After ten years of writing, polishing, submitting, and collecting rejections, I was thrilled to finally meet a small press publisher, Lee Emory of Treble Heart Books, who liked my work and believed in me enough to publish my first two books.
Even though self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it once had and is becoming wildly popular with the ease of computer programs and publishing sites such as CreateSpace, etc., I still wanted to be able to say, “Yes, I have a PUBLISHER.”
The small press accounts for $30 billion in annual book sales according to Writer Magazine’s “The Writer’s Guide to Getting Published”, and fills niche publishing markets, such as poetry, memoirs, gift books, even “westerns,” which the large publishing houses keep saying are “dead.” (If you believe that, take a look at the book lists from Women Writing the West and Western Writers of America.)
Advantages of working with a small publisher:
• Often, it is somewhat easier for new authors to break in, and you don’t need an agent first.
• The small press does not charge authors for publishing services.
• You can get smaller print runs, so neither the publisher nor the author ends up with thousands of books in the garage.
• You get more personalized attention. I was even asked for my input on the cover designs, something I’ve heard many horror stories about from authors with large publishers.
• My publisher works with a professional editor to make sure the product is a good one.
• As long as my books are selling, they will not go out of print. I don’t have to reach a “quota” within a three-month or even a 30-day period and face having my books remaindered.
Disadvantages to working with a small publisher:
• Small or no advances.
• No financial backing for promotion, entering contests, submitting for review or touring.
• Distribution. Many do try to contract with Ingram, or as in my publisher’s case, Baker and Taylor. But it’s still difficult to get your books into bookstores, because they don’t like to deal with more than one distributor or don’t like the return fees. I’ve ended up mostly consigning my books with bookstores. (But, ironically, in reality, you don’t sell many books in bookstores, unless your name is Grisham or Steele or Roberts, etc.)
• The “elephant” in the room: Amazon. It seems you don’t exist unless you’re listed on Amazon. But they charge the publisher to list the books, often discount the price, take 55% of the sale, and the author’s royalties end up mere cents. It’s also up to the publisher to put your book into Kindle or Nook formats. With today’s trend of “giving” e-books away for 99 cents or free, the author with a small publisher does not have that marketing option.
One of the arguments for self-publishing is that the author has more say over the entire process and actually can make more money from sales without the “middle man.” But again, how to get wide distribution is the question.
The publishing process is undergoing a huge paradigm shift and it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future with large and small presses and with self-publishing.
To find small publishers, see the Small Press database at the Poetry & Writers website to research publishers, editorial style preference, types of genre published, submission guidelines, and contact information.
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.