Larissa takes the podium to explain the benefits of working with a small press.
Asking me to talk about the publishing world is a lot like asking the mother of a newborn to talk about raising teenagers. My publishing experience is still wonderful and amazing in its infant stage. I am not yet jaded by my book’s sarcastic back talk and it doesn’t yet ignore me to hang with its friends.
So I begin with that qualification. I am still in love with publishing, and IMHO it is due to the small press (Henery Press) with whom I am working. I’ve heard small press horror stories. I’ve also heard plenty of large press horror stories. I can only speak of which I know. So I asked some other authors to contribute their opinions on working with small presses as well.
As writers you have probably noticed the proliferation of new presses that have recently broken into the publication arena. I have heard that now is a great time to be a writer because there are so many options open to us. Anne R. Allen did a terrific breakdown of the different levels of publishing for Romance U in her July post, Who Are the “Big Six”? What does Indie Really Mean?
Using her definitions, my press is a true small press. Henery Press mainly publishes mysteries of all genres including traditional, humorous, and cozy, but also considers thrillers and romantic suspense. As Allen explained, small presses generally publish to a niche market.
Allen went on to say this about small presses:
“They are usually labors of love and nobody gets rich, but they’re often a good way to break in to print and lots of authors are very happy to stay with a small press where there is a more personal interaction with editors… Authors are responsible for their own marketing and there’s generally no advance, but higher royalties.”
What part of writing isn’t a labor of love? Getting published with the Big Six is no guarantee of getting rich, either. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in writing for the money (nor for the sleep). If you’re a debut author with the Big Six you’re going to be doing much of your own marketing.
Here’s what one author who is published with big and small presses said, “My mysteries are published by an independent press, but they’re very aggressive about marketing their authors. I’ve had much more publisher produced publicity than most authors get from New York. In New York the publicity budget is spent on the authors who receive the biggest advances because the publisher needs to sell enough books to recoup the advance. There’s never much money left over for mid-list or debut authors receiving minimal advances. My publisher has done things for me that the Big 6 would never do for me.”
She does offer this one caveat, “However, there are many small publishers that operate on shoestring budgets and do nothing in the way of promo for their authors. They expect their authors to do all of it themselves.”
So, unless you’re John Grisham or the Great Janet E., expect to do much of your own marketing at any level in publishing. Anything given to you is icing (hopefully chocolate) on the cake.
As for the personal interaction Allen mentioned, I would heartily agree that this is a major plus of publishing with a small press. I have emailed my editor with the dumbest questions, and she always writes me back, pretending I’m not an idiot (God bless her). Not only do we exchange information in the editing process, we often exchange marketing ideas and good news about other writers at Henery Press. Other authors with other small presses agreed that they had a much closer relationship with their small press editors.
“One of the big pluses for me with the small publisher was being able to form relationships with staff other than my editor.”
Judy Alter, author of the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries (Turquoise Morning Press, 2012) added, “I like knowing someone has my back, someone will edit and promote. Self-publishing is a whole lot of work and I’m not adventuresome enough to know that I’d be good at it. It’s comforting to have someone that I can email with questions about promotion, editing, even what my next book will be. I’ve published almost 20 years ago with a major NY house, but I like my current situation much better.”
Not needing an agent was another benefit Allen indicated in her article, also true for me. Other authors saw even more benefits.
“Being published with a small press gave me the chance to develop a teen audience. While no one was pushy at [A Big Six Company], I was very glad that my first book for them did well. They’re a bigger company and I don’t think they have the luxury of letting an author spend too much time building an audience.”
“The big plus is that small presses will take books that big presses won’t. Small presses have more specialized audiences and sometimes count in hundreds where the big presses count in thousands. Small press publishers often double as editors, and they invest heavily (financially and emotionally) in every book. Some move a book through the publication process in half the time large presses take.”
“They handle distribution and some press. But the biggest value to me has been the editing I’ve received from them and the feeling of validation that someone who’s been publishing mysteries for years thinks my book is good,” said Tammy Kaehler, author of the Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries (Poisoned Pen Press, 2011).
Before you run out willy-nilly and sign a contract with any old small press, you do need to consider the cons. As one author said, “Two big minuses: Advances are small (and sometimes nonexistent) and distribution to bookstores and libraries is practically nonexistent. The failure to use a national distributor not only limits distribution (and thereby earnings) but also the professional publications that will consider reviewing the book.”
You need to check their distribution networks. Besides the popular e-book channels, Henery Press uses LighteningSource for print-on-demand of their trade paperbacks. Because LighteningSource is a division of Ingram, independent books stores feel more comfortable in ordering books through this reliable, well-known distributor.
Another safeguard for the bookstore is whether your publisher will buy back any unsold copies. Ask the publisher these questions before you sign a contract. If the publisher is only selling copies through their website, I would consider that a red flag. You want your book available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble even if it’s only available in e-book format.
This is part of your investigative homework Allen warned you needed to do before signing on with a small press. “Check them out thoroughly with sites like Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors and if they’re not well-established, contact other clients before you sign.”
I did this, as well as Googling my editor every which way I could. I looked at the other books she had edited and checked out book covers she had designed. The press’s professional and clean looking website was also important to me.
I knew I took a risk because Henery was a new press. Many small presses start up and disappear, taking your book rights with them. You can lose your royalty checks in bankruptcy disputes. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Before signing my contract, I carefully evaluated a worst scenario situation such as this. I had lawyers I trusted read my contract and create their worst scenario situations (which were much worse than mine). We made changes to the contract to appease our fears, and my publisher agreed to those changes.
If they had refused the changes, that would have been enough of a red flag for me to not sign. You have to be prepared to walk away.
In the end, I know I made the right choice. I’m on the ground floor of a press with a savvy business leader, talented editor, and creative designer. I’ve become friends with the other authors at the press which have been a fantastic support group. Distribution is through the major e-book and on-line stores, but because Henery Press offers trade paperback, I can get independent bookstores to carry PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY. I had a detailed publishing schedule, releasing my mystery within six months of signing. A lot of guidance in marketing. Great editing and an awesome cover. What more could I need?
Thanks for your time!
What’s your opinion of small presses? Would you rather hold out for a Big Six deal or try a non-traditional route? What other ways can you check a press’s legitimacy? How do you feel about publishing without an agent?
In Halo, Georgia, folks know Cherry Tucker as big in mouth, small in stature, and able to sketch a portrait faster than buckshot rips from a ten gauge — but commissions are scarce. So when the well-heeled Branson family wants to memorialize their murdered son in a coffin portrait, Cherry scrambles to win their patronage from her small town rival.
As the clock ticks toward the deadline, Cherry faces more trouble than just a controversial subject. Her rival wants to ruin her reputation, her ex-flame wants to rekindle the fire, and someone’s setting her up to take the fall. Mix in her flaky family, an illegal gambling ring, and outwitting a killer on a spree, Cherry finds herself painted into a corner she’ll be lucky to survive.
PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY is available for pre-release in paperback on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and will release on August 28th on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Nook and iPad.
Join us on Wednesday, August 15th when Adrienne Giordano presents Journey to an Agent.
Bio: Larissa began her writing career in second grade when she sold her first publication to a neighbor for a nickel. After moving around the midwest, Japan, and the south, she now lives in Georgia with her husband, daughters, and Biscuit, a Cairn Terrier. She loves small town characters with big attitudes, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, a 2012 The Emily finalist, and a 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. When she’s not writing about southern fried chicken, she writes about Asian fried chicken at her blog about life as an ex-expat at theexpatreturneth.blogspot.com.
She and her writing friends also chat weekly about books on their Little Read Hens Facebook page and littlereadhens.com. You can find Larissa chatting on Facebook; Twitter; and Goodreads. She loves pinning on her Cherry Tucker and other boards at Pinterest. You can also find more information on her website at larissareinhart.com.
- Long Journey to a Small Press with Debut Author Susan Boyer
- Series Writing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly with Larissa Reinhart
- Anne R. Allen presents Who Are the Big Six? What Does “Indie” Really Mean?
- How to Create Characters That Leap Off the Page with Terri L. Austin
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for July 19-23: Small Publishers, Gender Affairs & e-Publishers