Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Why (Not) To Go for a Small Press When Publishing Your Book

When I was looking at all the different publishing options available upon publishing Just Perfect, there were so many things to consider that I thought my head might burst. If only someone could have told me which company was better than another, or, at least, which publishing branch was more reputable... Things would have been so much easier!

Well, of course it isn't at all so easy. Different publishing paths and publishing houses might be better suited for some authors than for others. It is for this reason that, earlier, I posted about how to choose YOUR path from the countless options available: Big Five, independent, or self-publishing. I also looked into the facts and figures of publishing either traditionally, independently or hybrid. Now I've decided to take another look at this complex decision, focusing specifically on the small press option.

However, before we dive in, what exactly is a small press? A small press is a press that is independently owned, meaning it is not part of a bigger conglomerate, as is the case with large publishing houses like the Big Five. You might be thinking, "why go for a small press if I could give Hachette or Random House a go first?"

Well, there are multiple reasons. Check out the below points to see whether the advantages of a small publishing house outweigh the disadvantages, but certainly don't forget to look at your own needs and priorities in making the decision. No one publishing method or company is better than another, but that does not mean one way might not be better suited to you than another. Have a look at the points... and then at your own needs.

ADVANTAGES of a small press

  • More flexibility
  • More likely to publish authors and books that the larger houses may be unwilling to take on.
  • Might specialize or serve niche/specialty markets that aren’t profitable for the big publishers. They might therefore be a perfect match for you!
  • Don’t require an agent, which many bigger publishers do. 
  • (Possibly) open to re-publishing books that have gone out of print. This creates loads of opportunities for established authors that want to recommence and regain an audience without reverting to self-publishing. 
  • (Frequently) better staff-to-book ratios.  
However, there are also some limitations...

DISADVANTAGES of a small press

  • Generally release limited numbers of books, especially compared to big publishers. This makes them hard to get into (although, arguably, bigger publishers are also quite hard to get into because, although they produce more titles, they also receive more queries).  
  • Uncertainty. Small publishing businesses are much more likely to go out of business sooner (some even without publishing a single book!). This can be problematic, especially when rights are not returned to the author.
  • Becoming a publisher is cheap and easy, and it is therefore vital to know exactly what you are sending to whom. I’m not implying that all small publishers have bad intentions, but some of them indeed might. And some others simply do not have the required skill or expertise you’d want your book to benefit from. This can cause your book (cover, description, editing, pricing, contract, marketing, distribution etc.) to look and be amateurish, leading to plummeting book sales (and a bad rep). 
  • Unlike big publishers, small publishers naturally have smaller sales and more limited exposure. They often work from a limited budget and, as mentioned previously, a limited expertise, which means that not only their services (like editing and cover design) might be of lesser quality, but also their marketing efforts and reach. 
  • If you want publish with a small publisher in order to attract the eyes of a large publisher, you might run into trouble. Little-known small publishers fade into the huge mass of small publishers that exist and lack professional credibility in the eyes of the bigger conglomerates (which is also a problem self-published authors face if they have a similar aim).
Daily unit sales from a 2014 report (click to enlarge)

So there you have it. The pros and the cons of going for a small press. If the above has convinced you to avoid small publishers, good for you. If it has convinced you they would be your best option, great! However, whatever you decide, make sure you do a background check (especially if you go for lesser-known options). You wouldn’t want to have taken so long to decide your publisher just to learn it was the worst decision you could have made for your book! Always check out the warning signs:


  • If a small press doesn’t pay an advance, that is not unusual. But if they ask for money, that is. If they ask for money they are considered vanity publishers and should generally be avoided. (As soon as they have the money, what incentive do they still have to sell your book?). 
  • If the publisher spams you with emails and appears to be trying too hard to keep you there, alarm bells should go off. Reputable publishers do not advertise or email authors randomly and repeatedly. Writer Beware’s blog provides several examples of why you want to avoid publishers that send out spam
  • If there have been complaints made in the past (again, check out Writer’s Beware and/or Preditors & Editors and make sure to Google the publisher online and in forums), take caution! Other authors have had problems with the publisher, and even if the publisher now claims these problems have been resolved, make sure they truly have been before sending off your work and running into the same obstacles experienced by others before you. 
  • If the press has only been in business for a short period of time, be wary. As mentioned earlier, small presses do go out of business sometimes. If they are only just starting up, the business is especially shaky and uncertain. Therefore, as explained by SFWA, “Look for evidence that the press has been actively issuing books for at least a year (two years is even better), and that it has a decent backlist of published books (not just one or two). Both of these things suggest at least some stability, and show that the press is capable of taking books all the way through the production process. You’ll also be able to judge important things like quality, design, and how (or whether) the press is marketing its books.” At the same time, also be wary of publishers that have been around for a loooong time without having published many titles. 
  • If the staff has no credentials, run away as fast as you can! This is self-explanatory: you wouldn’t trust your book with someone who has no prior knowledge of the business, would you? 
  • If the website looks unprofessional, their publishing might too. If they haven’t bothered with the website, do you think they’d really bother with your book?  
  • If it has no positive reviews from trade publications or high-traffic book blogs, or if it has no blurbs from established authors, go ahead and wonder whether they really are actively marketing its books. Would they really give you the exposure you want/need?
  • If the books are unprofessionally produced and/or edited, or if have an unreasonable price, look for something else. This can easily be checked by visiting the website and/or ordering an actual book from the company. Whereas pricing issues, unlike the book’s appearance, don’t necessarily make a publisher ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ they do show you what to expect for your own book (for example: skyrocketing prices won't encourage your readers to buy your work). 
  • If distribution is much too limited, realize that your audience will be too. E-books should certainly be distributed through all major platforms and distributors, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords. Print books should at least be distributes through Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Amazon
  • If the press expects the author to do all the marketing, this is a problem. Naturally, authors should be expected to take on a significant role in the process, but they cannot be expected to do it all by themselves. 
  • If the contract is sketchy, have it checked by a professional. Be especially wary of life-of-copyright grants and editing rights you are giving up, as well as scary fees imposed in the case of contact termination. Don’t assume your contract is fine without reading it through and fully understanding all of its terms. Get qualified advice if needed!
These were just a few advantages and disadvantages as well as some warning signs to look out for if you do decide to go the small publisher’s route. Just to reiterate: If you decide to go with a small publisher because you think the benefits outweigh disadvantages, great! If you decide not to, also great! Whatever you do decide though, make sure it best fits your needs. After all, it's your book's future on the line ;-)

What do you think... what is your most important criteria in choosing a publisher? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

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