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Dear Writer, Why Pass Up the Small Presses?

Elizabeth Rose, the author of Till the Last Petal Falls is taking over Amlokiblogs today, talking to us about something I believe makes a lot of sense for emerging writers: publishing through small presses.
Whenever I go into writers forums looking
for discussions about publishing- the how-tos and whyfores of it all- I’m
always surprised that everything is divided into only two camps. There are
those who publish through big houses and agents, and then there are those who
self-publish. Very little seems to be circulating about the in-between option
of independent publishing presses. These small presses operate on nearly the
same model as the big houses in that they risk investments in their authors.
They pay for the editing, formatting, and printing themselves. They also put in
their own hours of promotion. Unlike big houses, however, the small presses are
freer to accept un-agented manuscripts, take ‘niche’ market projects, and work
more personally with each of their authors.
 Where self-publishing might still carry the stigma
of low quality, publishing through a small press proves that there is at least
one group of people who are willing to risk their reputation, and the reputation
of their company, on your work. Since these small presses run your manuscript
through their own wringers, it ensures that the work has been brought
‘up-to-code’. It also releases the author from the financial and temporal
strains that come from campaigning and advertising for your work all on your
own. It may not give the author the same exposure or celebrity status as being
published through the big houses, but it does extend one’s own reach.
     Additionally, for
those who are economically-minded, most independent presses are businesses run
on a smaller-scale
, anti-corporation model. These presses tend to support local
and supply local, independent bookstores. They prevent monopolies
and help take money out of corporate pockets and into your community. They open
up job opportunities
both in the press itself and in the indie bookstore
The product is often beyond compare, as well– take, for example, the
winner of the 2011 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam, which was published through OtherPress. Another good example would be The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe, published through Soft SkullPress which was chosen to be a Today’s Show Book Club pick.  
    So before you turn
to CreateSpace or Lulu, why not log into Duotrope or browse
Poets & Writers for some small presses to submit to? You may be
surprised where a handful of people who are passionate about your work can take
you– even more so when they are professionals. 
Elizabeth Rose is a twenty-something college student in
Denver, Colorado, double majoring in Religious Studies and English. Though
“‘Till the Last Petal Falls“, the first installment of the Once Upon a Reality series, is her first full-length novel, she has
been publishing poetry since her junior year of high school. To date, she had
appeared under her real name in over twenty journals, both in print and
online. For more information, visit her at TheSinging Roses or follow her on Twitter.
Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Ice Girl says:

    Small presses are a good idea!

  • I keep saying the small presses are the new pioneers.

  • Jocelyn Rish says:

    I think like with everything else in publishing, writers needs to do their homework. A small press can be a wonderful opportunity for a new writer, but like Sirra Girl said, there are many "small presses" out there that are basically self publishing for you. Always research an opportunity before signing on the dotted line so there are no surprises.

    • I agree entirely, Jocelyn. If you're going to self-publish, then self-publish all the way. But if you're going to publish through a press, it doesn't mean that all the work is already done for you (especially if you are agent-less). Reading up on the great finds and the bum deals is a must when thinking of publishing through anyone but yourself. It's worth it- but it is work.

  • Donna Hole says:

    I'm starting to look at small presses myself.


  • I would agree with Sirra Girl that you should be careful- you should always be careful,as sharks lurk pretending to be helpful no matter route you take- but I would contend that the idea that 'most' small presses are nothing but vanity presses is a misconception that hinders the small press industry. I've personally seen more examples of good presses then bad ones- it takes a bit more research work since the bad apples tend to take up the first searches on Google- but resource sites such as Duotrope and Poets & Writers (the latter more so) do a wonderful job of weeding that out for you.

    As in the example of the on-air examples, I would prefer the big network- but would be perfectly happy with a moderate success on a local channel. Youtube I would never use as a main channel- you're just a floating entity that no one has invested in, and its going to take more leg work (and financial bribery) than I can personally put in to get noticed by even a few people. I would rather take a bit more time and have the work reviewed by a credible entity that will risk their company's reputation on me- whether that's a big entity or a small one.

  • Jill Haugh says:

    What a great post. Very well written and chock-full of good information. Very timely, too I must add. It is almost as if you were reading my mind as of late…
    Please feel free to stop round the nut-tree for a visit….
    ~Just Jill
    Mu picture should take you there, but if not, will

  • I would publish through a small press. Right now, I'm focusing on agents, but soon I'm going to query other places. You're right, small presses aren't given enough credit.

  • This is a fantastic post, thank you! I'm always an advocate of small presses, but I've also found every author is different, and so is every book. I'm with Rhemalda Publishing and they've been nothing but absolutely perfect for me and my career so far. That's because my personality and the type of fiction I write is perfectly suited for a small press. Many of my friends would never be happy publishing smaller, and others are only happy self-publishing. I do hope small presses get more attention in the future, but Sirra Girl does have a good point that you need to be careful. Do your research. When it comes to small presses, they are not all created equally.

  • Sirra Girl says:

    My comment wasn't published, so let me try again.

    There are many bad small press houses, which are nothing but glorified self publishing. They lack the funds and experience to market nor do they have in-house editors to ensure the quality of the books.

    Let me put it this way. If you have a TV show you'd like to put it on TV, would you put it on major networks like NBC/CBS…etc (traditional big press), small local cable networks with limited viewers (small press), or put it on YouTube (self publish) in the hope of being "discovered"?

    Yes, there are some reputable small presses out there. But majority of them are substandard and can't help the writers. All writers should be very careful in choosing the right way to get your book published. After all, why work so hard and for so long just to put a poor quality product and via a narrow way? Just be careful. That's all I'm saying.

  • I am very happy with the small press that published STRENGTH. They're communicative, hungry, and willing to try new things! 🙂

  • I'm glad you're happy with your publisher, Anne! I feel like that tends to be the feeling with small publishers. I wonder if any readers have had any kind of bad relationship with a small press? (Other than them folding financially?)

  • Great post. I'm very happy with a small press, too. It's so great to have a friendly, easy relationship with my publisher. It's a relationship of equals, not Big Publisher/lowly writer.

  • M Pax, have you come across any reactions from the small presses about your self-pubbed series? I know some of the trad. big houses take it super negatively, while others are beginning to become open minded about it- if the series has sold wildly well. Is there any difference that you see in querying the small presses as a self-pubbed author?

    And I'm glad you've had a good experience, J.C.!

  • M Pax says:

    I will be querying books thru small presses while continuing to self pub a series. Some of my local friends make a decent living off of publishing through smaller presses. We all decided, it's smart to diversify these days and publish in as many ways as possible.

  • J.C. Martin says:

    Small presses are way more likely to take a chance on new writers. I'm published with J. Taylor Publishing, a small indie press. I must say I enjoy the individualised attention they place on their authors. Definitely a worthwhile route to consider.

  • Hello from "Blogging from A to Z April Challenge!" Following all fellow writers. I believe I'd learn a lot from them. Have a great day!

    Sonnia J. Kemmer

  • I'm really glad to hear more of this! It seemed for awhile there that I was part of a floating minority- its good to see supporters coming out of the woodworks! Does anyone know if there are any small-press specific venues, like review sites or 'shelves' like they do for the trad, or self-pubbed? I think it would be really good for the small-press community to communicate and network as extensively as the other avenues do (I've seen most small presses simply using whichever of the avenues that will take them, though the avenues are labelled as being for either trad. big houses or self-pubbed)

  • I know a lot of writers who have gone this route and are very happy for doing it. There are some really strong small pub out there!

  • I love small presses! Glad that others feel this way, too.

  • Anna Tan says:

    Currently looking at a small local press as an avenue. It's an interesting prospect so far!

  • No problem, Lynn! I'm glad that you stopped by to read the post!

    London, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I'm always a little shocked that it's not talked about more often, when small press publishing has such a large potential to really revamp and reinvigorate the publishing industry in ways that self-publishing just can't.

    Karen, that's an amazing start! There are so many ways that people can promote small presses, from submitting to them, reviewing more books by small presses and buying as many books from small presses (much like you would support a small bookstore!). Again, I see so many sites that support either traditional big house books or self-published, but rarely any that spotlight only small press-pubbed work! It's an area that can use some expanded support!

  • Hear hear! You are right on with every one of these points. I promote the small press whenever and wherever I can. The misconceptions about them are legion. Excellent post!

  • LONDONLULU says:

    Great outside-the-box post! While I must write for a living, I do not have to worry about (self-) publishing in this same way. Kudos to you and all writers for your creativity and hard work.

  • Lynn Proctor says:

    hmmm you got me thinking about this a little more seriously–thank you 🙂

  • Stephanie, I don't know how hard it is with the big traditional presses, but I do know that the two that I currently publish with now seem to harbor no ill will towards each other, and are at times actually grateful for the way that, by building up my name, there is greater potential for a draw back to their company. I wish you luck with your stories!

    And Jo, don't you worry. I feel like that a lot sometimes. Writing as young as I am (I'm still in college), I find it exhausting to not only write a story, but also blog, market, do readings, correspond with bookstores, market my manuscripts to publishers, make posters, correspond with editors and publishers, do interviews, write guest posts on top of my 30-hr a week jobs and full-time student work, which now includes an end-of-year undergraduate thesis for my honors work, which is also on top of the work that I do for my poetry under my birth name, which I currently am published for in over twenty journals and have a collection published through a small press. It's daunting, but it really is a formative experience. I think all writers should challenge themselves to at least exhaust all of their resources going the small press route before they self-publish- it really makes you a better writer, a better marketer, and a better business partner.

  • Jo says:

    This writing business is a lot of work. Not only do you have to create a story, but then you have to really work hard to get published. The more I read,the more I am glad I never tried.


  • Stephanie says:

    I'm looking at a couple of small presses to submit some of my romances stories. I've been following one for a while, and I like the quality of what they produce. And they seem to be hanging on 🙂

    Small presses are also more willing to allow you to pursue other projects alongside publishing with them. Someone correct me if I'm misinformed, but I've heard if you publish with one of the big houses, part of the contract often entails not signing any other contracts or publishing any other books that might compete with the sales of the book they have agreed to publish.

  • Sorry it's taken me a bit to get back to everyone- I'm currently stuck at my parents' with very little internet connection!

    I would agree with the statement that small presses give more attention- though even that varies between each small press. I am mainly published under two different presses (under my birth name, I publish poetry) and the difference between the two houses is immense. I'm still very happy with both of them, but I would say that as much as I advocate wholly for small presses, you do get much of a more varied experience with them. So to prevent from going into ventures with presses who can fold, remember that small presses take a little extra digging-around and research (especially to make sure you aren't publishing through a vanity press masquerading as a small, honest press!)

    Another thing I want to stress about publishing through small presses is that you are not just getting your work out there, you are enabling the employment of book-lovers- those people who actually like to edit and format and sell books, and who have had years of training that I could only dream of! In my opinion, small-press publishing isn't only better for the author, but for the economy and specifically the economy of the publishing industry as well.

    Elizabeth Rose

  • Indie publishers are making headway to be sure

  • Arlee Bird says:

    I dream of a big deal with a large press, but I'd happily go with a small press if that opportunity came my way. I don't like the idea of paying big bucks to have something published on my own so I don't think I could go that route unless I had the money to risk.

    Writers Workshop
    An A to Z Co-host blog

  • Rena says:

    This is an excellent post, Elizabeth. I think that sometimes writers get caught up in the big six (now big five) and fail to see all their options clearly.

  • I'm very happy to be with a small press!

  • L.G. Smith says:

    I've heard good things from authors published through smaller independent presses. They seem to feel they get a little more attention from editors and have more input on their final product, so, yes, I would definitely consider a small press.

  • Hi, Damyanti and Elizabeth,

    I took the small press route with three books. I found the quality of editing at both publishers to be excellent, and their their attention to my manuscript was impressive.

  • Sessha Batto says:

    I loved the idea if being published by a small press – until two of them folded under me back to back. The margin is razor thin it doesn't take much to tip te economic balance leaving the writer to start again from scratch – never again. Self pub is the only dependable alternative.

  • I see more and more authors being published through small independent publishers, so there are definitely a lot of people recognizing the pros of this publishing route.

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