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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:
Paths to publishing - trade publishing

Paths to Publishing 1 | Trade Publishing

When new writers ask how to get published, they’re usually asking how to get published by a traditional royalty-paying publisher, one who will get their books in bookshops. What they often don’t know is there are other ways to publish—and there are “publishers” who prey on newbie writers.

It’s important for all writers to know and understand the main paths to publishing, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Over the next four weeks I’m going cover the four main paths to publishing:

1. Trade Publishing
2. Small Press Publishing
3. Self-Publishing
4. Vanity Publishing

Note that while these are all options, only three of them are options worth considering, and the “best” option will depend on your personal aims in writing and publishing. There is no one right answer for everyone. But there is one wrong answer!

Trade Publishing

Trade publishing is the official term for what can also be called traditional publishing, trad publishing, or legacy publishing. It’s what most people mean when they say “publishing”.

If you visit your local bookstore or library, most of the books you see on the shelves will have come through these big trade publishers, with names like HarperCollins, Penguin, Random House, or Simon & Schuster.

Most publishing houses have a range of imprints, each of which will target a different market.

For example, Harlequin, Love Inspired, Mills & Boon, Thomas Nelson and Zondervan are all imprints of HarperCollins.

Few trade publishers accept direct submissions from new authors, preferring to deal directly with literary agents. (Click here to read my post on how to find a Christian literary agent.) Authors are paid through advances and royalties, with a portion (usually 15%) of each payment going to their agent.

Under the trade publishing model, an author writes a book, and a publisher purchases the rights to publish and sell the book in specified formats (e.g. hardcover, paperback, digital, audiobook) and in specified locations (e.g. the United States and Canada, Australasia) in a specified language (e.g. English).

In return for the specified rights, the publisher will pay the author a royalty on the sale of each book. The royalty is expressed either as a percentage of the recommended retail price, or as a percentage of the actual selling price. Trade publishers may also pay an advance.

A publishing advance is similar to asking the boss for an advance.

It is an up-front payment which will be credited against future earnings (in this case, royalty payments). An author who gets an advance won’t get any other payments from the publisher until the book has sold enough copies that the royalties on the sold copies equal the advance payment made. In publishing terms, this means the advance has “earned out”.

For many Christian fiction authors, this is the publishing dream.

A contract from one of the major publishers, whether a Big Five imprint, or one of the major independent publishers operating exclusively within the Christian fiction market. These are probably are the publishers who publish your favourite Christian writers, authors like Irene Hannon, Karen Kingsbury, DiAnn Mills, James L Rubart or Susan May Warren.

These are the paperbacks you see in your local Christian bookstore, online at Amazon or Christian Book Distributors or Koorong, and in large print hardcover at your local library.

The big publishers publish four or more fiction titles a month. They have beautiful covers. The books are well written and well edited. The authors have pretty websites. Their Amazon pages are full of glowing reviews (often because the publishers have included an expensive blog tour as part of the book’s marketing package).

It’s easy to see why any Christian fiction author would want to be published with one of these companies. It’s a sign you’re a ‘real’ author; you’ve made it.

But there is a down side.

While these publishers produce four or more fiction titles a month, that’s only a tiny fraction of the manuscripts submitted to them. Most of their books will be from established authors. They may have as few as six slots in their annual publishing schedule for novels from a debut authors.

That means a lot of competition for those coveted publishing contracts, and a lot of pressure to deliver in order to win the next contract.

Next week, I’ll be back to look at small presses: trade publishers which don’t require an agent. In the meantime, what questions do you have about trade publishing?