048 The Pros & Cons of Small Publishing Houses

Here are the show notes for the most recent episode of the Christian Publishing Show.

You can listen to this episode here.


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.

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The post 048 The Pros & Cons of Small Publishing Houses appeared first on Christian Publishing Show.

3 Responses to 048 The Pros & Cons of Small Publishing Houses

  1. Avatar
    Michele Olson October 29, 2019 at 5:18 am #

    Great article. I think you missed one area where a small publisher can be of great service. Not everyone is going to take the time to learn and understand the industry, all the options etc., or trust it. A small publisher can offer assistance to those in their circle of influence who have always wanted to write and publish a book, but will never go through all it takes to get there. Helping others have their dreams come true, most likely without huge financial outcomes, is still a viable reason to work with a small publisher. It gets past the business and to the essence of why people start to write in the first place.

  2. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 29, 2019 at 8:50 am #

    Let me see the hunger,
    let me feel the burn;
    let me hope, and wonder
    how much we can earn.
    We’re all in this together,
    you and you and me,
    and we know we’ll never
    feed bureaucracy.
    Goodbye to Random Penguin,
    and bean-counting suits,
    and we will have our mention
    in jeans and cowboy boots.
    In the end, rise or fall,
    as we ride we have it all.

  3. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca October 29, 2019 at 9:23 am #

    Thomas, thank you for this article. I think the decision on publishing needs to consider the goals of the author. As a new author with no experience in the literary world, I knew I needed help and wanted to be able to work directly with a publisher. I was less concerned about making money than with writing a good cozy mystery that had a message that was meaningful. My book was published by a small Christian publishing house, and I have been very satisfied with the results.

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