Publishing Houses: Going Small vs. Going Big

 The most important thing to know is that no matter which channel you go through–big, small, or self-published–a well-written book, a killer cover, luck, and a determined author is what really makes a book successful.

Knowing the difference between a big publisher and a small publisher is good for everyone. It keeps an author’s search for acceptance relevant and strategic and it helps acquisitions editors everywhere from having to shuffle more manuscripts into the slush pile. The most important thing to know is that no matter which channel you go through–big, small, or self-published–a well-written book, a killer cover, luck, and a determined author is what really makes a book successful.

First and perhaps the most obvious difference is that indie publishers aren’t as fancy as bigger publishers. Often times, people in smaller houses are performing multiple job responsibilities. (Your editor could just as well be your cover design artist, etc.) The biggest, and most obvious difference is the amount of money that floats in and out of a small house compared to a big one. Here’s the truth: nothing happens without money so this does cause detrimental differences in terms of advances, royalties, and marketing. Another problem for small houses is trying to convince authors and staff to stick around when they get better offers. Sadly, many writers don’t even consider indie publishers until they’re turned down by bigger publishers.

The difference between a small and big publisher is best understood by considering the difference between a community college and a university. You can get the job done through both channels but the amount of money spent, influence, and networking is different.

The Basics:

What’s up with indie?

  • Don’t expect an advance. If you do get one, it may be anywhere between just a few hundred dollars to a few thousand but, generally not more than $3,000.
  • Acceptance is less competitive.
  • Focus is author and quality driven. Going indie is a great  option for writers who haven’t been published before. If you get a few books published first and then get picked up by a big publisher, it could definitely result in big profits down the road.
    • You’ll get more intimate focus on the quality and image of your book. A good publisher will help a writer produce only the best version of their work through editing, cover design, proofreading, and coaching. This is the biggest incentive not to self-publish.
      • ***Side note on self-publishing: If you go this route, you can outsource just about any project these days and then keep 100% of your profits after. If you need branding and collaboration or just don’t want to go it alone, definitely go with a publisher versus self-publish.
  • It’s cheap for authors. If the independent publisher–given it’s not a vanity publisher and there’s a lot of those hiding out–doesn’t charge for editing and design services and just collects a percentage of sales, all you spend is your time.
  • Limited reach. Will you see your book on every bookstore shelf publishing through an indie publisher? Probably not. Will your book get picked up by a popular reviewer? Sure, if you’re willing to pay for a publicist. You’ll also have to do some marketing on your own, sometimes, all.

What’s up with big publishers?

  • Expect an advance! This is the biggest incentive to go for a big publisher.
  • Acceptance is very competitive so don’t expect to get picked up right away. Acceptance is highly competitive but it’s still worth trying. You may need an agent or an “in” to even get looked at.
  • Focus is sales and quality driven. Big publishers want great books that can make them money quickly.
  • It’s even cheaper for authors if they get accepted to a big publisher. A big publisher often has the money to support an author so that they don’t have to worry about marketing costs on top of covering editorial and design costs.
  • Large reach. You don’t have to do much marketing on your own, though to be honest, a big publisher will only invest money where they think they’ll get the most return. Not all books that are accepted by big publishers get the marketing deal of a lifetime. There may not be tours or air play for you–it all depends.
    • Most likely a big publisher has connections with Net Galley and reviewers!
    • It’s not guaranteed but it’s very likely that your book could end up in a distribution channel that supplies bookstores. This all really depends on the publisher and your book.


Revised 1/8/17