I’ll start by saying it’s time this conversation happened. We’ve discussed traditional vs. self-publishing, but few people have evaluated what a small press offers. As many of you know, Beth Revis started this healthy conversation by listing what a small press should offer. I agree with a lot, if not all, of her post. But here’s the thing, and I feel confident Beth would agree with me here, let her post be the beginning of your research.

People will always have different opinions and thoughts on what a publisher should do for your book, but the landscape is changing, and because small press has more recently become a viable option for authors, I think they’re figuring out where and how they fit in just as much as authors are. The fastest way they’ll learn is by evaluating how many of their authors choose to stay with them long-term. And I think by evaluating that, they’ll tweak and improve.

The most common question I get from other authors, hands down, is whether I like being published by a small press or NY house better. Honestly, I’m not in a position to say with certainty as my NY book hasn’t released yet, but I’ll list here my experiences thus far because I believe in helping fellow writers make educated decisions.

 

SMALL PRESS
– Marketing. I’ve had to do a lot of marketing myself, but I’ve also had full page print ads for THE COLLECTOR placed in teen magazines and numerous online ads.
– Release timing for THE COLLECTOR was wonky. This can be a side effect of publishing with a small press, but if you don’t expect to hit a list, it’s not a biggie. And it’s not always an issue.
– Voice. I’ve got lots of it at my small press. For example, my publisher and I have disagreements about ARC distribution (She believes less distribution builds demand. I believe in heavy sampling to build word of mouth. We usually meet in the middle.). You know what would happen if I tried to argue with Scholastic about ARC distribution? I’m not sure actually, because I wouldn’t even try to have that convo. Ha!
– Editing. My small press has editors who have worked for NY houses, and among the staff they have great experience, but they didn’t start that way. It was a risk, and I took it. I looked at Jennifer L. Armentrout as an example. My editor had worked with her books among others that had been highly successful, and I thought that spoke volumes. So, no, my editor didn’t have experience with bigger houses, but she had a proven track record.
– Schedule. No sugar-coating this one. My edits are done last minute. I don’t think this happens at all small presses, but it happens with my books. And I do think rushing can affect the quality of a book.
– Distribution. My small press has decent distribution. I’ve seen THE COLLECTOR in Barnes & Noble stores and numerous airports. Distribution could be better, but I believe it’s improving.
Foreign – So far, my first two DANTE WALKER books have sold in the US, Canada, China, and Turkey through my small press foreign rights agent.
Advance – I was paid an advance at my small press that rivaled advances at most large-scale, long-standing NY independent publishers (independent, not Big 5).
Security – My editor has told me I’ll have a home at my small press for as long as I want it. That’s commitment to my career, and it feels good.

 

NY HOUSE
– Marketing. Not sure how this will be at Scholastic. Time will tell.
– Voice. My NY house has been pretty awesome about asking for my opinion on things, but I also don’t give my opinion as much as I do with my small press.
– Editing. My editor loved FIRE & FLOOD as-is, so there were zero concept edits done and very limited line edits. I was asked to do much more for THE COLLECTOR than for FIRE & FLOOD. You may not have expected that. I certainly didn’t. I think that’s a testament to how small presses can be just as rigorous or even more so about what needs to be done to get a book in shape.
– Schedule. The professionalism and schedule is spot-on, but they’ve had decades to perfect it, so of course it is.
– Distribution. Not sure how it will be for my book, but it’s immense and thorough for most of their titles.
– Foreign. I can’t announce this yet (soon!), but they’ve been very effective at selling FIRE & FLOOD in other countries.
– Royalties. Royalties will be about the same here as with my small press. Why? Because the rates are lower than what my small press offers, but they can demand higher prices for their titles, so it pretty much evens out.
Advance – I was paid a much larger advance, but now I have the stress of trying to earn out.
Security – I worry that if my NY book doesn’t do well, I may not get another opportunity with them.

 

Now for my overarching thoughts. I don’t think you need to have publishing experience to open a small press. As someone who studied business for six years at a collegiate level, I believe opening a business is more about analyzing a particular market and deciding you can fill a hole than it is about having a certain skill. This is why so many restaurants fail. Just because you can cook doesn’t mean you understand marketing, accounting, finance, and IT infrastructure. I DO believe you have to be prepared to hire professional who have the experience your industry requires, which my small press has done.

I do think many times the choice isn’t between NY house or small press. It’s between small press and self-publishing (or tabling the book). Allow me to say what you’re not supposed to say. Sometimes books publish with small presses because they are fantastic books, but the stories aren’t quite polished or unique enough to get picked up by a large house. It’s freeing to speak honestly, am I right? 😉 But people forget that other times it’s not that at all. It’s about risks. For example, THE COLLECTOR was a paranormal romance written from a male first person POV (who happens to be an anti-hero, no less). NY houses seemed to love the voice, writing, and story. But they worried girls wouldn’t buy a romance told from the guy’s perspective. My agent and I hadn’t expended all our NY options, but I was concerned it may happen. So when a small press said THE COLLECTOR was the exact kind of risk they’d been looking for, I was ecstatic. Finally, some books go to small presses because NY houses made a mistake in not acquiring them. Many times NY houses choose the very best books, sometimes they don’t. That’s when small presses step in and say, “How on God’s green Earth did this book not get picked up by a Big 5?” Those books typically go on to hit lists and get film options and foreign deals galore.

Publishing with a small press (vs. self-pubbing) allowed me to get into events I wouldn’t have otherwise, made bloggers more receptive to reading my story, got me foreign sales, helped me build a readership, earned me distribution, formatting, cover art, and marketing support, and landed me an editor and publicist to help ensure my book succeeded. I would have retained more profit and rights had I gone it alone, but I weighed the options, and the choice, for me, was clear.

I don’t think authors who sign with small presses are ignorant, desperate, or ill-informed. I was agented when I signed with my small press, and we carefully inspected the contract and negotiated terms. I believe most authors do the same regardless of what option they choose.

I do think small presses are going to experience growing pains, but if you don’t mind rolling the dice (in a logical, healthy manner), then you can win with higher royalties. In my case, my small press had recently lowered their royalties by the time I signed. Know why? Because they no longer were the risk they once were.

I do think every writer should learn their options.

I don’t think we should assume one option is the best route.

I do believe my DANTE WALKER series, published with a small press, may have helped secure my FIRE & FLOOD deal with a NY house. Or maybe they published me despite that fact. I’ll probably never know. But I’ll tell you this much, I’m grateful for both experiences. I implore you to be a versatile author. To believe you can be successful regardless of who publishes you! And, yes, to learn, learn, learn. 🙂

Finally, I do think Beth Revis and Jennifer L. Armentrout have opened the door to a wonderful conversation, and have proven that when it comes to publishing, authors and readers alike are intelligent, passionate individuals who aren’t afraid to tackle big topics.

– V