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.