Small Publishers: Pros and Cons


We’re continuing our conversation about small publishing houses. This week: Pros and Cons.

Let’s start with the pros. Chiefly, as a smaller publisher, they ought to have a greater vested interest in you as an author. If you are just another cog in the machine, chances are, you are with a vanity publisher masquerading as a real publisher.

Secondly, they are in business and want to stay that way—that said they want you to succeed and they’re going to try their hardest to stay afloat—when you make money, so do they… that’s how this business is supposed to work.

Perhaps the biggest Pro is that they are more likely to publish books that are outside current norms, risky, or difficult to read, and thus represent unlikely commercial ventures for larger publishers who only want to produce commercial gold.

Small publishers play a vital role in the development of materials that may end up going to larger publishers in the future. Essentially, this is the minor leagues of the publishing world. Just like in pro sports, many big-leaguers spend some time learning the ropes and being developed before they get called up. Click Read More for the Cons.

This Cons list is admittedly a much larger list than the Pros.

Small exposure-
Limited budgets and limited experience translates into smaller distribution and fewer sales. Their books are not always, or not often, on brick and mortar shelves. Many have little more way of moving books than the same avenues available to the authors and rely solely on their website plus social media.

Because the tools necessary to become a publisher are free or cheap and readily available, many people will set up their own small press. Usually these fresh companies rely more on their authors than vice versa and the companies rely on them to build their mailing list, social media, and following.

Jumping into the publishing world is not as easy as expected and there is work that goes with it. This can mean that small publishers come and go on a whim. Signing with newer small presses includes no small degree of uncertainty and risk. These small presses are necessary to the industry, and I’m not saying to avoid them, but understand that there are always risks with publishers who are not well established.

Lack of Competence-
I said in a previous blog that I felt I knew more than one of my publishers. That may have very well been the case. Oftentimes, because of the low threshold for talent required to setup a publisher, these presses simply don’t know the ropes. Industry standards are often ignored—not from malice or intention, but sometimes people just don’t the expectations. Newer presses fix these issues as they come up, but until they’ve had some time to get established they will commit a few gaffes.

Shark Infested Bookshelves-
I know I talk a lot about scammers, but so many author mills and vanity presses operate under the guise of being a legitimate small press. Did they charge you any fees, did they solicit you, or were you required to buy anything (even copies of your book)? Those are all red flags that this may be a predator and not a publisher. At the very least, they would be a hybrid press rather than a small press, and those have some notable differences you should be aware of.

For more reading on the topic, I recommend checking out the SFWA’s post about small presses. Also, here is a good post about predatory publishing practices and “author mills.

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