A Goodreads user
A Goodreads user asked Michael J. Sullivan:

Hi again Mr. Sullivan just wanted to know about small presses, would it be best for a debut author to start at a small press? What are the pros and cons of working with a small press?

Michael J. Sullivan Hey Corey,
Small presses can be great or they can be terrible. My first publishing was with a small press and although they were well-intentioned the results were pretty dismal. Like most small presses they offered no advance and they were always struggling financially. In fact, there was a time when they weren't paying their warehouse fees and as such my books went "out of print" even though there were many in storage. I actually ended up going to the warehouse and buying several hundred of my own books to pay the warehouse fee and get my books shipping again. Even though I sold out the print run I never received a dime of the royalties and they had no interest in ebooks.

My second small press experience was much better. I sold the print-only rights for Hollow World to Tachyon Publishing. They did provide an advance, although much smaller than another offer I had for full rights (print, ebook, audio). They expertly produced the book, provided ARC copies to the sales people of their distributor, put it in the Amazon Vine Program, and also provided copies via Net Galley. They have extensive distribution and paid for co-op fees to get the book premium placement. Their contract is VERY good....fixed-term (rather than life of copyright), good out of print clause, fair royalties. I can't say enough good things about them and how they operate.

Here's the thing when it comes to small presses (imho). Some do very little that you can't do yourself. They utilize POD (instead of printing and warehousing books), use freelance editors (or provide no editing), and their covers can look similar to self-published works. If this is the type of small press you are looking at, I'd say it's worth just going self, as you are not getting much from them.

But then there are other small presses, those that do have press runs and utilize distributors - these are going to be "all right" with getting your books in the distribution chain. They won't be as good as a big-five, but they will be much better than print-on-demand.

When it comes to ebooks, most won't do better than you can yourself. There are a few exceptions to this. Rosetta books, Open Road Media, and Bell Bridge Books comes to mind. They really know how to market ebooks and their authors see significantly more exposure than if the authors went "on their own." The big thing is to check out the ratings of the ebooks for a small press and if they have titles sub 1,000 that's really good. They should have a number of titles in the sub 10,000 ranking range if they are really good. Amazon rankings in the 10,000 - 50,000 range are doing "better than most." If they have all their titles ranging from 100,000 - 500,000...then they really aren't selling anything in quantity, and you would be better off on your own. Use Sales Rank Express (http://www.salesrankexpress.com/) and type in the name of the publisher to see what kind of rankings they have.

Pros are that they are much easier to work with than big-five publishers. They tend to involve the writer more and work more in partnership. The cons are that they are often strapped for cash and late or no payments isn't uncommon. You need to do your research. I would certainly talk to some of their authors, check out their Amazon ranking, and evaluate how good their covers are before signing. If you can get a print-only deal with a publisher that does print runs that's kinda the golden egg.

As to where to start out? Any of the choices: small, big-five, and self are viable. Small presses offer a good "in between" option in that they foot the full bill for editing, cover design, layout but they generally aren't as good with distribution, and most as I said, have the same options available to them as self. They also can be more experimental and less demanding with regards to what they pick to publish. It's impossible to know which route is best for any individual author. A lot will depend on your goals and aspirations. Figure those out first and a path will usually be clear.

Thanks for asking!

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