in the day, I opted to send my first novel to a small press. Why didn’t
I set my sights high and target the big NYC houses? I can’t honestly
say I knew all about small press publishing then, but I’ve since
learned some valuable facts.
I had a book I believed in, but
no agent. I write romance, which means my choices were either to pray
fervently for a miracle or send to either Harlequin/Steeple Hill or
Barbour. My novel was too long for the latter, and the former had
already sent me one of those form letters. You know the ones. They read
with plenty of praise but also include phrases such as “just not for
I also got a sense that my voice
was not what the larger houses were looking for. I’m still not sure I
know exactly why, and the “R” letters don’t specify—it just isn’t.
So I caught the name of a small
press publisher looking to publish Christian romance. I did a little
fact-checking and, newbie that I was, sent the poor editor in chief an
e-mail proposing nine different projects.
Bless her, she was kind. She
responded, “Why don’t we just deal with one book at a time?”
She sent Powerline
to a first reader, and about four months later offered me a contract.
“Yipee!” I screeched. Visions
of signings, bookstore placement, and lovely royalty checks bounded
through my head.
Alas, the small press world’s
primary feature is its smallness. Distribution is
key in selling any book to a wide number of readers, and many small
presses struggle with distribution. The two major distributors don’t
seem keen on working with small presses. To get your print work sold on
Amazon.com costs the publisher a large percentage of the sale price.
Granted, you’ll have the publisher’s best efforts to get the book
recognized and sold to recoup their investment. Possibilities for
e-book placement are growing all the time, but if you’re talking “dead
tree” (print) books, you’ll want a book the distributor(s) will not
only catalogue (“it’s available through . . .”) but also place in
I learned that if Powerline
was to be shelved in bookstores, it would not be through usual
distribution channels. Instead, I talked the local shops into holding
signings or wormed my way into multi-author events. Then, and only
then, did those stores stock my book.
Thus ends the small press back
story. Has it changed since then? Yes, bless their hearts. With the
increasing acceptance of e-reader hardware plus the increasing number
of presses who are releasing their titles as e-books, small presses
today have a much higher chance of reaching readers.
If you do make the
small press choice, what can you expect?
An e-book or a trade size
paperback, or both: Most small presses do not put out hardback or mass
A selection process: Small
presses do not publish everything sent to them. Like larger houses,
they have a slush pile. Only vanity presses accept everything submitted
A good editorial going-over:
Quality editing, input on the cover, and technical quality in the book
A longer potential shelf life: A
small press or e-book contract may make your work available for years,
rather than weeks.
A higher royalty rate than a
large press offers.
You may also develop a
reputation on your ability to write (and sell) “out of the box.” If
your desire is to break out of your current genre/time period/style, or
to write different genres under a pen name, this may be your chance.
What can you not expect?
An advance: Many, if not most,
small presses are not equipped to pay them.
Only two distributors are in the U.S., so that limits a small press’s
choice. If your small press scores a deal with Ingram’s, this is a sign
of strength on that small press’s part and a good sign of success.
Baker and Taylor will “make your books available” but not assure
brick-and-mortar chain store placement.
Instant credibility: Some people
in the industry still do not count an e-book as publishing credit. Your
book may not “count” in some writers’ groups, although this is in the
process of changing as e-books break new ground.
Long-range credibility: You may
not easily interest an agent with a resume full of small press credits
(for that matter, you may not easily interest an
agent at all!).
(see above): Some review sites/providers are more e-book friendly than
others. If you decide to send out print ARCs of your book, you may bear
the expense. Many review organizations accept e-ARCs, making it cheaper
and easier. And increasing number of review sites review based on
quality of story rather than size of publisher.
Megabucks: Granted, the
percentage is higher, but it has to be—promo is king as far as getting
the word out about your book, and chances are you’ll do the lion’s
share of the publicity yourself. A decreasing number of small presses
sell only from their own Web sites, so your high percentage of little
sales may be a little royalty check.
Use these resources in your
decision as to whether a given publisher is for you:
Absolute Write Water Cooler’s
“Beware and Background Checks” thread. It’s free but you must sign up.
Piers Anthony, SF author
extraordinaire, runs a series of pages on his Web site, reporting on
e-presses and small presses (www.hipiers.com).
Writer Beware! blog at
posts every few days on “must avoid”
Reputable small presses (e-book
only presses are starred):
Sheaf House www.sheafhouse.com
*Desert Breeze www.desertbreezepublishing.com
Treble Heart www.trebleheartbooks.com
White Rose Publishing www.whiterosepublishing.com
*Echelon Press www.echelonpress.com
Marcher Lord Press www.marcherlordpress.com