Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
These days there is no shortage of small publishers offering to publish your book. They range from established small presses, to hybrid (“subsidy”) presses in which the author partially funds production and marketing, to houses that assist the author in self-publishing (for a fee). It’s typically easier to get a publishing contract with one of these smaller companies than with a large or well-established publisher.
A variety of scenarios may lead a writer to consider one of these small presses:
- The agent has shopped the project to mainstream publishers and not gotten any bites.
- The writer has a modest platform and therefore is unlikely to interest a large publisher.
- The project has a target audience that is perceived as small or niched.
- The author prefers to go with a faster option rather than wait months or years as they search for an agent and then a publisher.
- Or other scenarios specific to the writer and their project
The question is, should you consider a small press? Is this a good business decision? Is it a good career decision?
The answer depends on your long-term goals. What do you want out of your writing career? Each person has their own ideas about what they want their publishing path to look like.
Each writer’s vision is their own, so there is no single right answer for everyone.
That last sentence is really important, because lots of people will try to tell you what you should do—without knowing your specific goals, dreams, and vision. Try not to listen to the voices out there that don’t have your interest at heart, don’t understand your personal vision, or don’t have a solid understanding of the publishing world.
So how do you decide? Here’s a simplified answer:
- If your goal is to eventually publish with a mainstream, established publisher who has the ability to get your book into brick & mortar bookstores as well as target major media outlets for reviews and appearances: then NO. Don’t opt to publish with a small publisher, in the hopes that it may eventually lead to a larger publisher being interested.
- If your publishing goal is to publish only the one book, and the size of the publisher isn’t important to you but you prefer not to go the DIY route, then YES, go ahead and consider small publishers.
- If your publishing goal is to write and publish multiple books, and the size of the publisher isn’t important to you but you prefer to avoid the DIY route, then YES, go ahead and consider small publishers.
Consider your long-term goals. That’s the factor on which your decision should rest.
The problem with choosing a small publisher “first” or in hopes of landing a larger publisher later is that you’ll be saddled with a sales history that is difficult to overcome. It’s virtually impossible for a small publisher to sell a number of copies that would eventually be impressive to a larger, mainstream publisher. So when you eventually pitch another book to agents or big publishers, your new book will be more difficult to sell.
So what do you do? What if you (or your agent) has shopped your book to publishers and not sold it? Well, in the old days before indie publishing was easy and prevalent, the typical response was to put that book away and write another one. If that next book didn’t sell, the author would put that one away and write another one. Hopefully along the way, they’re becoming a better writer and/or they’re writing books that more closely match what the market wants. And down the road, they may be able to pull out those early books and either make them better so they’ll sell, or realize they weren’t all that great to begin with.
Another option, if you really want to get your book out there rather than putting it away, is to self-publish. If you go the DIY route to publish your book, then in the future it’s unlikely a publisher would hold those sales figures against you.
So, get what I’m saying here:
If your ultimate goal is to publish with a large, mainstream publisher, but you have a book you want published in the meantime, it’s much better to self-publish it than go with a smaller publisher.
There are lots of varying opinions on this. I’m not the last word. But as an agent, if I’m considering representing you with the goal of getting you a publishing contract, I’d be wary of having to overcome modest sales from a small publisher; but I wouldn’t bat an eye if you self-published and sold 800 copies.
You may want to refer to Jane Friedman’s incredibly detailed and helpful chart: 2017 Key Book Publishing Paths. It describes the various kinds of publishing these days, from the Big 5 to DIY.