What is the difference between a small and large publisher? Should you go with a small publishing house? 

This has been one of our most requested topics on the show, especially after:

How the Publishing Business Model Works

  • Acts like a VC fund. Taking big risks looking for big pay offs.
  • Those risks are funded by the backlist. 
  • HarperCollins owns the rights to C.S. Lewis’ backlist. They also own Zondervan among other Christian Imprints. C.S. Lewis’ books fund the risks Zondervan takes on new books. 

What is a small house?

  • Traditional publishing house without a lot of money.
  • Little to no evergreen backlist
  • Little to no bestseller frontlist
  • Often use the same tools indie authors use (print on demand, freelancers, etc.) but they do it for you.
  • Often they are started by a successful author or agent who wants to help her friends get published. 
  • Often run by a single charismatic founder who manages most of everything. 

How a small house is different from a medium size publishing house.

  • Medium houses are very similar to big houses in most respects. 
  • The big difference between large and medium is the size and sales of the back list
  • Big houses poach authors from medium houses all the time. In fact, that is the primary strategy of one of the top houses. They treat the medium houses as their minor league feeder teams. 
  • Small houses are different. If medium sized publishers are like the minor leagues. Small houses are like the local church softball league. There are no talent scouts in the bleachers, only friends and family. 
  • One way to tell a small house from a medium house is by how old it is.  It is hard for a small house to last for a decade. They either get bigger or die off. 
  • Another way is by the size of the advance. 
  • Your agent will tell you. 

Small House Pros

  • Easy to get selected. Gate keepers are less picky
  • Some expertise. Rolodex of freelancers
  • No money out of pocket
  • Prestige of going with a traditional publisher.
  • Access to competition 
  • Small houses sometimes give authors a bigger cut of ebook royalties. 

Small House Cons

  • Tiny budget. (Even if your book shows potential, they can’t drop $50k in promotion to help you hit a bestseller list.)
  • Small Advance. It is not uncommon for small presses to offer triple digit advances. 
  • No Audiobook Production. They lack both the money and the expertise.  
  • No placement in physical bookstores. 
  • You only make between 75¢ and $1.50 per paper book.
  • You lack control over the cover, typesetting, marketing, etc.
  • You get no marketing data
  • No marketing spend
  • You can’t control the price of your book
  • No financial stability (small presses go out of business all the time)
  • Small houses are overly dependent on one person. (Scandal, sickness, death, or business of that one person can kill your book)
  • You get paid slowly if at all
  • In most cases going with a small publisher prevents you from ever going with a big publisher. 
  • For most small publishers, you get the worst of both traditional and indie publishing. 
  • Small publishers have become in my mind the new vanity publishing.

But that is not to say that small presses are always a bad idea.

Small Publishers Make Sense When The House Has

  • A strong focused brand. (Enclave)
  • A passionate following. (A Mega Church Press)
  • A popular literary universe you get to write in. (Sterling And Stone)

Small Publishers Make Sense When the Author

  • Is successful in one genre but wants to write in a second genre under a pen name. 
  • Just has one book they want to write and can’t afford to independently publish. 
  • Is not concerned about money, sales, or impact.
  • Wants access to the focused group of fans of the small publisher. 

Bottom Line

  • For most authors who are considering a small press, I recommend either working on your craft and platform more so you can attract a medium sized press or going indie. 

Sponsor: Christian Writers Institute

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Normally we feature an individual course, but today we are featuring a course bundle. 

Mistakes New Writers Make by Kathy Ide

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Steve talks about what makes for a good book. This talk is also a special glimpse into the mind of an agent. Find out what they are really looking for. 

Do I Need an Agent? by Steve Laube

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The Elements of an Effective Book Proposal by Steve Laube

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How to Sell Everything You Write by Bob Hostetler

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Redeeming Rejection by Steve Laube

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The Power Book Proposal by David Horton

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How to Use The Christian Writers Market Guide by Bob Hostetler

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