How to find a small publisher for your book

Do you want to find a literary agent to get your book published? That's what I wanted. But after reading close to 100 rejections, my tenacity started to waiver. Most of the time, I heard nothing but crickets, but when I did hear from an agent I'd queried, I heard:

“Your story didn’t grab me in the first page.”
“It’s not right for our agency.”
"The memoir market is flooded."
“Memoirs are too hard to sell unless you are famous.”
Okay. That was discouraging. But I still did not want to give up.

I knew there were other options, such as self-publishing (where you bear all of the publishing expenses) or hybrid publishing (where you share in the publishing expense). However, in both of these cases there is a huge financial risk. You may not ever come close to recouping your investment. Frankly, I could not afford to do either of those options.
Because I wanted to stick with traditional publishing, I took a different approach. I decided to look into small publishers (aka small presses).
In a minute, I’m going to discuss the steps to finding a small press, but first, let me dispel some myths:
MYTH #1: Small publishers require agent representation.
            No, they do not require that you have an agent.
MYTH #2: You won’t need a professional query letter or book proposal.
            Just like with agents, you will need a query letter and you may need a book proposal.
MYTH #3 Small publishers will charge a reading fee.
            If they do, pass. There are plenty that don’t. Also, I’d be leery of anyone that asks for money upfront. (See Myth #4.)
MYTH #4 You will have to pay to publish with a small press.
            If they ask you to pay, this is not a traditional publisher. While the publishing world is   changing, at this point in time, publishing with a small press does not cost you a dime.
MYTH #5 Small presses don’t do anything to help you market your book.
            The reality is no matter how you publish, you will be involved in the marketing process. How much your publisher participates varies, but in reality, it's pretty much going to be your job.

1. has both agent and small press listings. It’s a free service, and the website keeps track of queries for you.
2.      Another great resource was Poets and Writers. ( This is where I found my publisher.
3.      University Presses. They often have narrow interests, but if your book fits, why not?

ALWAYS read requirements for submission before sending a darned thing! Just like with literary agents, the requirements vary. I found that 50% of the agents and publishers I queried wanted a book proposal. Be prepared. You don’t want to be writing a 40 page book proposal at the last minute.
How do you know if the publisher is legit?
Literary Agent Janet Reid’s blog (if you don’t know of her, do check her out) has this helpful info on how to evaluate a small publisher:
1.                          Ask to see the boilerplate contract. A Google search will provide all kinds of articles to read about red flags in contracts.
2.                          Ask if the terms are negotiable. Can you delete, amend, or add clauses and/or change royalty rates? If a publisher says s/he doesn't negotiate, you've got a big red flag.
3.                          Look at the books they're publishing. Do they look professional? Or cheap and poorly designed? Trust your instincts here on what does or does not seem quite right.
4.                          Can you only purchase books through the publisher's website? If the only way to buy books from this publisher is on their own website, that's a problem. Also check:
A. Are books for sale on Amazon and Barnes and
Verify by checking the list prices.
B. Are the books listed at Ingram and Baker & Taylor? If they're not, your chance of getting into bookstores and libraries other than as a special order is practically zilch.
5.                          What about book pricing?
Are hardcovers over $25.00?
Are trade paperbacks over $15.00?
Are Ebooks over $9.99?
Overpriced books are a problem.
6.                          How long has the publisher been in business?
You do not want to be first. Even being in business less than five years is not good. This industry requires many years of experience to do things right.
7.                          Does their website focus on writers or readers? A publisher should be focused on books. If the website is more about how to become one of their authors, how to query etc, that's a problem.

When a publisher made an offer, I contacted some of their authors and asked:
“How did you like working with this publisher?”
“Did they let you participate in the editing process, or force edits on you?”
“Did you have a say in cover design?”
“Did they work with you in marketing your book?”
All were quite willing to share experiences.
I had two small publishers make an offer on my memoir. After carefully evaluating each one, and corresponding with some of their authors, I chose Bedazzled Ink Publishing in California.
It had been a dream of mine to land an agent, but it didn’t work out. However, it had also been important to me to publish traditionally, and I did. I’m pleased with my book cover design, but felt the editing process could have been better. Only time will tell about the marketing aspect. Despite those issues, I still would not have published any other way. My advice is no matter what route you decide to take, don’t give up. I think many authors give up too soon. It’s not an easy road to publication, but with determination and persistence, it IS possible.

UPDATE: So how did my marketing go? If you'd like to know, check out my recent guest post on book promotion.


Born for Life said...

Great information Linda. Thank you.

Nancy said...

Excellent information, Linda. I plan to share it with others.

JeaninePL said...

Thank you for your generous sharing of information!

julscol said...

Thank you!
Bedazzled feels like a perfect match for my memoir, but they are not accepting submissions right now. Have you gotten to know anyone personally there, and do you think they would take a look at my Query anyway?

Summers of Fire said...

Unfortunately, if my publish says they aren't accepting memoirs at this time, there's nothing I can do. Keep querying others!