The Verdict on Small Publishers


We’re completing our month-long conversation about small publishing houses, this week.

The Verdict on small presses:

Small publishers represent the biggest testing grounds where an author can prove oneself in the market. Trade publishers do not take risks and have little concern with quality literature: money always rules their decision making… that is how the Big Five stay the Big Five. An article in the Guardian mentions that the major publishers typically wait until an author has a proven record at smaller presses and then pick up books based on an author’s established name. Essentially, they are more concerned with market branding than with literature. The Guardian notes, however, that this is a necessary evil in order to get the largest distribution for authors. This certainly seems like a top-heavy model, and it is.

Larger publishers let the smaller ones do all the heavy lifting and hard work and then they swoop down and steal the best-of-the-best to feast on like capricious gods. Nathan Scott Mcnamara notes in the Atlantic that our consumer mentality and the approach used by the big publishers (I order to squeeze out every sale possible) that “readers are experiencing a shrinking cultural attention span… major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment where American indie presses can thrive by doing the very thing they’re best at: being small and, by extension, focusing on creativity and originality over sales.”

With all of the changes rocking the long-established publishing industry over these last couple decades, one wonders if their top-heavy system has finally bloated to the point where the whole thing will unravel and we’ll be left with something new? Between advancing technology and the consumer patterns developing right now (as evidenced by massive book chains’ closures and the shuttering of many brick and mortar retailers—even shopping malls—who refuse to embrace those changes) I think we’ll see something radically different within the next decade.

Ultimately, authors need to keep their eyes wide open with small publishers all while remaining optimistic. Healthy skepticism is rarely a bad default setting, and this is especially true with your publishing options.

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