Nine Lessons from a Tiny Publisher

Every once in a while, someone will tout the benefits of going with a small or really small press, rather than either scaling the Big 5 wall or going purely indie. So, what is it like from the small press’ end?

From Richard Charkin at Mensch Publishing:

Lesson 1. Finding the right book is by far the most important thing, but getting the small things right is vital and unbelievably hard work. . .

Lesson 3. Treat your suppliers with respect. I’ve taken a policy decision to pay cash owed into a freelancer’s account the same day I receive the invoice. My cash flow is important but respecting other people’s cash flow generates goodwill, and better relationships are vital for a small enterprise—perhaps for big enterprises too.


In unintended contrast, is the following…

Morten Hesseldahl, head of a major Danish publishing company, says this:

It’s necessary to work closely with other media businesses. At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that the markets are structurally different. I don’t see why a super professional player in one market would strive to appear as an amateur in other markets.

Partnerships make a lot of sense when we want to publish in new formats and media. But publishers also must ensure that we have qualified people on staff. And when it comes to distribution, publishers must produce every piece of content in the most suitable formats—print, ebook, audio, or platform.

Publishers are primarily suppliers of content, and we’re always looking for recipients to whom this content will be valuable. [Emphasis mine. AB]

Later on, Hesseldahl talks about how tight things are, and how it is a “life or death” business.

Isn’t it the author/composer/artist who is the content supplier? The first interview suggests that it is. The second interview has a rather different take. Granted, the two interviews are aimed in very different directions, but I though the contrast was intriguing.

Either way, keep your options open and your powder dry.


  1. As far as the question of who is the supplier of content, I’d say the small press is, in the same way that the corner market is the supplier of cookies, even though it’s the lady down the block who actually bakes them.

    The indie author/small press relationship is one that takes work on both sides. It’s less like drawing a paycheck and more like being a subcontractor to a general contractor. As someone who has worked for a lot of GCs as a locksmith, I take that same sensibility to my short fiction work. The publisher owns the book–period. For good or bad, the publisher is the one of the front line with the most skin in the game. I can primadonna all over the place about the inviolability of my deathless prose, but in the end I either back the publisher’s decisions 100%, or I take my story and go home. Anything else is dishonest.

    I like working with small presses (and by “small” I mean “run out of a spare bedroom in spare time off from the day job”.) As a writer who specializes in short fiction small presses are my main clients.

    And that means holding up my end. Deliver a publishable product, in as close as I can get to print ready copy, on time, conforming to the guidelines. Respond quickly to editorial suggestions and take them seriously. Do my damnedest to promote the work of those presses I work with–not just those projects that have my own work, but everything they publish.

    Mostly, though, it’s about cultivating a professional relationship. It’s not just about making sales, it’s about building a reputation in the industry as a worker who delivers an honest day’s work for an honest paycheck.

    The old Fifth Avenue Traditional Publishing model is as dead as Jacob Marley, they just don’t know it yet because they were so profitable for so long that they can burn fat for a long time. But indies like Cirsova and Storyhack are eating their lunch. Right now is such an exciting time to be a writer. I am working with the big wheels of the 21st Century. Granted, I don’t know which ones will make it huge and which ones will be footnotes in publishing history, but that’s part of the fun. I try to treat every publisher as if she or he is the next Charles Foster Kane.

    Because some of them will be.

      1. In the grocery business, there are many things that just one or two producers actually make – and a host of different packagers. This is why you can frequently get a much cheaper “store brand” that is exactly the same as the “national brands” that are right next to it. All of them go through exactly the same production line, the only difference is which labeling machine they are passed through. (Note: Always check the per unit prices – I do find cheaper “national brand” stuff on occasion when shopping. The kids hate going with me to the store…)

        I view a publishing house as a combination of packager, marketer, and distributor – not the producer at all. Although the big houses are massively failing at the second, these days.

        Most indies are the producer, packager, and marketer. Very few do their own distribution.

        The combinations of all these, of course, are different. Some tiny presses produce some of the product, with some produced by others – then they may package and distribute everything, but still rely on the original producer to market. Or package and market, but let Amazon and its kin distribute.

      1. No. But then movie makers do have to have some artistic license to be able to use actors to convey emotions via facial expressions.

    1. That reminds me of the Larry Niven story; the light -sail pilot has a catastrophic accident, stranding him nowhete. A giant golden being finds him, returns him to Earth. He doesn’t understand what happened, until he sees a small boy rescue a caterpillar.

    2. It was a very excellent short story and film. Hell, I’d love to see it shown in theaters as a pre-Captain Marvel or pre-Avengers short similar to the way Pixar does shorts before their main feature.

        1. However, I must stress, before anyone says “look at what amateurs can do’…. that these films are shot on professional gear and finished at professional post facilities with VFX by actual, albeit small, vfx firms.

    3. That was very impressive! Thanks for sharing it…I really enjoyed it. I’d love to see an expanded version of it.

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