The Truth About Small Presses

So I seem to be doing a lot of these ‘truth’ posts. I generally type something into Google, like ‘what can a small press do for me,’ to bring up articles that are sort of similar to it. Then I browse the blurbs of these articles and usually find a strong one on the first page. So I found this article from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, better known as SFWA. It’s an intriguing article to me because it presents something that not a lot of people who are with small presses know. For example, a lot of people go with a small press thinking this will lead right into a contract with the big guys, which is not only unrealistic but insulting as to the reason why small presses exist. In any case, let me begin the wonderful list. Hopefully I can get away from doing the list thing in future posts, but, right now, you’ll just have to put up with it.

If you don’t know what a small press is, it is an independent press not part of giant conglomerates. Sometimes these presses may be bought out by those conglomerates, but, otherwise, they are independent. Some small presses may also create other imprints that cater toward other genres. For example, AEC is pretty interested in thrillers, paranormal, and fantasy (from what I have seen). However, if they wanted to branch out into romance, they could create an imprint for that. Now, let’s go to NUMBER ONE!

  1. Limited exposure. This is an obvious one. Small presses exist to fill in the gaps of publishers who would otherwise refuse work that a small press could take on. This is just the reality. Larger presses take on books not only because of the wonderfulness, but because they think they can sale and turn a great profit for the house. So as a newbie submitter, so to speak, you are going to have a very difficult time trying to find an agent or publisher, especially if the book falls outside of the range of what they consider “mainstream.” Do not be upset by this limited exposure. Small presses are small and have a limited budget, so they have to be smart with their dollars. Take every sale as something precious, because IT WILL LEAD YOU SOMEWHERE as long as you are with a competent house that is growing every day–or month, at least. There are many people who self-publish who can’t even make beyond five sales, so they turn to small presses, finding that they can turn more of a profit with one. And that’s okay. Not everyone is meant for every route. But keep in mind your exposure will be vastly limited compared to a larger press.
  2. Lack of stability. If your publisher has been around for a year, don’t fall into complacency, even if that publisher is making more money the more said publisher brings on more books. That publisher could still fold. In fact, the majority of small presses fold before they’ve even published a single book. And sometimes those rights will not revert back to you. It’s often best to wait until that publisher has proven its stability, but I took a chance with AEC, and they’ve proven themselves to be stable. Still…anything can happen, but smart publishers have barriers in place.
  3. Lack of competence. ANYONE can become a publisher because it’s cheap. I started a lit magazine because it was cheap (now it’s being run by a competent staff with me as the figurehead, a perfect platform for me). Even if a publisher has survived for a few years, that press may still be incompetent. That can be shown in the website, published books, and the contract itself. Many are well-meaning, but, put simply, they have no idea what they are doing. The editing could be shoddy, the marketing could be all over the place, and money-wise, they don’t know what is feasible for the business. If it’s an e-book only press and they’re only on Amazon, that is limited distribution. So if a press has been around for a while, check for the competency of the press through the website, the books published, and even its reputation. Does it have a good one, or a bad one? Sometimes you can find this out online. If you are accepted by them, see if the contract is author-friendly. If not, the press lacks competency.
  4. Author mills. Basically, these are publishers who take on a bunch of authors and crank out book, after book, after book, without spending too much time on the book itself. The editing is often crappy, the covers poor, and these books may not sell at all (so I really don’t understand the point of having a publisher like this, unless that publisher really just LOVES publishing). They weren’t given their own spotlight, so to speak, because another book came out after it in a few days. Small presses in the beginning often have a few people on staff, so they should not be cranking out so many books because they cannot devote any time to one book to ensure sales of that book. If the staff is small, one book a month is feasible. Look at the publisher to see how many people are on the staff. If there are five people on the staff, check out their recently published books and see when those books were published. If several were published in December, I’d say stay away from it until the staff grows. Oftentimes, the staff never grows.
  5. Lack of professional credit. This is the hard-hitting one. If you’re with a small press, don’t expect that press to launch you into a bigger press. In fact, small presses do not exist to do that. They can be great starting points if they are competent, but, really, agents and publishers aren’t exactly going to see them as a legitimate credit. But, honestly, who cares? Your fans see your book as something awesome and legitimate, and even if you go toward a bigger house, you don’t have to mention the book; however, I’d mention it out of a sense of pride. After all, you’ll have a platform established by then. BUT DO NOT SEE A SMALL PRESS AS A STEPPING STONE TO A BIGGER ONE. THAT IS INSULTING.

I recommend reading the rest of the article, as I just wanted to touch on the big points.

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Author:

Also known as The Dancing Writer, she is currently working on The Stars Trilogy, among other works.

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