Why I Chose A Small Publisher
I’m overdue for this blog post but I have been really struggling to decide on a good topic so I did what any good writer would do. I went to Twitter and ran a poll! The results are in and it seemed most of you wanted to know more about why I chose to go with a small press when it came publishing my book. There are actually a few good reasons for than and so far I’ve been happy with my choice so let’s dive in!
In order to understand why I made the choice to go with a small press, I think you need to first understand some of the options I didn’t go with and why. When I finished my debut novel, I had two choices. I could look for an agent/publisher or I could go straight to self-publishing. There were a lot of different factors that influenced my decision in this area (or may influence yours!) so here is a breakdown of some of the things I considered.
1) The marketability of my book! This one took a lot of thought from me because I knew the romance market was hot for rom coms. I, like so many others, had used the quarantine of 2020 to write my novel. Everyone was already dealing with so much and processing so much change and grief, so many agents and editors were not looking for heavy, grief focused books. They were not looking for books that made them sad or dealt with difficult topics. My book was a romance but it was not a rom com. Deliver Me was and is a book that has a lot of angst and a lot of sadness. It is hopeful and meets the genre requirements for the HEA but I knew it would be a hard sell in the market I was entering. Remember all those times agents and authors have stressed the luck and timing aspect of querying? It is more than just being the right fit for a specific agent, it is about having the right book for the market at that moment. Ultimately, I did decide to try my luck anyway for reasons I will share below but knowing my odds of getting an agent weren’t great did help in my eventual decision to go with a small press.
2) Self-publishing takes a lot of money if you want to do it right and you don’t have the time or necessary skills to do it all yourself. Many self-published authors do a great job of handling their own formatting, editing, cover design, etc. They are rock stars for doing it and I admire their skills. I do not have those skills and I did not want to spend the time necessary to learn them. I also did not have the money to pay someone upfront to do it for me. The cost of having someone else do those things and do them well was enough to put those services out of my reach and I didn’t want to put out a product that I didn’t like because my skills weren’t up to reader standards. If you have the time and/or the money, self-publishing can be a great option—it definitely helps you get around the need to write so heavily to market trends—but I didn’t have skills or money and that made a big difference in my choice not to self-publish.
3) Marketing! Yes, I know. Everyone has to do their own marketing to some extent these days. However, I am extremely shy, not particularly tech savvy, and I have social anxiety. I needed help in this area. I knew I was going to need the help and at that point any help was better than trying to do it alone. Marketing is more than just Twitter and TikTok dances. It’s designing and running ads for Amazon and Facebook etc. It’s knowing which of those platforms is most useful for your genre. It’s keeping up with cover trends and advertising trends and understanding the statistics so you know what’s working and what isn’t for your book. I can handle the social media with a little guidance but I can’t handle all of that!
4) Publishing the actual book. Do I understand Ingram Spark and Kindle Unlimited and print on demand? Not really. Do I understand anything at all about book size and paper quality and getting book into bookstores or libraries? No. Audio books? Not at all. I don’t know and I really don’t want to. Again there are so many authors that rock this but there is simply not room in my brain for all of that information. I knew my limitations and I was happy to hand that problem off to someone else.
5) Creative control. Self-published authors make all of their own decisions about editing, covers, book length, etc. There are no real limits about what you can do unless you include the things Amazon might get upset about (I also don’t know what those things are because worrying about that is my publisher’s job). A lot of self-published authors went that route because they wanted to maintain control over their book. Bigger publishers may have a lot of control over the end product and authors may have less of a say on things like their covers because the publisher wants to make sure the book is done to market trends. They have a financial investment in making your book as appealing to a wide audience as possible. My small publisher falls somewhere in between. The cover and other creative decisions are approved by both of us. I do need to keep close to market trends but they ask for my input on things so the end result is to my taste and something I feel proud of. That’s good enough for me.
6) Money! Not the upfront expenses this time but the money you hope to earn as an author. Self-published authors don’t have to split earnings with an agent or with a publishing company. Traditionally published authors do but publishing with a large publishing house typically means you get an advance. That advance is split up into four parts as you hit various milestones during the pre-publication process and the amount of the advance varies considerably, but it is money that you receive for your efforts before the book is published. My small press did not offer an advance and I do split earnings with them but they took my submission unagented so there is no 15% agent fee taken out of my portion. Either way, you will pay 30% of your own earnings to the government in taxes if you live in the US so make sure you prepare for that by setting the money aside. To be honest I would have loved to get that advance since self-publishing wasn’t for me but not every book is destined to find a home at a big publisher. I’ll talk about that more below.
Overall, there were a lot of points to consider when I finished my novel but when I went through them and weighed my choices against my interests, abilities, and priorities, it was clear to me that I wanted to go the traditional publishing route. Maybe some of the points mentioned above have given you some things to think about, too!
Once I made the choice to pursue traditional publishing, I knew my first hurdle was going to be finding an agent. Most big publishers do not take unagented submissions. I queried over 60 agents and got four full requests during that time. That’s not a lot but with the querying market being as it is these days, it’s also not terrible. I actually got more interest it the book than I thought I would. So, why did I quit querying agents and turn my attention to small publishers? A few reasons!
1) I was running out of agents to query. There were a lot more agents that took romance as a genre, but every agent has preferences and, if you remember from the beginning of this post, most of them were looking for rom coms. My book also deals with heavy topics like abuse or sexual assault that were specifically on many agents’ lists of things they did not want to see. It was in the past and off page but I wasn’t going to upset anyone by disrespecting their boundaries. That limited my pool of agents and I was nearing the end of my possibilities.
2) Feedback. I had some form responses to my fulls but one agent was kind enough to give me a more detailed breakdown of why she felt she needed to pass on the book. Mainly she felt that though she loved the book itself, it would be difficult to sell. I have a MMC that is in prison for murder, some dark themes, and a high heat romance with open door sex scenes. I also had a very religious FMC, a slow burn on the physical parts of the romance, and a lot of social justice issues that are examined. She wasn’t sure who the right audience would be for the book if I published it through a major publisher.
Small presses are different in that, similar to self-publishing, they can bend genre rules a bit more. They don’t have to appeal to the widest possible audience. They often publish books specifically for smaller but very enthusiastic niche groups. Omegaverse romance? Shifters? Blue aliens? Not as popular on mainstream bookstore shelves but thriving in indie spaces. If they do well there, traditional publishing will start to pick them up (Hello, Ice Planet Barbarians!) but indie spaces are where the initial progress happens. I knew that even if an agent picked me up, the book I wrote might very well die on submission for all the reasons that agent had given me. Her feedback fit with my own instincts about the book.
3) Goodness of fit. The right home for your book (agent, editor, publisher, all of it) is the one that is most enthusiastic about it! I’m sure some of you have heard that the real dream agent is not the one you picked off of a list of agents, it’s the one that picked your book out of the slush pile. The same was true for me with my publisher. You want the people working with your book to love it as much as you do and the small press seemed like the right fit for my novel (even without the advance!)
So that’s it! Those are the reasons I ended up with my small press. I feel like I made the right choice for my book (and the second that’s due out a year after the first!) but I’m not trying to convince you to publish the same way that I did. I’m only hoping to give you information that you can use as you consider your own publishing path. Maybe you’re just starting out and very confused by your options or maybe you’re a little further along but this gave you one or two new points to think about. Either way, I hope you found something that was helpful for your journey and I wish you the best of luck with your book!
If you’re interested in checking out my books, my debut novel, Deliver Me, is a contemporary romance set to be published in 2023 by Creative James Media. My second book, Death Sentence, will be available from them in 2024.
You can find Deliver Me on Goodreads here: www.goodreads.com/book/show/61377343
And information about both books can be found on my website: ashleyhawthorne.net