Pros and Cons of Small Presses

Açedrex PublishingGuest blogger: Jessica Knauss (@JessicaKnauss)

As a writer and hopeful published-author-to-be, you have probably noticed the scores of tiny publishing houses cropping up in the new, bewildering publishing climate. Often created from virtually nothing by people with a particular passion, these small presses should not be ignored when considering your options. The following comments are based on my personal experience “on the inside.”

 

Advantageous characteristics of a smaller press can include:

• Welcoming. Debut authors tend to get an unbiased reception.

• Quick. A small staff can mean less bureaucracy and an easier decision process.

• Dedicated. They will take an unknown author’s manuscript seriously and invest time and resources in its success if they believe in it enough to publish it.

• Dynamic. Smaller presses can adopt new techniques and adapt to new technologies much more quickly.

• Collaborative. It is likely that you, as the author, will have some say in the design of your book and its cover and possibly even release dates.

• Creative. Small presses interested in their authors’ welfare and their own future will work with you to implement effective, low-cost marketing solutions and make the most of whatever resources are available.

These advantages come with the pride of releasing your book with a “gatekeeper” publisher instead of risking the stigma of self-publishing. Even if readers don’t care who published the book they’re reading, most authors still do. Both debut and mid-career authors should keep these benefits in mind if they are not contractually obligated to submit to a large publisher.

Disadvantages of working with a small press:

• They may lack a large publicity and marketing budget.

• They usually pay little or no advances, and their royalty rates may be lower than those of larger publishers.

• You may have to take a primary role in proofreading your work or provide other grassroots types of help.

• Having fewer staff means that any personnel changes could be catastrophic to your project.

• They may not have the same level of distribution as larger houses.

You can overcome these disadvantages if you’re willing to work hard and get a little help from your friends.

What to look for before submitting to a small press:

• Does the press accept your type of book?

• Do you like the cover artwork of their previous books?

• Is the press’s distribution comprehensive enough for your needs? Will your book be published worldwide, or only in certain countries?

• Do the proposed royalties seem fair?

• You may also wish to contact the published authors and ask them about their experience with the small press you’re considering.

Please note: if any publisher ever asks you for money for a service other than copies of your completed, printed book, run away and don’t look back. A reputable publisher may ask you to have your book edited by a third party, but agreeing to subsidize any portion of the process directly with the publisher could sink you into a situation you won’t easily get out of.

If all of the above checks out, follow the submission guidelines and send your best work. They’ll thank you for it!

***

Jessica Knauss worked as an editor at Fireship Press for two years. She founded and runs the bilingual Açedrex Publishing. Later this year, a new venture with other talented people from the small press world, Loose Leaves Publishing, will release its first book. She maintains a writing and book review blog at jessicaknauss.blogspot.com and is considering submitting her historical novel to small presses.

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!

43 Comments

  1. Richard Davison on August 24, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    This is really great information. May thanks.



  2. file small claims on November 15, 2012 at 8:50 PM

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  5. Will Entrekin on August 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM

    Do you have citations for the claims you’re making? While several ring true (e.g., smaller distribution), a couple stand out. For example: while many small presses pay either a small advance or none at all, many make up for that by offering substantially higher advances than corporations might. I direct a nano-press that, I believe, offers industry-leading royalties (80%), but I don’t believe that higher royalties are uncommon. I’m pretty sure a lot of digital-only publishers are offering 50% or more. I’m thinking of Carina, Samhain, and dozens of others.



  6. Sam Covell on August 15, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Great post. Good to know info that I had not thought about. Thanks!



  7. Seymour Hamilton on August 15, 2012 at 9:33 AM

    Bang on, Jessica. A fair-minded evaluation. You could have added that whereas many big-press publishers have little more than a pecuniary business relationship with their authors (and vice versa), in the world of small presses, there is often a personal bond of friendship between authors and publishers that confers the sense of working together in a shared enterprise. It seems to me that the latter is what writing and publishing should be and do.



  8. Vanesa on August 14, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Hi,

    I wanted to thank you for your post about small presses, however, I am published with a small press and it was the best experience I could ever endure.

    My editor was an editor with Bloomsbury before she went to Entangled. I got to have my cover changed until it matched the way I wanted it to look on my book. Another thing the royalties, the small presses give you 40% on e-books sold, and 10% on the print ones sold. The small presses are now making their way into the bookstores. Some presses such as Soho press can give an author up to $1000 in advance and some do accept agented submissions. Also depending on the press, they will give the author up to 20 print copies of their book.



  9. kathryn Magendie on August 13, 2012 at 4:17 PM

    I love my small press publishers – Bellebooks/Bell Bridge books has been around for many years, and has a group of strong southern women at its helm.

    They’ve been wonderful – I am paid a small advance and my royalty rates are comparable or the same as the big publishing houses. They also saw the “ebook explosion” coming early on and it’s helped their business and my book sales.



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  11. Stephanie M. on August 11, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    My book has been picked up by Attica Books and I couldn’t be happier. They are professional, competent and very enthusiastic about my book (something sorely lacking from Big 6). I had my doubts when my agent submitted to a small press, but it’s turned out to be a great experience for a newbie like me 🙂



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  13. Jessica Knauss on August 10, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    Thanks to everyone who posted about their experiences. Glad my guest blog was useful!



  14. Trish Nicholson on August 9, 2012 at 11:25 PM

    A great post Jessica, you cover just about everything. In my experience, though, especially for epublishing, small presses tend to pay far more generous royalties than the big boys, not the other way round. Good luck to everyone here with their MSs.



  15. Peter DeHaan on August 9, 2012 at 10:37 PM

    Thanks for a concise overview of the pros and cons of going with a small press. This is most helpful.

    (I wish you the best in publishing your book.)



  16. Cherry Odelberg on August 9, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    Thank you, this is good food for thought.



  17. April Kempler on August 9, 2012 at 7:11 PM

    Spot on with this article! I recently signed with a small press and found it to be a very enjoyable experience so far. I am also in the midst of the editing process, slow but steady, and look forward to a release later in the year.



  18. Alyson Burdette on August 9, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    I’m published with a small press and it’s been a great experience. The turn around was much faster (less than a year from signing the contract to release) then I would have got with a big name publisher and I’ve learned a lot about publishing in the process. My press has been very supportive and kind to me. Authors using small presses have to be extra careful, though. There are a lot of scammers and bad guys in the small press world. It’s important to research any publisher before sending your work there.



  19. Charlotte Rains Dixon on August 9, 2012 at 1:38 PM

    Great info, Jessica. My novel will be released from a small press next year. I’m currently going through the editing process and everything has been positive so far!



  20. Christine Linday on August 9, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Thanks for posting this. Yes, there are definately pros and cons to working with a small press. I have found my experience with WhiteFire Publishing to be great in the entire list of pros. But like you say, it’s hard to get the promotion and marketing needed.



  21. Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts on August 9, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Great post, Jessica. Thank you. I have looked at a couple of small presses that seem to be legitimate. One is World Weaver Press, which says upfront that it doesn’t pay advances, only royalties. Then its website goes into detail about exactly how they calculate royalties. I wonder if anyone here has had any experience with them or has heard anything, good or bad about them.

    Your list of pros and cons is excellent. You’ve brought up some good reasons to go with a small press. Marketing is an important consideration on the con side, but at the same time, if the small press is personally invested in helping an author succeed, that might be worth more than going with a major publisher who might consider a debut author too unimportant to put much energy into promoting. And as Ruth pointed out, no matter who publishes a writer, a great deal of the promotion and marketing now falls to the writer.

    The thing that makes me shiver in my boots about going with a small press is what you said about personnel changes. This is a potential nightmare: to sign with a small publisher who then has personnel changes and shelves your unpublished book indefinitely. That, to me, is worse than not getting a publishing contract. As long as you don’t have a contract, you can decided when you’ve waited long enough and then self-publish, but if you are under contract and your manuscript is in limbo…. 🙁



  22. Ruth Chambers on August 9, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Informative blog, Jessica. I prefer publishing with a small press. Mercury House published my first novel, and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. Granted, there are no big advances, huge marketing budgets, etc., but the one-on-one help was invaluable. The ego boost was worth more to me than a big advance because they were sincere in valuing my book. And regardless of your publisher, you will end up doing a lot of the marketing yourself anyway. Thanks for sharing.



  23. Joan Cimyotte on August 9, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    Thanks for the information, Jessica! It’s something to research.



  24. Adrian W. on August 9, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Thanks for the awesome tips, Jessica!

    It’s funny how a lot of the pros and cons of big and small presses line up with the pros and cons of big and small churches. =)



  25. Anthony Renfro on August 9, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    I have my first book in the reading process with a local small publisher.

    Only complaint so far is their response time.

    I look at it this way though, this is as close as I have ever been at any kind of true publication. I will gladly wait.



    • Jessica Knauss on August 10, 2012 at 12:11 PM

      I think most authors find that waiting is an integral part of the publishing process. Hang in there!



  26. gabe on August 9, 2012 at 10:50 AM

    Because of my experiences with a small press, I’d be quite cautious. Contact other authors published by them and get advice before you sign a contract.



    • Jessica Knauss on August 10, 2012 at 12:10 PM

      Absolutely right. Always do your homework, no matter the size of the press.



  27. Jan Cline on August 9, 2012 at 10:29 AM

    Ah, this is a very timely post for me. I have just discovered a small press here in my city. He publishes traditionally and also has a self pub division. As director of a small writers conference, I have trouble acquiring a big publisher to come to my event. I’m looking into having the smaller presses come. This post will help me educate my attendees about small presses. I think this is just part of the wave of change happening in the pub world. I will definitely consider it for my own writing.
    Jan



  28. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on August 9, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    What is the definition of a small press? I just realized that I was thinking about something I really know nothing about.

    Which is not unusual for me, I guess.

    But please, give me a tidbit that I can toss to that hard-working hamster…



    • Jessica Knauss on August 10, 2012 at 12:10 PM

      The presses I’m thinking of here employ between two and twenty people and have a specialized list, but as we get deeper into this brave new world of publishing, we’ll see more and more variations on the theme. Approach with caution, but do approach.



  29. Zan Marie on August 9, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    I received a vanity press offer after submitting to the legitimate part of the company. I ran the other way very fast.



  30. Joe Pote on August 9, 2012 at 8:14 AM

    Thank you, Jessica, for the information on small presses.

    It’s nice to learn more about this option.



  31. Michael Seese on August 9, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    I second the part about “not paying.” I had submitted a book to a small publisher months ago, and just got the following in a letter:

    “I receive hundreds of these per year and have decided to offer you a few options regarding publishing with us.”

    “I have been asked for phone consulting from authors on book publishing (print or E-book), marketing, printing, disctribution, discounts, distributors, publicity, fulfillment, mailings and dozens of other needs of small publishers and self-published authors. I am willing to spend one session with you on any subject or needs you may have on publishing for a flat $195 minimum for the first hour, and $40 per one quarter hour (charged in fifteen minute increments) after the first hour. Call for an appointment with your credit card. Limited time available so book early.”

    And, like a good scam, HURRY!

    “Our publishing, marketing and distribution agreements are done only with twethy-five authors per year. So if you want to find out how that all works, schedule a consultation.”

    There are so many things I could say:

    – “I don’t need to consult about any of those topics. Just publish and distribute my books, and send the checks to the address of record.”
    – “I don’t have my credit card handy. Why don’t you take the $195 out of my advance?”

    Of course, I won’t waste my time. But if he sends me an email, I will reply with, “I appreciate your offer. But I’m not in the market for a vanity publisher. But if I ever am, I will think of you.”



    • Joe Pote on August 9, 2012 at 8:13 AM

      I made the mistake, early-on, of asking for information from what turned out to be a vanity press.

      Now, I receive about a dozen e-mails a week from them…furtunately they all go straight to my SPAM folder!



      • Michael Seese on August 9, 2012 at 6:40 PM

        Joe (and all) —

        Here is what I’d suggest you do…

        1. Collect all of the email addresses from all of the vanity presses, save for one.
        2. Go to THAT (one) press’s website.
        3. Find the “send me more info” button, or whatever it is.
        4. Add each of the remaining vanity press emails.
        5. Repeat for all of them.

        🙂



        • Joe Pote on August 9, 2012 at 6:45 PM

          Hah! Great idea! 🙂

          Not that I’d actually do it, but a funny idea, nonetheless…



  32. Jeanne on August 9, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Jessica, I haven’t heard much about small press publishers. Your list of pros, cons and considerations are helpful. Thanks for sharing your experience! 🙂 You’ve given me some good food for thought.



  33. EnnisP on August 9, 2012 at 6:29 AM

    Great post. Hadn’t thought about small publishers but it seems a good idea for newbies who are hesitant to go the self or vanity publishing routes (me).



  34. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser on August 9, 2012 at 4:49 AM

    One thing you might do to check out the distribution side of a small press is to ask an independent bookstore if they stock that publisher’s books. Most buyers are happy to speak – briefly – with new authors, as long as your conversation isn’t a commercial. Some publishers can’t meet an indie’s stocking requirements – and that may signal the need for a bit more research.

    The store you approach should be a large and stable one (Chaucer’s, in Santa Barbara CA, or Haslam’s in St. Petersburg FL are examples).



  35. Nancy S. Thompson on August 9, 2012 at 3:04 AM

    I signed with a small new press and I’ve been nothing but happy and satisfied with my experience. Sure, there are limitations, but they are far outweighed by the advantages. As for your list, I’ve experienced all of your pros, but very few of your cons. It’s all good!



    • Richard Davison on August 17, 2012 at 3:08 AM

      I like your comments and would like to know with whom you Published. Thanks.



  36. Iola on August 9, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    Thank you. This is useful information – especially the last, which is the difference between a professional small press and an unprofessional vanity press.