Pros and cons of choosing a small publisher

Most authors who have a novel or non-fiction book ready for submission, start the query letter process by listing out the traditional publishing houses – Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, John Wiley, Simon & Schuster Random House, you know the list. But for many authors, it’s like trying to swim against the current and it can take forever for the biggies to even consider a query letter and ask for the full manuscript.

Many of those authors who’ve either not been lucky with the big names or have a different strategy to get published start looking at the small publisher. Here are some pros and cons of working with a small publisher.

More attention
Unlike the bigger publishers who have a huge list of published (and possibly several best selling) authors to deal with, first time authors will probably not get the attention they deserve. Smaller publishers might be more inclined to give you individual attention. They might work with you to create a marketing plan for the book and help you in the execution part as well.

More flexibility
The operating procedures, contract templates and the overall manner in which smaller publishers would deal with their authors will have a more personalized feel. For larger publishing houses, the sheer size and scope of work they do makes it difficult to manage exceptions and customizations, which is why they’d prefer stick to what’s standard and time-tested.

Limited resources
In order to cater to the big volumes (i.e. number of authors, number of books, number of events), bigger publishers have many more employees to manage the show. They’d also have access to a bigger distribution network – covering regular brick-and-mortar distributors as well as online distribution channels.

Availability of skills
In contrast to the last point, this one is more inward-looking. As the publisher is small, there may be dearth of specific skills that you’d want – ranging from editors who are familiar with the genre you specialize in, an indepth understanding of your target reader,

The traditional publishing industry isn’t exactly in its boom phase. Many small publishing houses that do not have the financial resources to weather the storm may go belly up. And if you know the speed at which the publishing industry moves, you’d better be sure that the publisher you are signing up with, will be around to get you book published.

Track record transparency
With the smaller size, comes the advantage (for publishers) of being able to stay in the shadows. This means very little data about authors, published books, actual sales records would be available. If you don’t know how the earlier authors and their books have fared there’s no way for you to even guess what it might mean for your novel.

Smaller Book advances
If the bigger publishers can dole out the goodies for most authors that they get onboard, its because their advance budgets are BIG. Smaller publishers have to manage their finances a little more carefully. Every single rupee is important, as it can be used to strengthen other key functions within the company. Advances aren’t very high on the priority list as they are meant to be an estimate of your future sales. If your book sells, you’ll (hopefully) get your money. But don’t expect them to be overly generous.

Fraudulent practices
In the pros and cons list, the last one is literally about conning. Directly linked to the point about lack of transparency. What you see may not be what you get. Many of them might turn out to be vanity publishers. Or they may have certain clauses in your publishing contract that make life difficult for you – whether your book sells or not.

If you plan to send across a query letter to any of the smaller publishers, you might want to consider each of the aspects listed above to see how they stack up.

18 thoughts on “Pros and cons of choosing a small publisher”

  1. Sir, congratulations!! You are doing a great job in disseminating knowledge about the pros and cons of publishing industry. would you please discuss what is Patent Law?

  2. Shukriya, Jitender bhai.

    Are you sure you want more information about patents and not copyrights? One is applicable to inventions (and not relevant to this blog) and the other to manuscripts.

  3. yes sir, it would be great if u can give me information regarding both these issues. Actually i am a budding writer, just finished writing my first novel. so, plz guide me…

  4. its ok. But plz take it as soon as possible. Within fifteen days i m gonna submit my book’s manuscript. So…i hope u can understand my curiosity

  5. Ayyo! Please don’t give me deadlines, sirji. I left the corporate world to avoid deadlines 🙂

    You’d be better off carrying out your independent research over Google from official sites.

    Don’t depend on getting all the answers from this or any other personal blog.

    Update: Published the post on Copyrights. Check it out here –> Should authors copyright their work?

  6. its ok, don’t worry Kamat Sir. When u get time and feel like writing about it, then do it. I will wait. But ur bolgs r very enlightening. plz keep writing…

  7. Thank u Sameer ji..

    Please help me with some questions….
    1-How is Cyberwit as a publisher?I mean the reach and marketing by which they sell a book?
    2-Is one able to keep a track on the sales of your book on basis of which royalty is calculated?….
    3-Does your book get displayed on different bookstores like OM,Crosswords etc all over India or its just online…
    4-What points to keep in while applying to HARPER COLLINS so that one gets considered? Lols….i am sure you can answer that very well….
    Plz do answer whenever u get time…as u can understand d query of the first time writer…thank u…

  8. Angad, answers below.

    1. I’m not familiar with this publisher.

    2. You are pretty much dependent on the publisher to give you this data.

    3. The publisher’s distribution network will influence that. The smaller ones just focus on online sales. The bigger ones with the marketing contacts push it to the regular bookstores – both local bookshops as well as the national players like Crossword, Landmark etc.

    4. While approaching any top-tier publisher the same basic rules apply.

    – Have a strong product (novel, non-fiction, novella etc) that caters to a clearly targetted demographic.

    – Demonstrate that you are more than just an author. Show how you can help sell the book.

    – Have lots of patience, and something else to do while you wait.

    – Educate youself for the non-writing part of the publishing process. Read the commercial and business focussed posts on this blog.

  9. Thank u Sameer Ji….
    Please if you can brief me upon the following terms and what information one must ensure in them while submitting it to a publisher…
    1)include targeted market segment
    2)other comparative titles available
    3)unique selling point
    4)word count
    5)illustrative content

  10. Angad,

    Like the previous request from Jitender, the response to your follow-up questions will take a longer post. Will add the topic ‘How to write a book proposal’ to the to-do list.

    In the meanwhile, you might want to check out the other (more comprehensive) resources available on the web to get some ideas.

  11. Sir, I have started writing a novel and want to take up writing professionally. I had spend considerable timeon internet regarding ‘publishing a novel for first timers’. However I am not satisfied with the result. If you can please give me minutest of detail regarding the process of publishing a novel, royalty, non-disclosure clause and all, it will be very fruitful for me.

  12. Sujeet,

    I’m not sure how you’d define ‘minutest of detail‘ and ‘fruitful‘, but across the various blog posts on this site, I’ve written the equivalent of a whole book on publishing in India.

    It covers the topics you’ve listed and more. And it’s all free!

    Do spend some time exploring the site and reading what’s already been written.

  13. Thanks Sameer for sharing your views. You are indeed doing a splendid job. I have a question and am not sure if I am on the right page. I have completed a book on competitive examinations (Teachers Eligibility Tests). Now I am really nervous to read about the disadvantages of both self-publishing and going to a publishing house. I am M.Phil in the subject (Political Science) and want to know what can I expect? Self publishing would limit my market and being a new author am worried about rejections ( I know there will be) from publishers. How can I overcome this dilemma?

  14. Mayank,

    Try to go for traditional publishing. For the topic you are writing on, you’d need their distribution network.

    Don’t be scared of rejections. It’s part of the process. If you don’t broadcast your rejections, people won’t know about it. Gets easier to deal with things that way.

  15. Thanks Sameer for the awesome piece.

    It would become even more useful if you could give an idea of who should be counted as big or small publishers. I mean Penguin, Harper Collins, Hachette, Rupa, Westland are obviously the big ones. Would you consider Sristhi, Grey Oak, Fingerprint, Roli etc as big or small?


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