[This is Part 3 in a 4-part series, based on an article of mine in The New Writer's Handbook 2007.]
Let’s look at things that can be real problems in getting a book published with a small independent presses.
Small often means just that when it comes to advances. The up-front money handed over to an author before books hit the streets can be microscopic, from virtually nil to a few thousand dollars. Small presses often point out they prefer to put their cash into promotions. However, this creates more risk for the author, who must wait for elusive future royalties, without the guaranteed income of a decent advance.
Lack of Prestige
A small-press label may offer little or no name recognition. Unfortunately, many people assume that a book published by a small press wasn’t good enough to be published by a larger press. You tell people you have been published, but when you tell them by whom, they get a funny look on their faces, different than if you had said Random House.
Small Marketing Budgets
Marketing budgets are rarely big. Smaller presses rely heavily on low-cost promotions: sending review copies, courting word-of-mouth support from niche audiences.
In the bookstore world, a small-press label tips off a buyer that there is probably less money for store placement or co-op efforts or PR campaigns to drive readers quickly into stores. Accordingly, small-press books are less likely to get prime placement—if stocked at all. Too often a small-press book needs to be special-ordered by a bookstore if a customer takes the trouble to request it.
All publishing houses, large and small, rely on authors playing some role in marketing. Authors need to consider the time, money, and effort of developing a author platform (in advance) and then using that platform to fuel sales in the author’s sphere of influence.
The same is true for author-involved marketing that can occur after a book’s release: book launches, author signings, mini-tours, being a speaker or having a booth at a regional trade show or conference. Most of those will only happen if authors do the booking and pay their own way.
For any size of press, authors need to be a partner in marketing a book, but more so with small presses. The good news: small presses will gladly work closely with you. But they may have little cash and a small staff, and this will limit what they can do.
Small can mean slow to publish or slow to pay. With fewer titles in a hopper, any setback (on any title, not just yours) can affect the whole line, if the press doesn’t have enough cash reserves. A small press has less likelihood of the occasional bestseller, creating revenues that can cover a lot of overhead and make the whole business profitable.
Small presses, especially the micro-presses, have any number of things that can throw them off stride: illness striking a tiny staff, an owner with personal financial difficulties, a poor decision to expand that isn’t well planned.
Small presses also may be at greater risk from problems occurring elsewhere in the distribution/sales chain. Famous examples: the occasional closings of middlemen distributors, leaving the smallest presses in chaos and with the smallest amount of clout in negotiating a settlement to recover income or inventory.
Of course, authors published by big presses also have horror stories. These include cases of questionable accounting, mysterious deductions, editors leaving abruptly, or projects getting cancelled. They may be more prone to back-office politics or sudden changes in management philosophy, compared to the steady operations of a well-run, focused small press.
And even good-sized publishing houses occasionally go belly-up. But the business or the titles are often acquired by someone else; this creates headaches for an author, but less risk of a total collapse.
All in all, the slimmer resources of a small press are definitely a concern for authors. As with most comparisons of small vs. large, working with a smaller business gets you more attention, bigger clout with that business, and possibly a more informed and interactive relationship. But there are plenty of unavoidable negatives to consider.
[Next in this series: Getting Published with a Small Indie Press: How To Find the Right Press for You]
Disclaimer: yes, I currently run a small indie press, Crickhollow Books. For more on that effort, visit the Crickhollow Books website.