Monday Personal Log

MPL: What Is the Point of You?

No, not you.

Small press publishers. What is the point of you?

I was trying to discover the benefits of going with a small press publishing company as opposed to self publishing. The response I got? You get a professional edit, and a professional cover, you are distinguishable from all the garbage out there because someone who is in the business thinks your work is worth reading. Ok, well what about help with marketing? Nope. Basically they take my royalties and let me do the work. What. The. Fuck?


I am an independent author. I have paid for professional editing, I have paid for and bartered for professional covers, and I have bartered for swag. If I need to market (and I do), I pay for that shit myself. Every review I have on Amazon is the direct result of my hard work (with the help of incomparable indies who united with me to help me get more reviews). So what do I need a small press publishing house for? To take a bit of my royalties just so I can have an unknown name on my book? If I wanted an unknown publisher on my book I could set myself up as a publishing company! I know plenty of Indie authors who have decided to create their own publishing company and have that name on their books. Successful indies. Indies who do their own hard work and it pays off.

So I ask again. What is the point of you, Small Press Publishers?

If I have to do all the work anyway, and you take my royalties and give me a piece of them, what do you do for me in return that I can’t do for myself and keep all my royalties? I know some wonderful indie authors, who make a decent living as authors, who don’t have their own editors. They rely on a team of beta readers to get their book shiny. Beta readers are not paid. They are volunteers. So these writers have gotten professional proofreading through a series of beta readers, and the books are utterly fantastic! So, certainly some of us pay for professional editing, but some of us have enough fans to replace those professional editors.

betta reader

And about covers. Cover artists can been as cheap as fivvr, and you get what you pay for, or as expensive as a grand for a cover and you might not get what you pay for. And then there are plenty of indies who can do for themselves with Photoshop or Corel or whatever. Personally, I have a cover artist who does fan-fucking-tastic work, and I barter with her for the covers she makes for me. The barter system is a thing that is happening in the indie world, and it works. So, an independent author can actually write and publish a professional quality book without paying for anything with money, and work their marketing strategy, and become successful in their genre. So why, why would they want to share their royalties, the result of their hard work, with anyone?

questioning baby

Look, I choose who screws me over. Amazon gets 65 cents for every dollar I sell. That is a choice I have made as an indie author. I don’t get to pick and choose the royalty rate of my distributors. Either I price it at Amazon’s 70% royalty rate, or I price it at their 35%  royalty rate. I have chosen to sell my books at 99c and $1.99 and that is in their 35% royalty rate. It was my choice, and I made it. I could have done without Amazon, built a website and only sold my books through my own website, and that probably would have failed harder than any fail I have ever had, but I could have done it and it would have been my choice. I don’t have to choose to be screwed over for a name.

Ok, I’m grumpy. Proceed to tell me all the benefits of being with a small press.

13 thoughts on “MPL: What Is the Point of You?

  1. I think you’re painting small press publishers with a rather broad and hostile brush based on your experience alone. I do the digital self-publishing/indie thing with all my books. In other words, I retain all the digital rights. Then I sell the hardcover/paperback rights to a small press publisher, and here’s how that goes for me:

    They retain one-time hardcover/paperback rights only, which means I get those rights back once the book is published. I retain all other rights (film, foreign, etc.)

    Depending on the length of the project, I get paid an advance, usually between $2,000 – $4000.

    I am consulted during every step of the cover art process, which usually isn’t necessary as I’m allowed to design my own covers (via my design outfit Elderlemon Design). Even if this wasn’t the case (and it hasn’t always been), I have never been displeased with the covers they’ve selected for my books.

    The books are professionally edited and designed.

    Those books are distributed through all the major channels and reviewed by the major trades (Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, etc) at no cost to me.

    The book is widely advertised in all the places that matter.

    The publisher’s direct sales base numbers into the tens of thousands, so when the print run rarely exceeds 5,000, it’s a guaranteed seller and makes the publisher’s money back, after which they can choose to do a second run or a paperback edition, for which I also make royalties.

    Constant communication every step of the way.

    I understand that this is not everybody’s experience, but it also doesn’t have to be that way if you do some serious research on small press/specialty publishers before submitting to them. There are some fantastic ones out there that rival the bigger publishers and are regarded with industry-wide respect. The doors that have been opened to me based on the small press publishers I’ve chosen have changed my life in ways I could never have managed on my own.

    So, that’s my two cents for what it’s worth, but in a time in which we’re somewhat at the mercy of Amazon’s ever-changing algorithm and publishing structure, I find solace in knowing that the small press, the good publishers at least (and admittedly, there are plenty of bad ones), stick to traditional structures and remain author-friendly, a system which allows me to continue to do what I love without worrying that the ceiling will collapse.

    The publisher’s name is Cemetery Dance Publications, by the way. It may not be your genre, but the one in which I work is considered one of the hardest to sell, which for me, means small press publishing frequently subsidizes my digital sales and allows me to do this full time. And I can’t be anything but grateful for that.

    All my best to you,

    Kealan Patrick Burke

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad that you found a good publishing house! Having the bad experience I had and hearing bad things about other small houses, I was determined never to try again. Now I will keep my options more open in the future! Perhaps I will find one that works, perhaps not but either way, I will still be writing and promoting my work.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Having gone through a small press myself, I can’t agree with you more on this. They gave me editors (Who I fought with on everything.) They gave me cover artists (Out of the two, I only liked the result of one.) but nothing else. My books never sold unless I did all the work myself.
    But I had no control over my books. I couldn’t change their price or create paperbacks or make any changes to the content. I gained the rights back to one book, the other is still in their clutches.
    So now I do it all myself and yes, it is a pain but I am kind of a control freak and I like having control of my babies. (And I really like having paperback copies without having to order 50 or more at a time!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was tired of sitting in discussion panels at writers’ conventions while publishers and editors explained why I should build my own marketing brand, my own marketing platform, why agents wouldn’t look at my manuscripts if I didn’t already have a proven following, and that, basically, even if a publishing house bought my book, sales, marketing and distribution would fall to me. Then, when I learned I would be charged for any remainders they bought back if I didn’t sell because they didn’t support me with their own marketing, I decided publishers had nothing to bring to the table.

    If I had not spent twenty years working with ad agencies and publishing houses as an editor and designer, and did not already know my way around the design and publishing process, I might have felt differently. And I still lack professional marketing skills, but publishing houses wouldn’t have provided those anyway.

    The fact that I also taught writing and graphic design at a college level and had access to colleagues and resources to keep me contemporary with my field made my ability to keep up with industry standards likelu.

    So, given the fact that I have have many of the skills the publishing house would have provided anyway and they weren’t bringing anything to the table that I needed, the decision to publish independently seemed easy. Why negotiate with gatekeepers who would show no faith in my work once they printed it?

    It’s been a rough go, and sales are minimal, but I keep pushing, I’m building a small audience and I’m happy with my decision.


  4. Funny you say this just as I am searching for a publisher for my book and I am wondering the exact same thing that you write about. What is the point of them.


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