7 Reasons to be Wary of Small Publishing Houses


Small publishing houses (also known as small presses or independent publishers) can be a great option for writers who have work that’s not cut out for traditional publishing or who aren’t quite ready to go it alone and self publish.

Some of the small publishing houses are fantastic, but some…not so much. Generally, the worst of the small presses are the e-publishers. The companies that publish entirely or primarily in e-book form.

This is not to say that there aren’t some awesome e-publishers, there are! But there are also some horrific ones. The key to not getting suckered into a crappy small press is to be wary and to ask the right questions before signing a contract.

Here are some potential pitfalls of going with an independent publisher (especially an e-publisher):

1. Quantity Over Quality

Some small publishing houses operate under the business model of “quantity over quality.” This means that they may accept all or most of what is submitted to them if it meets the most basic requirements of a novel.

Their theory is that by publishing as many books as possible as cheaply as possible, they are bound to eventually make a profit.

Why it’s a Problem

Often what happens with this business model is that the publisher over saturates the market with low-quality books. This means that their own high-quality novels get buried under dozens of low-quality ones. It also means that readers may buy one book from the publisher, have a bad experience, and never buy another one.

How to Check

Look through the independent publisher’s release schedule and “about us” or “employment page.” If the small press employs two editors but releases twenty books per month, that’s not a good sign. Some small presses hire freelance editors (as many as dozens) so unfortunately there’s no foolproof method of determining the ratio of editors to released books.

2. Incompetent Editors

Some small publishing houses are created by people who want to make a quick buck. They may be editors who failed as freelancers, who couldn’t get hired at traditional publishing houses, or who are failed writers. They may also be people with no connection to the publishing industry at all.

Why it’s a Problem

You want your precious novel to be edited to perfection. This is your name we’re talking about. If a publisher throws your book up with poor (or no) editing, the ensuing negative reviews could have a permanent effect on your career. Not to mention that the book you slaved over will be sent out into the world ill prepared.

How to Check

Look through the Amazon previews of a dozen or so novels that the small press published in your genre. Look for issues with the writing, like head hopping, tense mix-ups, and purple prose. Also look for issues with proofreading, like misspellings and incorrect comma usage.

3. Limited Advertising & Promotions

Some small publishing houses offer little or no help with advertising and promotions. Their idea of a marketing plan might be firing off a Tweet or two to their 300 followers on release day. Or they might get you book reviews or guest posts on blogs with only a couple hundred subscribers.

Why it’s a Problem

Giving your book the promotional backing of a publishing company is one of the primary reasons to go with a small press over self publishing. If the company isn’t promoting your book, you will be stuck doing all of the work on your own, just like you would if you self published, except you’ll be giving a chunk of your sales to the publisher.

How to Check

Search some of the small press’ titles and see what comes up. Is the book being mentioned on blogs with more than a couple hundred subscribers? Does it have reviews from sites other than Amazon? Did it have a book tour? Did the author do interviews? Make sure you check for at least five or six books. If one book has a great promotional presence but another doesn’t, it was likely the author who organized the promotion.

4. Bad Cover Art

Some small presses invest in very nice cover art, but others have artwork so bad it’s laughable. Often bad artwork is due to artists who are expected to churn out an unrealistic amount of book covers for a low price. The owners of the publishing company may also be creating the covers themselves.

Why it’s a Problem

No matter how many times we tell people to not judge a book by its cover, people do. We all do. An ugly or laughable cover is not going to lead to book sales. But even a gorgeous cover that doesn’t correctly portray the genre and subject matter can ruin sales because it won’t attract the right readers.

How to Check

Look through the publisher’s website and study the cover art. Is it attractive? Enticing? Read the description of the book. Does the cover accurately convey the genre and subject matter to the reader? Is the cover misleading?

5. Poor Sales

When you publish with a small press, the hope is that by teaming up with them, you will boost your book sales (as opposed to self publishing). But at some small presses, their book sales are worse than typical sales for a self-published book. Some small presses never see sales out of the double digits. One fairly popular small press typically sells about 10-30 copies of each book.

Why it’s a Problem

Publishing that doesn’t get you any sales defeats the purpose of publishing at all. You will lose the rights to your book (most traditional publishers will no longer consider publishing it even after the contract is up) and in return you get little more than a few copies of your book to give to friends and family.

How to Check

Most small presses don’t release numbers on their book sales and if they do, they only release numbers on their top-performing books. The best way to assess sales is to go to the source – find a writer who has published with them and ask. The best place to do this is probably the Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum on AbsoluteWrite.

6. Dishonest Payment

A handful of small presses have been dishonest about how much they owe their authors. They’ve gotten in trouble for keeping more than their fair share of the book sale money. Though far from the norm, it’s something to be aware of.

Why it’s a Problem

You worked hard on your book, you deserve to get paid for the book sales. Also, a publisher that lies to its authors is likely to go bust and disappear. Then your book is stuck without backing from a publisher at all.

How to Check

To figure out if a publishing company has ever been dishonest about how much they owe their authors, just search the web. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to figure out which companies are being dishonest and just haven’t been caught yet.

7. No Print Run

Some small publishing houses never provide print runs. Other houses provide print runs on only their top-performing books. This means that even if you see that some of their books have gone to print, yours probably won’t and will be sold as an e-book only.

Why it’s a Problem

It’s not inherently a problem if the market for your genre is online. But if you write in a genre that tends to sell better in print, only having your book available online can dramatically limit your sales. And some writers just want to see their book in print and will be dissatisfied without a hard copy available.

How to Check

Don’t assume you will get a print run. Go over your contract carefully to see what is and is not promised to you. If a print run is important to optimize your book sales (which is probably true in every genre except erotica) and you believe your novel has a good shot at selling well in stores, don’t sign with a publisher who can’t guarantee a print run unless it’s your last resort.


There are some awesome small publishing houses out there. But there are also a lot of crappy ones. Don’t be the writer who is so thrilled with a contract offer that they sign it without doing research. And don’t be embarrassed to ask the publisher questions.

Above all, listen to the opinions of writers who have gone before you. Trust the authors who have published at a publishing company over the claims of the company itself. The publisher has a vested interest in selling itself high, but your fellow writer is probably going to tell the truth about whether their publisher was awesome or awful.

It can be tough to turn down a publishing deal, even from a publisher that sucks, but so long as you keep working at your craft, you won’t regret turning away a crappy small press. Who knows, your book may be just a few more revisions away from a traditional deal anyway.

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If you need a freelance editor, please check out my editing services.


Why Logical Novel Editors are Better than Passionate Ones


I recently had an angry client. He sent me a long, condescending email that insulted my editing skills and called me “cold,” “terse,” and “bitchy.” Not because of my behavior or because of our email correspondences, but because he didn’t like my editing style.

Now, I wouldn’t consider myself a harsh editor. It’s not like I am to editing what Gordon Ramsay is to cooking or what Abby Lee Miller is to dance. I never insult or belittle my clients. I never make them feel inadequate or unintelligent for making mistakes, but nor do I coddle and comfort them within my edits. And the reason is simple: emotions cloud judgement.

The truth is, while I’m editing, I’m all business. My mind is in the game. My brain gears are turning. I am thinking: How can I make this better? More marketable? More tense? More entertaining?

This angry client complained that I was not passionate or positive enough about his work, and so, he concluded, I was a poor match for the novel and should not have taken the job. But this client missed a hugely important point: You don’t want a passionate editor.

Passion makes humans irrational. It makes us believe that our new loves are perfect or that our children are the most talented kids in the state. Passion is what makes authors write books in the first place. It’s what allows them to devote huge chunks of their lives to pursuing their dream of publication, a dream that is very, very difficult to achieve.

Your mom, dad, friends, and spouse will probably also be passionate about your novel. They’ll tell everyone they know that it’s the greatest book around and that you are amazing and talented and perfect. And passion is exactly what you need while writing that first draft and when getting the very first feedback on your work. But it’s not what you want in an editor.

An editor should not be passionate about your book. An editor should be passionate about editing.

And that’s who I am. I’m an editor passionate about editing. I love editing so much that I will edit brochures in my mind. I love it so much that I often edit in the evenings while everyone else is playing video games or watching TV. I love it so much that I regularly give away advice, services, and my online course for free.

This is me editing.

This is me editing.

I am passionate about editing. I am not passionate about your book.

That is not to say that I don’t want my clients to succeed. I do! I really, really do! It’s the greatest feeling in the world when I see that a client has reached publishing success. That’s what I’m here for – to help you on your journey to publication. But I am not here to fall in love with your book, to make you feel good about yourself, or to feel deep waves of passion as I read your novel.

So if you want comments like, “OMG, I love this part!!!!” that’s perfectly fine. That’s just the stage you’re at with your writing. It’s a healthy stage and it’s a passing stage. If what you’re looking for is emotional support, you need to ask a friend or relative to read your book.

But if you want comments like, “This section is slowing down the plot. Cutting it would increase the tension.” then hire an editor, a good editor, one that isn’t going to blow hot air to keep you happy. It takes a lot of guts to ask an editor to criticize your work. I know that and I respect that. I always tell my clients to take it slow and to come to me with any questions, concerns, or confusion.

My clients who are truly (emotionally) ready for an editor call me things like “invaluable,” “fantastic,” and “a huge help.”

When you go to a mechanic, you don’t expect them to fall in love with your car. And you’re not going to accuse the mechanic of being “terse,” “cold,” or “bitchy” when he tells you that your car is totaled because you drove it into a brick wall. Mechanics tell the truth. Editors tell the truth. The real question is whether or not you’re ready to hear it.

Are you ready to hear it? Check out my editing services.

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How to Get People to Take Your Self-Published Novel Seriously

6752495881_13a7149697Getting people to take their work seriously is a challenge for all self-published authors.

When readers have to sieve through hundreds, even thousands, of poorly written self-published books, it can be very difficult to stand out as one of the good ones.  But there are things you can do to get your self-published novel taken more seriously.

Excellent Cover Art

You can pout all you want that people shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but they do.  Covert art is not an area to scrimp on money or time.

Invest in a great cover that adequately represents the genre and story.  Provide suggestions to whoever you hire to create your cover, but also respect their expertise.  Make sure the designer has a good track record and solid examples of covers in your genre.

Quality Editing

If you want a book to sell to more than just your close friends and family, then you absolutely must hire an editor.  Not a proofreader, but an editor, someone to find plot holes, character inconsistencies, point of view errors, etc.

There are lots of good and lots of not so good editors.  Make sure whoever you choose (*cough cough* pick me) has a proven track record, testimonials, and can provide a sample.  You want a developmental editor (also known as a content or substantive editor), NOT a copy editor (that comes later).

Competent Proofreading or Copy Editing

In the majority of cases, proofreading and copy editing are essentially the same thing so choosing either is fine.  This is just a check for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and correct word usage.  Readers will tolerate a handful of errors across an entire book, but if there are typos on the first page, they’re unlikely to read past Amazon’s free preview.

These are not real reviewers.

These are not real reviewers.

Real Reviews

This is absolutely vital: NEVER EVER have friends or family members write reviews for your book.  NEVER EVER pay for a book review.  Readers are smart.  They’re savvy.  They can absolutely tell when the reviews on your book are not authentic.

There are hundreds of blogs that will review self-published books.  You can also give your book away for free for a period of time in order to (hopefully) get a flood of reviews.  There are lots of tactics to use, but stuffing your Amazon or Goodreads page with fake reviews (I consider friend and relative reviews to be “fake” too) is not one of them!

6188273990_fed79f91faProfessional Presentation

Nobody is going to take your book seriously if the presentation is not professional.  Check over your book blurb/synopsis as well as your author bio and make sure they read as professional and error free.  Read through some traditionally-published book blurbs and author bios to get an idea of what to include.

Posting a professional looking author photo is also an absolute must.  If your Amazon author page has a pic of you on the sofa in your basement, readers will not take you seriously.


Readers have plenty of reasons not to take self-published books seriously.  Some of it is based in stigma and some of it is based in fact.  The bottom line is that readers will only take you as seriously as you take yourself. If you’re willing to invest in your book, readers will be willing to as well.

Crappy cover art, poor editing, typos, fake reviews, and an unprofessional presentation show readers that you don’t think your book is worth investing time and money into.  If it’s not worth it to you, why would they want to invest time or money into your book?

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What (Not) to Say When People Ask Why You Self Published

6753518501_1ea26e8e87There are lots of reasons to self publish a book.  Some of them sound better than others.  So it’s a good idea to premeditate your response to the question: “Why did you self publish?”  Because, rude or not, people will ask  and they will judge your answer.

What Not to Say

“I tried to get an agent (or editor) but everyone rejected my book.”

Even if this is true, it makes you sound lame.  No one wants to read a book that no one wanted to publish.  If you attempted to go through traditional channels, just keep that to yourself and pretend like self publishing is what you wanted all along.

“The publishing industry wouldn’t know a good book if it smacked them in the head.”

Whether or not this statement is true isn’t the point.  It makes you look arrogant and delusional.  It also makes you sound like a sore loser.

“I don’t want to give royalties to an agent or publisher.”

This just makes you sound money grubbing.  People want to support artists who love their art, not ones out to make a quick buck.

“I don’t need an agent, editor, cover artist, [fill in the blank].”

Again, even if this is true, it just makes you sound arrogant.  Everybody needs help of some kind to make their book a reality.

“I can sell more and get rich on my own.”

The odds of this happening are infinitesimally small. Around 50% of self-published authors (including those with multiple books released) make less than $500 in royalties per year.  So this statement makes you look both delusional and arrogant.

4598279025_8921d3dcf2So What Should You Say?

Whatever you say, keep it humble and sincere.  Focus on your passion for what you do.  Try to get people excited that you’re following your dreams.

Here are some examples:

“Publishing is something that I’ve always wanted to do so I’m making my dream come true.”

“I just want to tell my stories.  For me, it’s not about all the bells and whistles of traditional publication.”

“I love writing and I wanted to share my passion with the world.”

Whatever you say, just remember to avoid sounding critical or judgmental towards traditional publishing.  It won’t prove any points you have about the industry, but it will make you look petty and arrogant.

Need help with your self-published book?  Or need help landing an agent or publisher?  I’m a professional developmental editor for both self publishing and traditionally publishing authors. Check out my editing services.

Is Self Publishing Right for You?


It’s never been easier to publish your own novel, but is self publishing right for you? Here are some questions to consider before taking the plunge.

Have You Written a Great Book?

Self publishing should not be seen as an alternative to writing and thoroughly editing a great book. I’ve seen a number of self-published authors bragging about how quickly they churn out books or how they wrote it in a single draft without editing. Yikes!

Self publishing is not an easy way to avoid the hard work and high standards of traditional publication.   Self-published authors rely heavily on word of mouth and good reviews.  So if your product sucks, you wont be successful. And if you want to earn an income from your self-published books, you need to build up a fan base, which can’t happen if your work is riddled with errors.

Do You Have Time to Self-Promote?

If the thought of an active presence on Twitter makes you cringe or if you can’t find a spare moment to post on Facebook, self publishing is definitely not for you. To be successful, you must be willing to do all the marketing on your own, which means a constant presence on social media and a huge time investment.

Has Anyone Else Read Your Book?

If you want a stellar book that will turn heads and get people talking, you need feedback on your work before you publish.  There are many ways to get feedback, such as utilizing beta readers, a freelance or independent editor, or posting excerpts on a writing forum. Whatever you choose, make sure that more than just one set of eyes has looked over your work.

Are You Happy With Non-Traditional Publication?

Do you want to self publish because it’s something you feel passionate about or because your query was rejected by all the top agents? Agents and editors (usually) won’t touch a book that’s already been self-published.  So if what you truly want is traditional publication and you give up too soon, you may regret taking your book off the market, especially if your writing improves later on.

Self publishing can be a great experience, but it’s not right for everyone. Before jumping in, make sure it’s the right choice for you!

Need a freelance novel editor? Check out my editing services.