Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

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Small Publishers versus The Big Five

A recent article in Writers Digest ( discussed the pros and cons of working with a  small publisher.  As an editor, then a literary agent, and now a publisher, I have unique experience with this topic.

The Writers Digest article hit the high points, but I want to add more.  About one third of the books I sold to large publishing firms ended up languishing in limbo-land.  The authors complained about no support, poor MadCatcommunication, and no feedback on how to improve sales.  In many cases, the original editor left the firm and the book became an orphan—a fate worse than death.  Here’s an overview of the topic:

The Downside of a Small Publisher

 When we sign new authors at NorLightsPress, I always start by telling them what we cannot do when compared to one of the big publishing firms.

  • We don’t have a huge marketing reach. We do not employ a sales force, pay for front tables at Barnes and Noble, or purchase ads in magazines and newspapers.  We depend on our authors for most of the marketing. However, talk to any new author who published with a large firm and you’re likely to hear a sob story about no marketing support.  The large firms spend 90% of their marketing budget on 10% of their authors.
  • We can’t book you on national television.  Say goodbye to your dreams of Oprah.  Sob.
  • Our sales goals are modest compared to the Big Guys.
  • Bookstore sales are harder for a small firm to achieve, although most of us do work with booksellers.
  • Most small publishers can’t afford to pay advances. However, that means you start earning royalties much sooner.
  • Well, that’s about it!  Marketing is the biggest issue, as you can see.

Our experiences with large publishers helped us forge NorLightsPress with author satisfaction in mind.    

happy-catThe Upside of a Small Publisher   

 I’m speaking for NorLightsPress here, but most indie publishers offer these same advantages:

  • We accept un-agented submissions.
  • Your book won’t be self -published.  You have a publisher who believes in your work and is willing to invest time, energy, and money.
  • We charge no fees.
  • We will keep your book in print for years, not drop it into oblivion after 90 days. Our backlist keeps selling year after year, and we continue supporting our authors.
  • We offer better royalties than larger publishers because we believe authors deserve a fair share for their efforts.  Since our authors help more with marketing, they earn larger royalties.
  • Our royalty statements are detailed and state-of-the art. The large publishers send statements that give no real information.
  • We offer a substantial discount on books you purchase. You can buy books for resale and make money that way.
  • Yes, your book will be available in all eBook formats and online with the major booksellers. We especially work hard on the Amazon pages.
  • Your book will be available to bookstores if they choose to order from our distributors. Barnes and Noble will order books for selected stores.
  • Professional editing, a professionally designed book cover and a well formatted interior. You get plenty of input during this process, although we have the final say.
  • We can have your book on the market within 60 to 90 days, as opposed to a year or longer for large publishers.
  • We provide review copies and a professionally designed media kit. You find the reviewers for us, and we’ll send out the books at no charge to you.
  • We do not withhold part of your royalties to pay for returned books. This can be a huge issue with some publishers, who will keep several thousand dollars of your royalties.
  • We provide an online splash page for your book with a look-inside feature.
  • We’re available for phone calls and you’ll work with the same people for years. Your book won’t be orphaned because an editor moves on.
  • If you’re able to hire a publicist, which we encourage, we’ll work with that person to maximize book sales.
  • We do not have a restrictive option clause in our contract.

ladder-of-successMany unhappy writers have discovered that the Big Five in New York City are not the holy grail of publishing.  Having your book disappear into a black hole and then finding you aren’t allowed to sell your next book to a different publisher (read the option clause!) is a painful wake-up call. On the other hand, if you’re fortunate enough to find a Big Five editor who will champion your book, then enjoy the roller coaster ride!  If you’re like the  other 99% of authors, publishing with a small press is a great option for those who are willing to work their way up the ladder of success.

See our submission guidelines at:

Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and author of the new book Dialogue for Writers: Create Powerful Dialogue in Fiction and Nonfiction

FRONT cover final

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