For many aspiring writers, landing a contract with one of the Big 5 is the ultimate goal, a sign they’ve “made it.” But not all books belong with the big houses, some do better with the small ones. A small press offers substantial benefits with considerable opportunities. Rather than viewing them as a last resort, small presses should be given a first look.
Big Fish, Small Pond
A small press works on a different scale. The giant bestsellers that crowd store shelves generally belong to a large publisher. Those books grab the majority of resources—advertising dollars, catalog space, public relations. A debut author may have to swim upstream for many years before they gain notice. But in a small press environment, even a debut author can quickly become the big fish, the one who garners the notice, and the resources. A smaller catalog means more funds funneled into a debut. A significant launch for a small press may be considered mediocre at a big house—the author gets relegated to the midlist when compared to a stable of marquis authors. The small press then builds on the author’s success, garnering attention from industry insiders, readers, and peers they would never have received otherwise.
Embrace Agility, Reject Rigidity
A large house books their publishing catalog years in advance, coordinating schedules with multiple departments, resulting in a rigid timetable. A small press is more flexible and can often make room for a new project, especially one with a second or third book waiting in the wings. While a rigorous editorial process still follows and certain processes must remain, the fluidity of a small press team can get a book to market swiftly without sacrificing a project’s integrity. In the time it may take a large house to get a single book on shelves, a small press may release two or three in a series, thereby propelling an author’s career in half the time. Further, a small press has the capability to shift marketing and publicity strategies mid-campaign if something isn’t working. At a bigger publisher, there are policies, procedures and budgets that make shifting efforts next to impossible.
Multiple Strategies, Singular Focus
A small press is usually just that: small. They don’t utilize numerous committees and bureaucratic layers which allows for streamlined decision-making. Small press authors work closely with the entire team, receiving personal attention from high-ranking staff members. Members they know, members they trust, and members who can make immediate decisions. Authors needn’t worry their book has been sent up the chain to a committee they’ve never met, that their fate, from contract to cover art, will be handled by strangers not personally invested in the project.
More Cultivation, Less Pressure
A large house expects a quicker ascent to success. And justifiably so. With a substantial investment in advances, print runs, marketing, and distribution, they require a more immediate return on investment. Without it, an author may find the threat of being dropped hanging over their head like an anvil dangling from a frayed rope. Earn out or get out. Most small presses utilize a reduced cost production model which gives an author room to debut. The slow and steady approach provides opportunities for growth and sustainability, a solid foundation on which to build their career. A small press invests in the author, not just their book. They’re in it for the long haul.
When deciding where to submit, consider every option, large and small. A solid small press with an innovative strategy and measurable growth could one day become something bigger. In the end, choosing the right small press may be a better fit than the wrong large one.
KENDEL FLAUM is an editor with Henery Press (logo right), an award-winning publisher in the mystery/suspense genre. You can learn more at www.henerypress.com.