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Small Press Publishing Part 1: The Benefits and Risks

We have often talked about the three types of publishing: Traditional, Indie, and Hybrid, but rarely about small press publishing. A small press is a publishing house that makes less than $50 million annually. But that doesn’t mean small presses put out less quality books or neglect to give your book all the polishing up that it needs. Editing, designing, production, distribution, etc. still play an important role in small presses. 

The difference between the big publishing houses and a small press lies mostly in the number of books they publish annually. Small presses go against the mass market media, and play an important role in amplifying marginalized voices and addressing people in communities that are under-represented.

The Benefits of Small Press Publishing

1. Amplifies voices from unknown authors

Big presses are often unwilling to take risks with lesser-known authors. Hence, they only accept agented submissions that would guarantee the book’s success. Small presses, on the other hand, are more willing to take risks with books by upcoming authors, whether it be a poetry collection, memoir or fast-paced fantasy.

Roberto Carlos Garcia, from the small press ‘Get Fresh Books’, is an author of three poetry collections and holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry Translation. His inspiration to start a small press was because he wanted to publish the books he wanted to read.  “All of these wonderful books were coming out from presses that today we wouldn’t necessarily call small presses… and here they were now, publishing very important books in a market that was predominantly white male, heterosexual. And so, I just decided that I wanted to have an active role in publishing the books that I wanted to read,” he says.

2. Focuses on the literary aspect rather than the monetary aspect

For Suzi F. Garcia, Executive Editor of Noemi Press, Online Editor at Michigan Quarterly Review, and author of the chapbook “Dear Dorothy: A Homegrown Fairytale,” the beauty of small press publishing is its ability to connect with authors and make them a part of a team. 

“We get to say this is beautiful and brilliant and different. And we want to find that vision of a writer and really develop it… there’s such an investment in independent and small press publishing in the author and their vision that I felt at home… it’s a process that makes you feel like you have a space, not just because you’re creating that space but because you belong with your authors and your authors belong with you in a beautiful, personal way,” she says.

The Risks of Small Press Publishing

1. Less Marketing Power

“We just don’t have the power that a Big Five publisher has. To put a prose book in front of the right audience is one of the hardest challenges we have. So, to try to get the attention of all these booksellers and all these clubs, of all these subscription boxes – can be very challenging. We have to come up with innovative ways to sell our books, to sell our authors and to sell experimental prose sometimes to the average book club that may like a narrative with a very central theme,” says Suzi F. Garcia about the marketing power of small presses.

2. Less Upfront Payments for Authors

While large publishing houses can afford to pay a significant upfront payment for its authors, small presses just can’t afford to do it – but that doesn’t mean you’re going to suffer losses. They have higher royalty rates to make up for this drawback.

“I love the risk of small press publishing. We get to see potential in books and develop books beyond just ‘is this ready/is this not ready?’ ‘Will this sell/will this not sell?’” says Suzi Garcia. 

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Sharika Hafeez

Sharika Hafeez is a nerd, and she’s proud of it. Growing up, she fell in love with books and writing, and is currently following her undergraduate degree (for some mysterious reasons) in Physics. She likes procrastinating by watching the stars with a steaming cup of tea, composing poetry in her head.

January 25, 2023

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