Small Press Publishing | What Can It Do For You?

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small press publishingOver this past weekend, I attended the Willamette Writers Conference. The annual gathering of writers, publishers, agents and creatives is a great time to connect and learn about the craft and business of writing books. It’s also a great time to figure out what everyone’s talking about and this year, it was small press publishing. 

Before we go into what small press publishing is and what it means to you as a memoir author (or any other kind of writer, really) I feel it’s important to talk about just how “on trend” writers can be. Fifteen years ago, I first heard of self-publishing books. Then it was crowdfunding. My first discussion about the viability of podcasting came at a conference.

Get enough writers together in the same room and they’ll talk. You can usually get a pretty good idea of what’s hot, what’s new, and where to put your energy next.


In some ways, the “small press” definition can be viewed as inconsequential. The reality of the publishing world says that there are five major publishing companies (known to most as the New York Five) and then there are all the rest.

Most new authors strive for the biggest publishing house (or deal) they can imagine. They’ve been to the bookstore, they talk to their friends, they see the books that end up becoming movies. These books are, in most cases, brought out by the big five publishers. They are the most recognizable books, written by the most famous authors, taking up the most prominent places on the bookstore shelves.

Does that mean those big five publishers are the only places where authors cam achieve their goals? Absolutely not. In fact, the viability and accessibility of small press publishers are precisely why so many authors are talking about them. It’s also why you should consider this as a path for your book.

small press publishing


If you’re hellbent on a big five publisher, you can stop reading right now. If you’re open to the idea of finding different, perhaps more accessible routes for your book, keep reading.

Small press publishing isn’t a concession. I would be willing to guess that somewhere on your kindle or bookshelf you’ve got a book released by one. For many writers, most I would say, working with a smaller publishing house makes a lot of sense. A small press publisher generally publishes fewer books each year, works with fewer authors, and offers a more limited reach.

What does that mean for you? If you publish your memoir with a small press you’ll have a more prominent place in the publisher’s catalog. In general, small presses don’t buy books they don’t believe in, so their acceptance means your path to success could be cultivated. 

The idea of limited reach may put some authors out, but that’s not necessarily true. In my experience, small press publishers know their market. They’re not, like the big five publishers, going to saturate the media with images of you and your book. They know how to get to readers interested in what they publish. 


I know quite a few small press publishers. Every one of them works with their authors on a close, personal level, making sure their needs are met. You don’t hear about authors getting “lost in the shuffle” in working with these more intimate houses. If they only publish five books a year, and yours is one of them, you’d better believe they’re in your corner. 

Publishing is a business and that means, somewhere in the process, the choice comes down to money. The advances from a small publisher are smaller – there is no way around that. Again though, smaller advances don’t necessarily translate to bad deals. You want your book to “earn out” and that can be really difficult for smaller books (or bigger advances).

The final advantage, one that I think many writers overlook, and that is the reality that you don’t necessarily need an agent. Yes, an agent can negotiate a better deal for you. However, finding an agent means another layer of acceptance. Even if you get one, they still have to sell your book for you.

Woman reading book in library


There is no blanket right or wrong answer to the question of where you should go with your book.  Ultimately, you know what feels right. 

The fact remains that the publishing business is booming right now. It’s booming in all facets, from traditional to self-publishing, to the small press route in the middle. With so many options available, it’s the wrong time to limit your search. 


I hope this blog addressed some of your questions about small press publishing. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. 

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Erick MertzSmall Press Publishing | What Can It Do For You?

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