Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Is A Small Press Publisher Right For You?

From the wandering mind of Tamela Buhrke

If you are wringing your hands over whether to jump into self publishing or wait until a traditional New York publisher notices your brilliant work, then maybe it’s time to consider something different.

Small press publishers are getting some great (and some not-so-great) interest these days. Why? Because small presses are delivering what the large publisher used to deliver—personal service and a passion for their authors.

But, just like everything in life, there are successful small presses and there are wonky operations that will gut you and leave you bleeding. There are also vanity presses that masquerade as small presses. So it is important that you do your research. And don't sign any contracts that you haven't passed under the nose of a contract lawyer.

But dastardly evil-doers aside, there are plenty of great, successful small presses. But in the age of self publishing, you may be wondering why you should choose a small press? Why not just self publish? Well, for one thing, some people don't want to create a personal publishing empire. They don't want the hassles of dealing with all the details. So let's take a look at some of the ways that small presses might be chosen over self publishing and even the big publishers.

Advantages Of A Small Press


Many small presses have built up some rocking good distribution channels within their niche. If you have a book that fits into a particular market, a small press can get you more exposure than you ever could on your own.

Book Packaging

Let’s face, everyone judges a book by it’s cover. It’s just human nature. That means a self publisher will need to fork out some dough for a stunning cover. With a small press, you will have your cover and book formatting done by professionals—with no harm done to your wallet.


Small presses hire editors to go through your book. Editing can be very pricy and your mom just isn’t as good at it as she thinks she is. So if you don’t want to pony up $3+ a page to spiff up your manuscript, then check out a small press.

Support & Encouragement

Writing is a lonely job. And when you finally present your masterpiece to the world, you might get some nasty reviews. If that happens, it’s nice to have a team on your side. People who believe in your work and found enough value in it that they invested their time and money.

Marketing Support & (Sometimes) Training

While it may not be a huge budget, small presses can help you with marketing. Most of all they can provide guidance. They have experience in selling to that specific market. They can look at your marketing efforts and tell you: Blog this, not that. Check out these online communities, avoid those. Etc. Self published authors are often walking around like the blind, tapping everything with their cane until they figure out the right path.

Career Building

Going through the process with a small press can earn you points from the big guys in New York. You’ve been through the experience of publishing and marketing yourself. You’ve worked with editors. The experience can help you grow your career and be a stepping stone to larger publishers.

So you can see how a small press can offer the best of both worlds. You often have more control over the publishing process than you would with the big guys. You also get the full experience of working with a publisher and the insights into your market that you wouldn’t get by self publishing.

However, there are times when a small press won't be a good fit. Let’s take a look at potential problems that may arise.

Disadvantages A Small Press

Limited Marketing Budgets

Small presses often have some kind of marketing budget for you, or they wouldn’t have taken you on as an author. However, don’t expect the full choir singing your book’s praises. You are going to be responsible for a lot of the marketing yourself. And often, the small press will be pushing you to do more. If you are not up to marketing yourself, this might not be the right experience for you.

Giving Up Royalties

Obviously, self publishing pays the highest royalties. However, that may not mean much if your only selling 5 books a month. With a small press you are going to be earning less per book, so you want to be sure that the services they offer are worth that loss.

Less Control

Self publishing offers complete control over everything from the cover to the pricing. Traditional publishers offer very little control. Small presses fall somewhere between. Where they fall in that spectrum is up to them. So you need to determine how much control you want and where you are willing to give.


In this economy, you want to be sure that the publisher you are signing with is going to be able to survive. You don’t want to invest your time and fork over rights to a company who may not be in business next month.

As you can see, there are a lot of factors to consider. Do your due diligence. Research the company. Contact authors who have worked with them to find out the type of experience they’ve had.

Intrigued by the possibilities?

Here are some sources for reputable small presses: click on publisher in the navigation.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I love small presses, but you will make more money e-publishing yourself than going through a small press. In fact, I've made seven times the amount with my e-published book than with the one that's published through a small press.

On the otherhand, the small press book gives me more of a feeling of being a 'real' writer. Never should these questions be all or nothing. You can sell your books to various models of publishing. Keep you eyes and options open, authors. It's the only way to survive this business.

Tamela Buhrke said...

Thanks Summer - I completely agree! We have so many options now. We need to be open to options that match or project.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Even the big publishers are offering less in their marketing budgets these days, so small and medium presses are a great option for those who want a traditional pub arrangement rather than self-publishing.

Chris Devlin said...

Thanks, Tamela. A very balanced take on the subject.