10 Things to Look for When Submitting to Small Presses

First I’d like to point out a great series of posts on what of my favorite author blogs. Ally Carter has a wonderful series entitled 101 Tips on Being a Writer. Ally is the author of the bestselling Gallagher Series put out by Hyperion. In this series of blog posts she covers everything from writers’ block to publishing to completing a novel. Great stuff and a must read. (This is the link to the first set of 101 and you can work your way through the rest via her sidebar.)

On to today’s post: What to look for in a small press.

Thank goodness for small presses. They diversify the type of books available and they are often more accessible to newer authors. So it’s no surprise that there are many good reasons for an author to pursue publication with a small press. An author may want a more intimate experience. If he or she is a new author, a bit of handholding on the part of the publisher can be nice. I’ve mentioned this before, but sometimes it is better for a writer to build their career up from the ground floor. If you go with a big publisher with a big advance and flop, then your career could easily be doomed from the start. Better to exceed expectations. Also, working with a small press editor can be a great learning experience as their lists are smaller and they can devote more time to working with you to grow as an author. 

These are all good things. But, it’s important to remember that not all small presses are created equal.

*Note: Deciding whether or not a particular small press is right for you depends heavily on your goals and expectations. So take that into consideration when reading this post.

1. How will your book be distributed? It’s not terribly difficult to get your book on Amazon. You could do this by purchasing an ISBN number. So, make sure if you want your book to be in brick-and-mortar stores, you ask the publisher if it will be. A lot of times you will get answers like, “It will be available for stores to special order.” That basically means “No, it won’t.” At least not unless someone goes into a specific book stores and asks for your book. If the publisher says, “Yes, it will be in stores” make sure you ask for a list of which ones. Small presses should be able to provide a list of stores where other authors’ books are shelved.

2. The Website: The focus point of a small press’s website should not be a call for submissions. Legitimate publishers–even small publishers–will be flooded with more submissions than they can handle without advertising how to submit manuscripts. Don’t get me wrong, you should be able to find that information, but a little searching never hurt anyone. The focus of the website should be selling books. They should be providing information on their current books to booksellers, to teachers, to distributors, etc. THAT should be easy to find.

3. Will your book be edited? Speak with other authors who have worked with that publisher. Usually you can find them by googling or even on MySpace. Ask how closely he or she worked with an editor. Was the editorial advice useful? Even the best authors need an editor. Be wary of a press that thinks your book is ready to go as is.

4. Advances: There are legit small presses that cannot offer an advance. However, it is something to consider. Do you want/need to be paid upfront for your work?

5. That leads me to my next point…royalties. If you aren’t being paid an advance, then you should be making royalties, right? But, royalties depend on sales. A small press should be very upfront about how many books you should expect to sell. They should be honest, but that doesn’t mean you can slack on your research. Again, contact authors. Ask politely about sales. You don’t need to be blunt, asking exactly how many books they have sold. Just inquire as to whether or not the publisher predicted sales honestly and correctly. No one should have a problem with that.

6. Are you encouraged to buy your own books? You shouldn’t be. No one should suggest that to you. In fact, something you want to look for is a fair amount of free author copies for you to give away to friends and family or for you to use to help promote your book. It’s fine for there to be an author discount in place beyond these free copies, but you should not be pressured into buying your own book and selling it from your garage. Further, a small press should provide a certain number of copies and/or ARCs for promotional purposes and you shouldn’t have to foot that bill. For instance, if you are going to have a book signing, the press should send you copies and you can ship back those that aren’t sold.

7. Books published per year: Small presses are small. Therefore, they shouldn’t try to overextend themselves. Very few titles should be published per year and a focus on a specific genre or niche market (such as libraries) is preferable. Titles by the same author should be published more than six months apart.

8. I hope this goes without saying, but you, as the author, should not pay ANYTHING. You get paid. That’s the flow of money…always.

9. Not a scam, but not a good idea. There are a lot of well-intentioned people that start small presses because they want to give the little guy a chance. That’s great, but really, the publishers should have some experience in some aspect of the publishing industry first. Owning and operating a press is not an entry level job. Check the publishers’ resume.

10. Contracts. A sample contract should be available upon request. If you want to see a great sample contract for a small press ask for one from Five Star Mysteries (not the vanity press, the traditional one–there’s two with similar names). You’ll notice that everything is spelled out for the author. There is even an author handbook to help you decipher. It tells you how many author copies you’ll get, how many promotional copies, what reviewers they will be responsible for sending books to. They are honest about their niche and how many books you can expect to sell plus they layout the advance and how royalties work. Moreover, they send you this contract and handbook upfront. They are really a shiny example of how a small imprint should work.

Finally, while this is not an exhaustive list, I want to give you some examples of great small publishers. I’m not saying they are perfect and they are all very different, but look for the things I talked about and then compare them to the press you’re looking at. Hopefully that will help you to better assess your options.




-Five Star

-Wild Rose Press (not Wild Rose Publishing)


Status: I’m getting ready to go to DC to stay with Nate’s family. They always celebrate the 3rd of July with the grandparents, so I will be going for my third time to celebrate with them! It is a two hour train ride and a great opportunity to get some work done on my graphic novel, SCOUT.

Also, when Ben gets back I plan on putting up some SCOUT artwork, so you guys can get a sneak peek!


Friday Forecast: What the–?

In a time where it seems that writing success depends on blogging, flickring, twittering, and performing any other form of shameless self-promotion imaginable, a book profiled by the New York Times this week defies the odds.

Throw everything you know about promoting books out the window, because The Shack rose to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list with a marketing budget of $300 through the mythical medium known as word-of-mouth.

For those who haven’t heard this feel-good story, The Shack was published by two pastors and sold through their garages, later to be picked up by a major publishing house. The Christian novel tells the story of a grieving father who meets God in the form of a jolly African American woman.

What does this teach us about the publishing industry? I’m not really sure. Only that it is unpredictable and, in that sense, somehow both backwards and charming.


Status: The goal today was 7 pages of script for Scout and 2 pages of the Beacon Street Girl sample. So far, I have done 3 pages of script for Scout and 0 BSG, but I still have plenty of time and expect to get it all done.

A request for the full MS came in from a small press whom I love, love, love and they wanted the manuscript formatted a very particular way. I was happy to do it, but it ate up a lot of time!


Update from the trenches

I’m going to go ahead and declare this a good weekend.

Chandler: 1 Writing: 0.

Ok, if I tallied the score, I think writing kicks my butt, but, yanno, humor me.


Last night, Nate and I went on a dinner date and, as I’ve said before, he has been very understanding of my obsessive email checking. So, once we finished eating, I whipped out the iPhone and checked Gmail. To my surprise, there was an email from an editor at a small press–and on a Saturday night, too! I’d sent a query, synopsis, and the first three chapters to this publisher. Now, one of the acquiring editors wants to see the full ms! This is the first response I’ve gotten from anyone who has read more than just my query letter. He said my story concept was “quite original” and “well written.” Yay! Back to waiting…


Then, this morning at breakfast I got another email–this time from a book packager requesting writing samples! The packager specializes in non-fiction books for grades 3-8. I’m happy to have a foot in the door and work-for-hire is something I’ve wanted to pursue for quite awhile. I’m am putting the final edits on one non-fiction article and think I might write another.


Finally, Ben told me he would have some rough drafts to show me in a couple days. I’m excited to see how he interpreted the characters, what they look like, and the vision he has for our graphic novel. Very fun!


As a writer, I love to feel busy. I love to have projects in the works and opportunities popping up. Of course, it means more waiting, but I guess that comes with the territory. I hope I have some good news to report soon, but if nothing else the weekend events have inspired a few great blog topics that I plan to touch on throughout the next couple weeks. So, here’s a few things you can look forward to…

 -How to tell if a small press is “good” (I plan to compile a big list of resources, too!)

-Writing nonfiction for kids

-Book packaging

-The challenges of writing for children

-How to spot a publishing scam


How ’bout y’all’s good news? I’d love to hear you brag a little!




Status: Polishing samples, doing some beta reading, writing pages of script for Ben. And…Harry Potter 5 is on HBO at 9pm! Could this weekend get any better?


Writer of the Day: Chelle Cordero

Hi, all. Chelle Cordero, the author of BARTLETT’S RULE and FORGOTTEN has agreed to come on and speak to us about promoting your book and yourself as an author. Very important lessons for any new author regardless of whether you are at a major publishing house or a small, indie press like Chelle.

Plus, I think small presses are awesome, so I can’t wait to hear her perspective!


  Your book may have best-seller content, but unless it is publicized, few will even notice its existence. While the major publishing houses may spend mega-bucks promoting some of their hottest-authors’ novels, the cost of a full publicity campaign for small press publishers is often prohibitive. If you are self-published the full burden – and cost – of promotion falls on you.
            NO ONE has as much at stake in the success of your book as you do – it doesn’t matter if you’ve been published by one of the top ten New York houses, a young small press or even self-published. Once you have completed penning your novel it is time to embark on the business end of book writing.
            My first novel, Courage of the Heart, was published by a full self-publishing print-on-demand publisher. After receiving several rejections to my query letters (I didn’t even get so far as submitting the manuscript), one kind, but retiring, agent recommended that I seek a non-traditional publishing company. At the time that I first found this publisher they were offering a totally FREE package for publishing upon acceptance ONLY. When they accepted my manuscript I thought, naively, that I had caught my big break. What I didn’t understand at that point was that the “publisher” offered no help to me in terms of marketing. I didn’t know how to go about promoting my book either. Needless to say, very few copies sold.
            Still optimistically wary (do those two words even go together?), seven years later I sent a query to small independent press Vanilla Heart Publishing in Everett, Washington. My book, Bartlett’s Rule, was accepted! After doing a very energetic happy dance, I started an endless torrent of questions and read the contract offer with a magnifying glass (literally) – I didn’t want to mislead my hopes again. I also did a lot of research and I was aware that a small press publisher had limited financial resources to do publicity – and I wanted to maximize that. There are companies that specialize in book promotion similar to the in-house departments at several of the “big houses”, but again, it can cost mega bucks.
            Using Vanilla Heart Publishing as an example… the publisher will include your book in catalogues and listings to major distributors, submit press releases to various media outlets throughout the nation, prepare and distribute informational packages on you and your book to bookstores, newspapers, libraries, etc., and provide a web presence for you and your book. My publisher also produced a book trailer and designed an eye-catching book cover, both are posted online. They also sent me business cards to hand out.
            VHP is located on the other side of the country from my own New York location. I am more familiar with the local media (print, radio and television) simply because I live here, read local newspapers and play local radio and TV channels. I took the press release that VHP sent out about Bartlett’s Rule, modified it to include a local angle and re-sent it to specifically local publications. One local weekly newspaper soon ran a wonderful article with the headline “Local Author Has Book Published”. I modified a second press release from VHP after they signed my next novel, Forgotten (due out in July) the same way and was mentioned in the daily newspaper book blog; this time the headline was “Second book for Rockland’s Chelle Cordero”
            Many “experts” say that social and professional network sites are crucial to word-of-mouth business. While you have to maintain a level of professionalism and still sound approachable, it is okay to be friendly but do stop short of discussing things that are really “TMI”. I have my writing life blatantly inscribed on my MySpace, Facebook and Inked-In pages as well as on the more business-oriented sites. I maintain a completely self-promotional and, yes, egotistical, blog at http://chellecordero.blogspot.com/. Why not? Do we chastise the big retailers, car dealers and home product manufacturers for the advertising that peppers our newspapers, magazines and TV broadcast channels?
            VHP managing editor Kimberlee Williams sent out introductory packages to many retailers and libraries in my area. Now that the first professional intro has been made, I am following up with phone calls, emails and personal visits. I am hoping to land author events, book discussion groups and placement on store shelves.
            It may seem like a lot of work but this time around I am determined that I HAVE caught my big break and I will be a success.

Stay Tuned…

I’m pleased to announce that author Chelle Cordero will be guest blogging on Wednesday, June 11! She is the author of BARTLETT’S RULE and the forthcoming FORGOTTEN, which will be available in July.

Come up with some great questions for her as she will be available to answer them in the days following her guest post.