Deborah Kinnard

Deborah Kinnard started writing at age ten, because there was no preteen girl with a horse on Bonanza. In college, she gained two degrees in health care and spent time observing hippies, basketball stars, el-ed majors and other strange species. While raising two active girls and cherishing her husband, she’s enjoyed a career that encompasses Spanish translation, volunteer work at a crisis line, years in assorted ERs that don’t resemble the one on TV, and a day job at a big Chicago teaching hospital. She is known to be a loud if semi-capable singer in church. Deb is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and serves as Zone Director for the Midwest. Her previously published novels include Powerline and Oakwood (Treble Heart Books), and Angel with A Ray Gun (Desert Breeze Publishing). Angel with a Back Hoe will be released in October 2009 and Damages in April 2010 from Desert Breeze Publishing. Seasons in the Mist will be an April 2010 release from Sheaf House. She’s currently working on two contemporary romances, a straight historical, and another time-travel book. Visit her website:

Small Press Publishing—One Writer’s Experience

Back 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 us.”

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 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 bookstores.

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 market–sized fiction.

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 to them.

A good editorial going-over: Quality editing, input on the cover, and technical quality in the book itself.

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.

Automatic bookstore placement: 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!).

Reviews (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 (

Writer Beware! blog at posts every few days on “must avoid” publishing endeavors.

Some Christian-Friendly Small Presses

Reputable small presses (e-book only presses are starred):
Sheaf House
*Desert Breeze
Treble Heart
White Rose Publishing
*Echelon Press
Marcher Lord Press

Angel With A Backhoe