Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

“Reading and writing are acts of empathy and faith. Guard that trust carefully — in this rapidly changing business, it’s the only sure thing.” ~Erin Keane
"Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in." ~ Louise Brown

"Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it."
~Jesse Stuart

"A writer's job is to take one thing and make it stand for twenty." ~ Virginia Woolf

Friday, September 21, 2012

What is a "small press"?

I made a comment about the small press as an alternative to self-publishing vs. getting an agent a few weeks back on C. Lee McKenzie's blog.  As a result, she requested this interview which we decided to turn into a guest post.  

Any questions, feel free to ask in your comments and I'll do my best to address them. (Although I'm headed to Moab for the weekend and not sure how my internet access will be, so it may be a few days before I can weigh in on the comments.)


C. Lee McKenzie: What’s the definition of a “small press”? 

Karen Gowen: A small press puts out fewer titles and makes less money than a large, traditional publisher. Still, it is set up essentially the same way-- meaning it pays the author and does not charge their authors for services such as editing, design, marketing, etc.  

Wikipedia states: "Since the profit margins for small presses can be narrow, many are driven by other motives, including the desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market. Small presses tend to fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. They can focus on regional titles, narrow specializations and niche genres. They can also make up for commercial clout by creating a reputation for academic knowledge, vigorously pursuing prestigious literature prizes and spending more effort nurturing the careers of new authors."

McKenzie: How are they distinct from vanity presses?

Gowen: Vanity presses charge for services to authors while a small press does not. Although there are many vanity publishing companies that now call themselves "small press" or "independent", since the reputation of vanity companies has been tarnished. I can't imagine any company actually saying, "We're a vanity publisher." They're going to call themselves something that sounds much more palatable. But the bottom line is, do they pay the author or do they charge fees for services while keeping rights and a share of royalties?  

McKenzie: Are small presses, indie publishers and independent publishers the same? 

Gowen: It has become a word game. Self-published authors now call themselves indie publishers. Independent publisher is another term for independently-owned publisher, not part of a conglomerate like the Big Six, but they may not be a small press. Tor is an independent publisher but definitely not a small press. A small press is an independent publisher but an independent publisher is not necessarily a small press. Confused yet?

McKenzie: If an author chooses to go with a small press rather try for one of the BIG international publishers, what questions should that author ask about rights, percentages, editing, design, promotion, formats, distribution?

Gowen:  The number one question to find out is whether or not the author has to pay for editing, design, promotion and distribution. A legitimate publisher will NOT ask their authors to pay for these services. The format the book will be published in and approximate publishing date should be part of the contract. Royalty percentages should also be part of the contract. And it should be clear what the royalty split entails, whether it is on the net price or what. This is very important. A publisher may seem to offer a high royalty rate but if it is based on net profit, watch out!

Writer Beware has a comprehensive list of questions and concerns about the small press.

McKenzie: Is there an association of small presses that one can refer to (similar to those that are available for agents) in order to be sure the company is legitimate?

Gowen: Yes, there is! It has been around for 25 years and  is called The Independent Book Publishers Association. According to their website: "The Independent Book Publishers Association is the largest not-for-profit trade association representing independent book publishers. Founded in 1983, it serves book publishers located in the United States and around the world. Its mission is to advance the professional interests of independent publishers. To this end, IBPA provides cooperative marketing programs, education and advocacy within the publishing industry." On their website, you can find a list of their members/publishers with contact information.

Thank you to Lee McKenzie for this interview! I hope it helps readers to make an informed decision about which publishing path to follow.

Lee's information is below:

27 comments:

  1. I'm with a small publisher and I've enjoyed the experience.

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  2. Great explanation of what a "small press" means! Thanks for doing this.

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  3. Smaller is better!! :-) Take care
    x

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  4. Had no idea what "small press" was and now that is clarified. Great idea Karen - have a wonderful weekend in Moab - didn't know where that was till I googled it - very interesting small town. Enjoy

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  5. Valuable information. Thanks, Karen and Lee for doing this! I've added the IBPA website on my list of tools for writers on my blog.

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  6. You did a great job explaining the differences, Karen!

    Jai

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  7. Perfect definition of a small press!

    'Independent' still means publisher not author to me though.

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    1. Diane, Same here and I have to say the "indie author" label grates against my ear for that reason.

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  8. Thanks for doing this, Karen. I know I learned a lot and I hope it helps others!

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    1. Lee, I needed the motivation and the questions :)

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  9. Dear Karen, this interview posting is so valuable to all of us who want both to write and to be published. Thanks for providing these definitions as well as what a contract from a small press needs to cover and what questions an author needs to ask. Peace.

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  10. I'm really happy with ,y small press experience. Thanks for those clarifications.

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  11. This is why I love writer blogs. So full of useful information.

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  12. That was quite informative Karen and Lee. Thank you. I've had the question of whether a small press is a vanity press in my mind for a while.

    ......dhole

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  13. Really useful interview, thank you.

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  14. Excellent info! Thank you both for this :)

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  15. That was a great interview Karen! I've been trying to decide where to go and this helps a lot. ;)

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  16. Very interesting interview. It helps to clarify many points.

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  17. There is a lot of confusion out there, that's for sure. Thanks for the interesting information. Really good questions and answers.

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  18. I always though a small press was one you could keep in the back of your car. (As opposed to the giant letter press, on which my grandfather and uncle printed their newspaper.)

    Thank you for teaching me about small presses.

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  19. What a great, informative post, Karen! I know small presses have been a super option for several of our writer friends--you included! Here's to small presses~ :o) <3

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  20. How exciting to see that your post attracted so much attention. Great information has a tendency to do that. Thanks again, Karen.

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  21. Lots of information in this post, Lee and Karen. I learnt small press processes. Thanks!

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  22. Hi Karen and Lee - great decision to turn your Q & A into a post - really useful to read ..

    Cheers Hilary

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  23. Great post!! Thank you for this :)

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