Friday, July 27, 2012

Self Publishing or Small Press, Which is Right for You?

Self Publishing or Small Press, 
Which is Right for You?
Guest post by Michelle Birbeck

A lot of authors are taking the DIY route with publishing these days, and some of them are even making good money at it. There’s a lot to be said for going it alone, too. No editors to ask you to change things. No contracts to sign where you only get a certain amount per book. No one telling you that the cover you want isn’t what you’re getting because it’s not something that’s popular or saleable at the moment.

And perhaps one of the biggest lures of self-publishing; no rejection letters.

I like the sound of that! One of the hardest parts of becoming an author for me was the rejection letters. Time after time I sent my work out into the world only to be told it wasn’t good enough, wasn’t what they were looking for. In some cases it was clear that the work hadn’t even been read.

So I can certainly see the allure of self-publishing. But it isn’t all click a couple of buttons and start making money. If you want to do it properly, then you need to do it right. This is where some of the downsides of self-publishing come into play. It might be nice to not have editors telling you things need to be changed, but if those things really do need to be changed? Plot holes that you can’t see because you’re too close to the work? Spelling mistakes you’ve gone over time and time again but still missed?

I can’t tell you how many times I went over my own novel before my editor got hold of it. Countless. Yet when it came back, I’d missed basic spelling mistakes, grammatical errors I didn’t even know existed, as well as plot holes and timeline errors. So as much as it will hurt your bank balance (unless you’re lucky enough to have a good friend who’ll do it for free!), it is worth paying for an editor.

Then on top of that, you’ve got blog tours to organise, marketing and distribution to organise, signings and talks to set up. All to be done whilst you’re working on your next novel, and maybe even at the same time as holding down a job and taking care of a family.

Yet there’s another option that people seem to forget about. The publishing world isn’t just self-publishing and traditional publishing. There are small press publishers, too.

Where self-publishing is strictly DIY, traditional publishing the opposite, small press publishing is somewhere in the middle. You don’t need an agent, so no rejection letters, and though there’s no guarantee your work will be accepted, the small press people tend to be a lot nicer about things.

There are also some advantages of going with a small press publishing house. If you get a full service one they’ll provide editing, marketing, distribution, cover design… all the things you’d have to pay for with self-publishing or have little to no say in for traditional publishing (unless you’re earning them millions like Anne Rice or JK Rowling, in which case I’m pretty sure the publisher asks how high when they say jump).

So which one is right for you?

If you’re serious about becoming an author then it’s always best to weigh all the options. Look at the pros and cons of each. Check out which option will earn you more, which will cater to your needs and provide the right package.

For me it was simple. I don’t have the time or money to invest in self-publishing on any kind of novel length scale, but the finances of a traditional publishing deal weren’t right for me either. So small presses, with royalty based earnings and full service was perfect. For me.

The key questions I boiled it down to are these:
Do you have the time to invest in self-publishing? Time for finding editors, marketing, organising blog tours.
Do you have the money to invest in self-publishing? Paying for distribution, editors, marketing and advertising.

If you answered yes to those questions, then it might just be that DIY is the way to go. If not, then look at the other options, see what’s out there, and above all, do what’s right for you, not what everyone else is doing. 

About the author:
Michelle Birbeck has been writing and reading her whole life. Her earliest memory of books was when she was five and decided to try and teach her fish how to read, by putting her Beatrix Potter books in the fish tank with them. Since then her love of books has grown, and now she is writing her own, and looking forward to seeing them on her shelves, though they won’t be going anywhere near the fish tank. When she’s not writing, she’s out and about on her motorbike, or sat with her head in a book.  

Find out more at and on Twitter.

This post is part of a weekly feature of guest posts about various topics related to writing and publishing. If you are interested in doing a guest post, please contact me.

Most recent post - With All the Publishing Options, What's an Author to Do? by Monique Domovitch.

While you are here, please also check out the previous posts included in this feature.


  1. Good post. I have been wondering about small press. I do everything myself at the moment and I like the control that it gives me, but I know I'm lacking in certain areas, promotion especially.

    I am curious if any small presses will be able to get your print copies into brick and mortar stores and what the difference in royalties would end up being (roughly, obviously as each place is different, I'm sure.)

    1. Hi!
      I don't know about all of the small press companies, but certainly some of them do get the print copies into actual stores. I'm with TWCS, and thought it takes about six months, they do get their books into actual shops.
      And I'm quite hapy with how much control I have over certain aspects. Doing things like this guest post, for instance, and making my own book trailer. I also got a lot of input into my cover design.
      As for royalties, I'm pretty sure I get less than if I'd self-published my book. I get a set amount per book sold, so it's less than the 70% of the profit Amazon would give me. However, it balances out. I don't have to pay for an editor, or for maketing. Everything I need on that side of it is covered by the publisher. They pay for advertising and marketing. Yet at the same time, I get to set up signings and talks in places that I was to go.
      Of course, everyone's different, and for some people self-publishing really is the way to go.
      It's worth dropping an email to some of the small presses, just asking if they have distribution into stores. In my experience they tend to be very nice about answering questions (which is always a plus!).

    2. Thanks for the feedback! I will definitely look more into it. I have seen some folks do really well with small presses (do they consider them boutique presses? or are those the offspring of some of the big name ones?).

      The marketing and advertising is the big draw for me as most of the other stuff I have handled (although the editors I use can take longer than I'd like so that can be a drawback). I've got a good handle on social media, but I just can't be everywhere at once, ya know? I'm glad there are other options to look into though.

      Thanks again! :D

  2. To tell you the truth, I always thought of small press publishing as "traditonal publishing" until reading this post. I knew all that information, but it was how I was categorizing it anyway.

    1. I think one of the reasons I never thought of small press as "traditional" is because you don't need an agent and it's not going through one of the big 6 publishers, but I like that there are so many other options these days :)



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