Friday, April 13, 2012


A recent article by Vincent Zandri about how badly a Big Six publisher treated him, was followed by a comment from a writer saying the small publishers can hurt you too. Amen to that.

At the same time, browsing through the Passive Voice blog, I found an article on the same subject that writers should read. Titled “Why Small Publishers fail,“ it quotes an article on Writer Beware with scenarios about why that happens. It’s full of important information for anyone thinking of starting a new publishing company. And, if you think writers won’t do that, let me assure you many already have.

The number of small publishers has skyrocketed in recent years. The emergence of Print-on-Demand technology (POD), along with e-books, spurred more people than just writers to start such a business. Look at the advantages compared to traditional publishing: No expensive office space (you can work from your home with no more than a computer and website). No print runs, no warehouses, no shareholders to answer to, no advances to authors.

But authors need to be wary. For these very reasons, small publishers may be undercapitalized. Without publishing experience, they may not structure their business properly or know how to write suitable contracts with authors. They may not have links to distributors; their printers might not produce a quality product.

Why would writers go to them? There are many reasons that even good authors choose that path. They may have been turned down by traditional publishers for many reasons besides quality of their writing. Their books might fit a small niche of the reading public. They might have a backlist of books the original publisher won’t take. They might be getting on in age and don’t want to wait the years it often takes to get read, approved and published the old way.

But writers considering signing with a small publisher need to do their homework and ask the hard questions. A mere sampling of the things to examine are: the number of years they’ve been in business, any fees they require, the quality of their books and the prices, and the exact terms in contracts. There are sharks out there. There are vanity publishers masquerading as small presses. In a worst case scenario, small presses can go bankrupt and take the authors down with them. The authors’ work will be tied up, possibly for years.

Luckily none of the small presses I’ve worked with have caused me that kind of trouble, but I came close. The publisher of my very first romance novel--although they printed the book--went out of business before paying me. In fact, I had to pay them to get my leftover books, which were so poorly made I didn’t even try to sell them. Another small publisher never paid me any royalties before also going out of business, but at least the books I bought from them were adequately printed.

Do lots of small presses disappear? You betcha. I probably don’t know half of them, but here are twenty-two publishers I queried who are now gone. In no particular order: J.A. Rock, Loveland, Tiger, Triskelion, Sands, Port Town, Pegasus, Noble, Howard, By Grace, Cook, Lerner, Sierra, Muse, Ashgrove, Wings, Avocet, Dry Bones, Anchor, Quiet Storm, Intercontinental, and Rocky Mountain.

Another small press offered me a contract, but I refused. The publisher had only been in business--according to their own website--for six months. When there are so many options, I don’t need to risk taking a chance that something might happen to them and my book would be trapped in a bankruptcy court for years. By the wat, I soon sold that book to an “older” publisher.

What about you, fellow writers? Any horror stories out there?

The Passive Voice
Writer Beware
Small presses


  1. Interesting post, Phyllis. Definitely something to think seriously about. We put so much time and souls into our books, it's scary to think about being taken advantage of.

    1. Misty
      Thanks for the comment. It is scary out there so we need to stay alert.

  2. Good advice, Phyllis.

    1. Sharon:
      Glad you liked it. Thanks for the comment.

  3. An interestig post, Phyllis, and you've concisely laid out what we need to know working with a small publisher. Your blog is exactly what writers need to read as they look for publication. Recently at the Sleuthfest conference I moderated a panel on small publishers where we discussed both the downside of publishing with a small press and the positive aspects. It was such a lively discussion I continued it the next two weeks on my blog I think it's important that authors talk with one another about publishers. I was offered a contract by one small and well-respected house, but I thought the contract was not to my advantage so I talked with one of my writer friends who was published with that house to get the scoop on them. He told me to run away fast! Sometimes we have worked so hard and for so long that we're eager to jump into a relationship with a pubisher, finding later it was a mistake. Keep your writing friends close as they can save you a lot of heartache.

    1. Lesley
      Thanks so much for your input. I'm going to check out your blog to learn more. I hope others who read this will do so too. As you say, writer friends are one of our best resources.

  4. Thanks for your post, Phyllis. I'm working with a small press now (and brand new), but I did my homework before signing the contract. I talked to other people who knew the editor and respected her. I googled her to learn about her other business that is very successful, which told me she knew how to run a business properly. I also checked out other books that she had edited. I spoke to other writers who worked with small presses to find out what their contracts were like. Then I had a lawyer go over the contract carefully. I sent her a list of things I wanted to change on the contract (and the contract was very typical of any author-publisher contract). She sent my list to her lawyer and they agreed to everything. So I signed and things are going well so far.
    I am pleased with the positives of working with a small publisher. I get a lot of attention. My covers came out quickly and I was asked my opinion on them. We're working together on marketing (although I do have a lot of leg work, which I expected). I have a 6 month release schedule that includes a fairly significant revision (which I got a month to work on). The notes she gave me for the revision were extensive and we had a nice exchange on the changes.
    However, all the things you warned above are important for authors to recognize. They should do their homework first! Great post and thanks!

    1. Larissa

      I'm so pleased you took the time to tell your experience with a small press. You did everything right--more than many authors would do--but I'm sure that dedication will pay off. I hope others will follow your footsteps before committing their hard work to a new press. Let me know when your book comes out.

  5. Great blog. Hadn't been aware of some of these problems.

    1. JoAnn
      Thanks for the comment. Yes, we writers can often be naive or too trusting, and better to be safe than sorry.

  6. Phyllis, in your list of now defunct small presses, you list Muse... If you are referring to Muse It Up Publishing, you should check your research because I'm a content editor with this house and we are definitely doing quite well. Could you be referring to Musa?

    Joelle Walker

    PS: You missed Sapphire Blue Publishing.

    "Do lots of small presses disappear? You betcha. I probably don’t know half of them, but here are twenty-two publishers I queried who are now gone. In no particular order: J.A. Rock, Loveland, Tiger, Triskelion, Sands, Port Town, Pegasus, Noble, Howard, By Grace, Cook, Lerner, Sierra, [[Muse,]] Ashgrove, Wings, Avocet, Dry Bones, Anchor, Quiet Storm, Intercontinental, and Rocky Mountain."

  7. Phyllis, I also work for MuseItUp Publishing as an editor, and I'm happy to say Muse is not only alive but prospering. We have a wonderful collection of quality books available, and we are accepting submissions. Guidelines available at

    I am also wondering if you might have meant Musa...

  8. I join Joelle and Penny as a Muse editor and just want to say that Muse It Up Publishing is alive and well and no where near its end. On the contrary it is growing by leaps and bounds every day.


  9. Phyllis, you are 100% correct to state there are sharks out there, that so many new houses pop in and out like pop corn, but the most important element I also tell writers is to research that house before you sign on that dotted line.

    Asking a publisher questions to get a feel for them is okay, but the best is to seek out as many of their authors offlist and ask them questions, find out what their experience has been so far with that house, how they feel, if they would ever submit to them again, etc.

    A very interesting and spot-on topic that writers need to read and be reminded how much of a jungle it really is out there. Thank you.

    Lea Schizas
    MuseItUp Publishing

  10. A very useful warning to authors. But there's a mistake in your list of publishing companies which have disappeared -- unless there was some other Muse publishing company out there?
    I'm an editor at MuseItUp publishing, and, trust me, we are thriving and incredibly busy!
    Check it out --

    Deb Mc.

    1. Thanks Jodi, Penny, Gloria, Lee and Deb.

      I stand corrected. As suggested I probably got the name wrong. I didn't list Sapphire Blue because I never queried them. I'm glad MuseitUp is doing well. I agree that querying other authors about their experience is wise. Thanks again for your comments.


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