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Publishing in the Small Press

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January 2011
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Do you want to publish a novel, memoir, or collection of poetry? Perhaps your work has been rejected by a large publishing house. Perhaps you are a new writer. Perhaps you don’t have an agent. Perhaps you have a limited writing platform. Whatever your circumstances, you should consider using the small-press to publish your work.

In the United States, the small press, also known as the independent press, accounts for $30 billion in annual book sales. (The Writer’s Guide to Getting Published” by Writer Mag.)

In 2010, Canadian writer Johanna Skibsrud was named the winner of the Scotia bank Giller Prize for her novel “The Sentimentalists” , the largest annual literary award given to a Canadian author for the best novel or short story collection. Her novel was published by Gaspereau Press, a Canadian small-press publisher in Nova Scotia.

The small press can provide you with the opportunity and benefits that the large publishing houses will not/cannot.

In this post, I cover the following topics on the small press:

    • Definition of the small press or independent press
    • Advantages of publishing with the small press
    • Disadvantages of publishing with the small press
    • Resources for finding small-press publishers
    • Tips for submitting to your work to the small press



What is the small press? The publisher typically sells poetry collections, genre fiction, speciality magazines, or limited-edition books to bookstores. According to Wikipedia, the small press in the United States is any publisher who has annual sales of less than $50 million.

The small press can also be referred to as the “independent press”, because publishers are not multinational publishing companies who dominate the book publishing industry.

The small press often fills niche book publishing markets, which larger publishers ignore. Since profit margins are narrow, the small-press publisher often has other motives for publishing, such as “promoting poetry” or “literature” or certain types of “genres.”

The small-press publisher does not charge the author for services. Instead they sell the books to the booksellers, and then pay the author.

The small-press publisher also makes much smaller print runs for a book or poetry collection than the big publishers. The print run for a small publisher can be in the hundreds or print on demand.

An example of the Canadian small press in Canada is Coach House Books

( ), which publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and limited-edition books. Another example of a small press publisher in Canada is Mercury Press ( ), which publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction written by Canadian authors.


Often, the small press will take a chance and publisher work that the large publisher will not, such as poetry or fiction by new writers.

Usually the small-press publisher will allow the writer to participate in all aspects of the publishing process, including layout and cover design, marketing and promotion.

The writer is able to develop a personal relationship with the editor and publisher.

Often, the writer receives more attention, such as editing advice.

The writer is usually able to maintain his/her vision of how the book is to be published.

Another big advantage is the small press publisher will accept books by writer’s who don’t have an agent.


The main drawback is that most small press publishers have narrow profit margins, which results in small budgets for marketing and promotion of new books.

Another major drawback is that the writer will have difficulty getting a book widely distributed.

Because profits are small and budgets are tight, the writer should also not expect an advance on his book sales.

Where to Publish

How do you find the right small press publisher for your work? First, conduct research on the Internet to find what the publisher does, the mission statement, and a list of recent books that have been published. You can do this by reviewing the publisher’s website.

For the United States, you can use the Small Press database at the Poetry & Writers website ( ) to research publishers, editorial style preference, types of genre published, submission guidelines, and contact information.

In Canada, you can use the website for The Association of Canadian Publishers ( ) to find small-press publishers.

In addition, writer’s conventions and writer’s conferences provide can provide you with the opportunity to connect with editors and publishers.

Tips for Submitting Your Work to the Small Press

Here are a few essential tips for submitting your work for publication to the small press:

  1. Read the submission guidelines, and then follow them. Each small press publisher has its own guidelines for submitting a manuscript.
  2. Find the small press that publishes the genre fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction that you have written.
  3. Use standard formatting guidelines. For more information, see The Chicago Manual of Style.
  4. Make sure your book is original and captures the attention of the readers.
  5. Make sure you have a writer’s platform, including a website, published articles, blog, public speaking engagements, teaching assignments completed, writing portfolio, books or poetry published.
  6. Revise, edit, and proofread your work before submitting it. There must be no errors or typos in your manuscript.

If you are a first-time writer, you have a far better chance of getting published by a small-press publishing house. Often, you don’t need an agent. Frequently, a small-press publisher will publish the work of first-time writers. Before you submit your manuscript, be sure to research the publisher and read and follow the submission guidelines.


  1. Poppi says:

    I recently received interest in my novel from a small publisher. Evidenced through their website they have had some fairly significant success in pubpishing some award winning regional books, etc. Their interest in having an author participate in marketing, etc., is certainly understandable. However, they do ask their authors to particpate, in the first stages of marketing efforts, by purchasing 4-500 books upfront (at a significant discount), intended for the author to sell during upcoming book signings, etc. What are your thoughts on this practice?

  2. Thanks. Great information!

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