Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

Both my novels have been (okay, in the case of Unleavened Dead, is about to be) published by small presses. The two I have been associated with, Swimming Kangaroo Press and Oak Tree Press, operate on the same principles as a large publisher: editing, book cover design, formatting for both the hard copies and e-books, press releases, review copies, distribution deals with all the major companies are provided by the publisher, at no cost to the writer. They pay royalties – at a slightly higher rate, I have found, than the standard offered by the large publishers – but there was no advance. They also print on demand, meaning instead of risking that 10,000 copies of an unsold book will wind up in a landfill, they print the number of books that have been ordered by the distributors, as needed. It’s a very green alternative to the traditional print run.

Oh, and unlike the Big Six (although the number of large publishing houses may be even less by the time you read this), small presses do not require submissions by agents only, and are willing to take a chance on new authors.

Best of all, with a small house, you’re not just one of the herd. You’re an individual. Your emails are answered. You receive attention and care.

There’s another difference between large vs. small publishers. A large publisher will pay for a book tour.

Ha! That was a joke.

Unless you’re an author whose name on the cover guarantees a spot at the top of best seller lists pre-publication, you will be doing your own marketing even if you’re with one of the Big Six. In a small press, you will be doing it on your own even if you are their top seller. I’m not saying there’s no support from a small press – they will send out review copies and press releases – but a lot of the networking is author-driven, as are any book tours.

On the other hand, there are stories that non-bestselling authors love to tell (I’m among them) about authors who receive seven-figure advances on multi-book deals. Book one is a big hit. Book two falls prey to the dreaded second book curse that guarantees critics will compare it unfavorably with the first. The third book barely sells. By the fourth book, the author is flying coach to do signings in small towns – and having to schedule the appearances and pay his or her own expenses. The author has spent all the money received in the advance, and royalty checks are few and far between.

A cautionary tale for us all.

My point being, don’t think finding an agent with access to a large publishing house will guarantee sales or publicity. Good writing is only a small part of becoming successful in this business. And it may be art or a calling or an obsession to you, the writer, but to the publishers, big or small, and to the agents, writing is a business.

Comments on: "THE BIG SIX VS. SMALL PRESSES" (15)

  1. This is a very well written Blog. I’m a newbie and you laid out great information that was interesting and useful. That’s hard to do. Thanks for your insight!


  2. Lots of good points, Ilene. Sans a huge advance (which I also haven’t been offered), I find the personal attention of a small publisher a big plus, an advantage even many of those big sellers don’t have with their houses.

  3. Good information. Well written. Thanks for the info. Good luck

  4. neptune1021 said:

    This was very well written. I recently signed a contract with a small press. I also publish books for other authors, and notice that eBooks are outselling print. Thank you for a great post.
    Barbara of the Balloons

    • A lot of authors find that e-books sell better than print ones. I know I check the Kindle store for the availability of books I want to read, and haven’t bought a hard copy in ages. But I want it both ways – I wish Border’s were still around!

  5. Sally Carpenter said:

    I agree, Illene. Agents and big publishers would not even read my work because I was an “unpublished” author. Oak Tree Press took a chance on me and my book was nominated for an award! Many small presses have grown into “mid-size” presses and will soon be the dominate force in the industry, not the big six who will diminish in importance as their best-sellers retire/die off and the presses have not groomed new writers to replace them.

  6. jennymilch said:

    I’m a debut writer with a Big 6, and I heartily agree that small presses have many advantages, and that doing your own marketing (or not) isn’t the primary distinction between small independent and major house. Whether you’re a bestselling author or just starting out, connecting with readers will be a big part of your career–and so finding ways to make this fun and natural and organic is key, I think.

    I have had a different experience in terms of attention and contact, however. The number of talented people I’m in touch with on a weekly, often daily, basis at my publisher astounds me. The investment in just one book from a place that ushers so many into the world has been a wonder. I think that the road to publication doesn’t just differ publisher to publisher, but book to book. Figuring out where you and your book belong can be tricky, and has a lot to do with which door opens when.

    • Ah, Jenny, but considering the advance praise for your book, it has “best seller” stamped all over it! I’m looking foward to reading it, and I’m not a big fan of thrillers. But I’ll make an exception for you.

      I’m glad you found a Big Six publisher who is backing you and making sure your book gets the attention it deserves. I’ve been following your posts on DorothyL and elsewhere, and you have worked hard.

      • jennymilch said:

        Ilene, you were one of the very first writers I ever met, at an MWA party in a Princeton restaurant. I was so green that when I said I had an agent, I thought that meant I should get published soon. It was, what? Eight years ago? Anyway, all of that to say that it means a great deal to me that you’d want to read my book. It’s one part mystery…(but doesn’t have the wit you infuse your writing with). Anyway…I hope we see each other again before too long, and I hope writers everywhere find the press or publisher that is just right for them. This was a great post, and great comment thread!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: