I read an “inkwell” article in Writer’s Digest recently that took me a bit by surprise. This article, “Sizing Up Small Presses” was published last February (I’m a bit behind in my reading), and encouraged authors to consider publishing through a smaller press as an alternative to either self-publishing or landing the emblem of one of the bigwigs.
According to the article, “authors earn their money primarily through royalties–roughly 10 percent on print sales and up to 25 percent per digital purchase.”
I’ve been with three small presses now, and my experience is a bit different–particularly on print sales. With the exception of one of the publishers (who pays quite a bit less than 10% on print sales), I usually earn considerably more in print sales and a tad bit more on digital sales. If I ever decide to go with a small press again, this percentage will be the first thing I look at.
Next, the article mentioned the advance: “$1000-2000 is a common range,” or the advance is non-existent. I’ve never earned an advance anywhere near that high. Usually, the advance paid is just enough to qualify the publisher with certain organizations, like ACFW, so the authors would qualify to enter contests, like the Carol Award.
Even though my experience doesn’t match up with what Robert Lee Brewer quoted in his article, it’s interesting to see something that would indicate a standard in the industry.
There are non-monetary things to consider when looking at small presses, too, not the least of which is the status of the press. Is it truly small, or is it an upstart? If you’re looking at an upstart company and are willing to give them a try–after you’ve thoroughly investigated them (and any other small publisher) on Preditors and Editors and every other way available–be sure you can get the rights back to your book should the company go out of business. Even if the company doesn’t go out of business, how long will your book be under contract? What is the expected print run? After they release it, will you be able to keep your cover art?
How many books has the company published? Do you like the covers? Are you familiar with any of the authors? Where are the books distributed? What are the price ranges? (40% of a 99c ebook doesn’t provide much of a royalty.)
Read through the opening pages of some of the company’s books on Amazon. Do you like the format? Do they seem well-edited? Should you hire a professional freelance editor before you submit to them? That’s your name on the title page–you want your work to be polished.
What is the company’s marketing plan? These days, authors bear most of the burden of marketing regardless of the publisher size, but even small companies have a support system.
The good thing about being with a small publisher is that someone objective validated your work. Someone said, “Yes, this book is good enough for us to risk our resources on.” Even though self-publishing is becoming far more acceptable than it once was, it is still a great boost and career-starter to be able to announce that you’ve been traditionally published.
But it definitely isn’t a way to get rich quick. Well, publishing in general won’t change your financial status overnight, until you happen to have that one story that defies all odds. Most of us don’t.
What are your goals? Why do you want to be published? If my burning desire is simply to get my stories out there, I wouldn’t bother with a publisher at all. I’ve already proven that I can earn back the money I’ve invested to get my book out there.
I’ve been traditionally published three times and self-published twice. Personally, I like the objective validation that comes with being traditionally published. But I don’t know that I’ll bother with a small house again (well, depending on which one it is). I like having control over my work. If a major company isn’t willing to invest in my works, I may continue to self-publish until I can produce what the biggies are looking for.
But isn’t it great? Regardless of the publication path you choose, it’s wonderful to know that so many routes are available. It’s a writer’s dream world!