In Praise of Small Publishers

Like every writer, I dream of signing a contract with a big publishing house that will bring all its resources to launch my book onto the bestseller lists.

So far, it’s still a dream.

The reality I’m enjoying, however, is being published by a small regional press, which is giving me many of the satisfactions of being a published author without the pressure of big-time publishing. In fact, I regard my association with my current publisher as not only a great way to continue to develop as a writer, but also as a hands-on business apprenticeship which is preparing me for that future leap into the big leagues. Yes, working as a small press author means the royalties are slim, but for me, the benefits are huge.

If you haven’t considered finding a small press for your work, here are some things I’ve learned that you might find interesting and appealing about working with a smaller publisher:

  1. Small presses have very specific audiences and categories. That means you have to really define your own audience as you write your book. The benefit to this task is that your writing will be tighter and more focused, which will do three things for you: 1) improve your book; 2) target a publisher who wants this kind of book (thereby improving your chances of landing a contract!); and 3) give you a clear idea of who the readers are to whom you’ll be marketing the book upon publication.
  2. Small presses have limited resources to help you market. While this was initially a negative for me, I am now grateful that I assume primary responsibility for this very important piece of the publishing journey. I’ve learned to develop publicity contact lists, explore marketing opportunities, and pursue networking to land speaking engagements, which is a key to success for authors. Another plus here is that as a one-person marketing machine, I can react quickly to opportunities with an immediate ‘yes!’
  3. Timelines can be shorter with a small press. I can phone my publisher and talk directly to her, getting the answers I need or the extension of a deadline. I get the editing comments back, make revisions as needed, and see a final proof shortly thereafter; I can finish my book in June and have the launch party in September (not that I recommend such a tight schedule, but it has happened!). That means no long waits to see my books in print and get reader response.
  4. I work closely with the book designer, so I’m always happy with my book’s front and back covers. I’ve heard from many authors with big publishers that they have little to no input on what their book will look like; I love having a voice in those decisions!

The bottom line is that publishing with a small house can keep you closer to the publishing process in each of its stages, providing you with an education and experience that can only benefit your future career success.

Are any of you working with small presses? Care to share the joys of doing so?

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About jandunlap

"Archangels Book I: Heaven's Gate" is Jan's new Christian suspense novel that melds cutting-edge science with faith. She is also the author of "Saved by Gracie," her best-selling humorous spiritual memoir and the Birder Murder Mystery series that follows the adventures of ace birder/high school counselor Bob White, who has a bad habit of finding bodies when he birds. When she's not playing with fictional devices, Jan is a birdwatcher, a featured speaker, and the proud mother of five children. She welcomes visitors at jandunlap.com.

10 thoughts on “In Praise of Small Publishers

  1. Thanks for this article!
    I am with a small subsidy press, and while of course it has some drawbacks, I’ve been very happy with the experience overall.
    I agree with you on every point you made.
    While my publisher is Christian, they don’t require writers to adhere to CBA guidelines which has given me freedom in writing to my chosen genre of young adult.
    My production time is generally between 7 to 9 months, and I love that I have say in the cover design, interior layout, editing choices, etc.
    I write with a particular message in mind and I love that I have the freedom to write how I see fit. The publisher’s editors give me great feedback and open my eyes to a lot, but if we have a sticking point, I win out and the consequences are on me, good or bad.
    Another reason I have found that I like working with a small press is that I can create other material to go with my books without having to go through the publisher. I own all my material so I can tweak it, make additions, study guides, videos, t-shirts, etc and not have to have it approved by anyone else or wait to get the go ahead. If I come up with an idea, I go with it.

    There are downsides. No money to spend on marketing except what is made by selling books and reinvested. No big publisher putting me on a speaker tour to thousands of women or other major perks like that, but I’ve learned to accept that. I’ve realized that if this is going to happen, it’s all on me. I’m up for that challenge and more and more people around me are stepping up to help out too.

    At some point I may try to go with a major publisher, but for right now, I’m having a lot of fun trying new things, learning the business and having the freedom to do it however I see fit.

    Thanks again for the article.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Stefne. I think small houses are great resources with a lot of freedom for the author, too. If the shoe fits…and when it does, you can really get the mileage out of it!

  2. Great post and very well said. My book will debut in July 2012 through a small press and I couldn’t be happier. Many published authors (both traditionally, self, and small press) have commented how accomodating my publisher has been with my artwork, working with my editor, and publicity. I did my homework before submitting my work out there. I’m satisfied with my decision.

  3. My debut YA novel is coming out next June with Spencer Hill Press and I have had a fantastic experience so far! I have been in contact with my editors regularly, spoken to my cover artist about my cover and ideas, and have also been in contact with several of the authors at SHP! SHP has a friendly, family atmosphere that I truly enjoy. Everyone is quite approachable and every question I have had has been answered quickly. I couldn’t be happier with them and have no regrets starting my writing career with a small press!

    • My publisher also has that family feel which I’ve really appreciated as I learned the ropes of the business. Thanks for telling us about it!

      • Any time! I am so happy with them I’ll tell anyone who will listen! They are great for newbies. I don’t feel intimidated or afraid to talk to them or ask questions at all. They ask for my feedback on things and I have a say in much more than someone would with a big publisher. Love it!

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