While I’m preparing for my annual trip between houses I thought you might enjoy a brief trip through publishing. Today, the second installment: Small Presses
To begin the series, last week we discussed traditional publishing. And yes, there will be a quiz.
Remember what you learned? Those powerful companies, particularly the Big Four (or Big Five, depending on how you look at it), fill your local bookstore with books they’ve carefully evaluated and processed. Plus traditional publishers oversee the process of publication from the moment a manuscript is selected until its last cent of profit.
Now I’m going back on last week’s promise.
Before we launch into independent publishing, as I assumed we would do, let’s first give some space to the many small presses who publish books you love.
What’s a small press exactly?
In the U.S., a small press is usually considered to be one that records sales of less than $50 million a year. According to Wikipedia, these presses account for about half the market share of the industry. (And no, it’s unlikely any of them use a vintage printing press like I’ve pictured, but isn’t that one a beaut?)
Small presses are often less motivated by the almighty dollar and more by a desire to see certain kinds of books brought into print. They frequently specialize in a specific genre, like Poisoned Pen Press, which publishes only mysteries, or Black Balloon Publishing, which prides itself on publishing the weird and unclassifiable. These presses often inhabit a particular niche which larger publishers might not find profitable enough, like regional literature, and they expand possibilities for authors and readers alike.
Why would an author prefer to write for a smaller press with a smaller print run and thus fewer royalties? Eliot Peper wrote a thoughtful piece about this at JaneFriedman.com entitled Publishing With a Small Press: Straddling the Indie-Traditional Gap. Peper tells his own story and says that small presses often have more flexible contract terms. Unlike independent publishing, they run the production and distribution processes for you. Small presses also aren’t as reluctant as the Big 4 to think outside the box, all reasons to publish with one if independent publishing seems too time consuming or confusing.
A small press is not a “vanity” press.
The term vanity press emerged when crafty entrepreneurs realized a profit could be made by enticing new authors to publish manuscripts that neither traditional nor small press publishers wanted. An author’s vanity was hooked because they could now report they had been published. Period. In traditional publishing models, authors are paid for their work. In vanity press models, the author pays the publisher. The author doesn’t own the print run, and she doesn’t control the way it’s handled. Authors receive a few copies to show their friends with promises that rarely come to pass.
Want an important hint? If a publisher asks you for money, the answer is no.
These days there is no reason that with a little work you can’t learn the mechanisms of publication yourself, save paying the useless middle-man, and spend your money on a brilliant cover and targeted marketing instead of lining vanity pockets. We’ll get to publishing on your own next time.
Do small presses and independent publishing have anything in common?
Discussing small presses is a great way to ease into the topic of independent publishing. Many indie authors create their own “small presses,” or “imprints” primarily to publish their own books. They feel that using the name of a small press lends legitimacy to their work and helps get reviews. Sometimes they branch out and publish other authors, too. But single-author presses are very different from the established small presses I’ve discussed already.
Next week I’ll talk about how independent publishing came to be–starting on clay tablets and moving forward. Are you reading independently published novels? Do you know?
Comments that include questions will be appreciated here or on my Facebook Author Page. I’ve already received some to explore. I love that.