Traditional Publishing

Is Small Press for You?

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach – Sunday June 2, 2019

Manuscript finished, hat in hand, we all yearn to sell to Random House. But while the big guys demand “breakthrough” potential, most of us write mid-list or niche. Therefore, though aiming straight for the top, we might want to keep in mind independent imprints.

One writer I know explains her delight at being a small press author. “I have instant access to my publisher and no middleman telling me what and how to write. I do as much PR as my own retiring personality dictates, and I don’t feel pressured.”

Another friend and small press author who has published different series with five independent presses told me, “I like the publisher knowing my name. I like being able to get to the editor or cover artist when I don’t agree with a choice, and being able to tell the owner when I still don’t agree. I like having input into everything from blurbs and design to delaying a publication date for a good business purpose. I like the fellowship between a small press’s authors.”

Sometimes mainstream writers go with small press for other reasons. One large-press published author who has gone rogue clarified. “I want to show that writers can have range.” And one mid-lister,, stranded by the majors, simply wanted to keep her series characters in action.

Other pluses in choosing the alternative press world include: 1. They accept newer writers. 2. You (probably) won’t need an agent. 3. They’ll often publish the book more quickly than the mainstream will. 4. They have more invested in each author on a prorated basis and give emotional/moral and sometimes even promotional support.

Of course, in submitting to and signing with a small press, we have to be realistic and protect ourselves. We should first evaluate the catalog and see if we’ll be in fairly decent company. Then we should read up on contracts before assessing the contract thoroughly and rejecting clauses or even entire contracts that don’t seem fair. We should also search the internet for this particular press and what its reputation is. And the bottom line to remember? We should never agree to co-publish the book or to buy a certain number of copies once the title is in print. (Self-publishing is a different topic entirely.)

When we turn to the independent press, we don’t know what the outcome will be—five books sold with a resulting check for $13, or multiple kudos and awards. I’ve had lots of things happen with independent press, myself—a book out in its first week when the publisher closed its doors, a publisher who mistakenly destroyed the printed copies in the warehouse, a publisher who stopped answering authors—and more.

Sure, we all want to sell to HarperCollins, but that’s not ever as simple as it sounds. Having a book in print is fun, nonetheless—even if the publisher has a less-well-known name.

Come take a class with me at Writer’s Digest online university: And buy a copy of my award-nominated Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional .

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden is a short story Edgar winner. She teaches a mystery writing and a thriller writing and other writing classes at Writer's Digest online university. The third edition of her Writing the Mystery is available through Amazon and other good bookshops. She is also the author of The Naked Writer, a comprehensive, easy-to-read style and composition guide for all levels of writers.