups who start-up with the express goal of being bought out, some small presses have this plan built into their business model from the get-go.

    • Iola says:

      There are some big churches out there!

      I’d never thought of being bought as a business model in publishing, but it does make sense in this digital age. I guess it’s good for the owners – but it’s a shame it might not be so good for the authors.

  4. I’ve been published by a small press for over ten years. I’m happy with them, but all the cons you mentioned are in effect. The pros are too. Another thing that I’ve found with a small press is that the editor you work with can change pretty often.
    I’ve also been published by THREE other small presses that closed their doors. They do tend to go out of business fairly often, so I would also look at how long they’ve been in business. Excellent post.

    Susan Says

    • Iola says:

      Thank you! I’m a freelance editor, and I like being able to work with repeat clients. As an author, it would certainly bug me if each book had a different editor.

    • Iola says:

      That is the other problem with small presses, especially those that are owner-operated. If the owner decides to step down, the authors are left without a publishing home.

  5. I’ve published with a NY publisher, a small press, and am now indie. I agree that both the big and small presses can do things an indie can’t, but my concern is you’re only important to them the month your book is released. While an indie can re-edit, buy new covers and do continuous marketing (I’m still marketing a 14 year old book), publishing houses want new works all the time.
    That said, there are some writers who only want the traditional publishing experience, and a small press is a foot in the door.

    • Iola says:

      Thanks – that’s a good point. A traditional publisher (large or small) always has their eye on the next project, and they do occasionally drop the ball. That affects the author’s sales, but there’s nothing they can do about it. You can put your marketing effort where you think it’s going to get you the most bang … which may well be an older book.

    • Iola says:

      The good small presses are an excellent option. Unfortunately, I suspect there are a lot more not-good small presses than good and excellent (at least, based on the small press books I’ve read in the Christian genre).

  6. Louise says:

    I didn’t know book stores operated on a sell or return basis! Good information to know, and I look forward to your self-publishing post next week as that’s what I hope to do 🙂

  7. I’m published through a small press and I love it. I don’t think i’d do well with the pressure of living up to the large advance often awarded by a large press, and I have no sense for business, so indie publishing is not for me, but the press I’m with is a good fit. It’s an excellent experience.

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