Why self-publishing is good for small presses

This is a guest post by Sara-Jayne Slack

Self-publishing is a great idea.

The very first thing I need to do is make one thing clear: I own a publishing house. Yes, you read that (and the title) correctly. No, there is absolutely no need to lock your doors and await the apocalypse.

I’m sure an incredible amount of you are aware that over the past couple of years, lines have been drawn in the sands of the publishing landscape, with self-published authors becoming increasingly happier to go head-to-head with publishers; cutting the apron strings and shouting that they can do it all by themselves. And a lot of the time, this behavior has been met with snide remarks and bitter resentment (“You ungrateful wretch! After everything we did for you!”) rather than with words of encouragement.

So why do I think differently? It isn’t because I’m a published author (my strength lies in editing, not writing fiction), and it isn’t (wholly) because I’ve written a thesis on reader engagement with electronic texts. No, it’s because I got into this business because first and foremost, I love literature. I love words and cover art, and I have a sincere passion for getting people reading since it’s fallen so far out of vogue that most people would rather play Call of Duty than read a military thriller novel.

Publishing is a notoriously traditional business. The rise of the ebook saw many of the Big Six running around like headless chickens, trying to keep up with a new development. In a lot of cases, the bigger players are struggling to keep up with the smaller, more agile businesses who have the wherewithal actually to jump up onto their feet and do something about the rapidly changing landscape.

But I digress slightly.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that by not being flexible or cognizant of these changes in reader behavior, the publishing houses showed themselves as mildly complacent. Everything boiled down the single bottom line—profit—and who cared about quality literature (sans typos) and trampling both aspiring and mid-list authors.

So the authors, quite rightly, fought back.

And so we’re moving into an era where the publisher has to show the author that they have something to offer. Many don’t care about much past that six-figure advance. Some want help with marketing. Some even —gasp! — want to learn more about their craft and the industry in general. Some want to belong to something they can be proud to be part of. But instead of sitting back and taking the sector for granted, publishing houses (especially the smaller ones, who don’t have a thousandth of the money to throw around as the Big Six) have to get out there and prove their worth.

And I think that’s fantastic.

It keeps us on our toes, destroys complacency, and quite actively forces us to look for the ‘best practice’ scenarios. My business strives not only for profit but for true, triple-bottom-line returns (profit, planet, people). And that gives us so much more to offer our authors in the long term.

So I want to tip my hat and say thank you to all the self-published authors out there, for shaking up the industry and allowing forward-looking businesses like mine to thrive…but only if we actually have something to offer!


About this post’s author:

Sara-Jayne is the owner of Inspired Quill, a non-profit publishing house with true, triple-bottom-line values. When not running around trying to edit novels, market novels, and sort out finances, she can be seen acting either on stage or in small-scale film productions, watching everything from Castle to Warehouse 13, and trying to figure out how to get more hours in a day. She also believes that to-do lists breed when you're not looking. You can find her on Twitter @LadyTath; at her blog; or at her website.

Yvonne Hertzberger

So many are searching for publishers they can trust and end up being charged and arm and a leg by so-called self-publishers. It’s nice to see you here. Looks like your company may be a good alternative.

    Sara-Jayne Slack

    Hi Yvonne,

    That’s completely true, and it’s also surprising at how many writers don’t seem to understand the difference between self-publishing (essentially ‘vanity publishing’), and small-presses. Inspired Quill has been asked a few times how much our ‘services cost’, and I find myself explaining that we don’t charge any ‘standard rate’ for anything, as that isn’t how it works. The problem here isn’t even that a writer hasn’t done enough research (although that may be a factor), it’s the simple fact that clear, consise and non-patronising information is difficult to come across. Especially when you really don’t know where to start. It’s this transparency that Inspired Quill really strives for.


Tim Vicary

Hi Sarah-Jayne,

That’s interesting, but the question I – and I guess many self-published authors – would pose is this: what is it precisely, that you or any small publishing house can offer, which I cannot do myself? This is a genuine question; I’m not trying to be rude. Editing, formatting and cover design services I can find on the net. So what remains would seem to be either: a) a large advance, b)very successful marketing leading to high volume sales. Is that what you offer? If so, what would it cost me, in terms of shared royalties? (since amazon offer 70%)

I would be interested in your answer (and I mean this kindly)

Tim Vicary

    Sara-Jayne Slack

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for taking the time to comment! The issue of ‘what value can a small-publisher add?’ is a very common and valid question. I’m actually planning on writing an article about what a decent small-publisher SHOULD offer an author. Because at the end of the day, if we’re not adding (enough) value, then what’s the point? Answering your question directly however, I can only speak for my own business. Different publishers direct different amounts of time and resources to their authors, and I obviously don’t know the details of anyone elses business.

    Inspired Quill’s mission objective includes fostering an environment whereby our authors are able to hone their skills. The publishing process is as collaborative as the author wants it to be, in order to help them learn about the different facets of the process (in case they want to break away and self publish in the future), and to hone their writing skills at the same time (though carefully considered 1-1 editing feedback through mediums such as Skype, so they can ask questions etc).

    We also foot the bill for all of the cover design, formatting, launch party, etc. And where our own resources are not the best for the jo (e.g. cover deisng), we outsource to top people in those fields.

    With marketing, we take the lead – but encourage the author to do as much or as little as they want (with minimum requirements, such keeping a blog and twitter account). We have a group of amazing interns, who work 1-1 with the author, which creates a win-win-win situation. It takes the pressure from IQ, allowing us to continue working on the ‘big picture’, the interns get valuale (and terribly hard to get) /quality/ experience, and the author gets a ‘point of contact’, despite also having my Skype address which they can contact me on at any time I’m online – be it day, night, weekend, bank holiday etc).

    Royalties are competitive with other publisher’s, but we have ‘loyalty royalties’, which essentially mean that royalties can go up depending on how long you’ve been with us (a 5% increase every 2 years).

    And finally, we’re a social-enterprise, not-for-profit business. Our authors are encouraged to help us develop the business to make things better for everyone involved. They’re also all passionate about what we want to do in the future – provide talks and workshops in disadvantaged areas.

    So whilst our authors won’t get a huge advance, or money thrown at getting their book covers on every billboard, you WILL get to be part of a business that is very people-orientated, and isn’t afraid to put the work in where it’s required.

    …sorry for such a long response! I hope I’ve managed to answer some of your questions. 🙂 Please feel free to send me an email if you have any more queries about small-publishing in general.


      Carolyn Moir

      I love the intern idea!

Carolyn Moir

I also own a small publishing company. In some ways I think a small press can bridge a gap in the current options!

Tim, to answer your question: not everyone wants to.

I started my business because I knew some great writers who had zero interest in locating editors, hiring cover designers, learning to format or to upload. They were happy to let me take over those aspects and do as much marketing as I can, while giving them really clear advice and help on doing the marketing that they are able to.

I’ve turned several people away. I’ve been totally clear with people that if they have any desire to try it themselves, or to learn to do it themselves, they should.

I offer a lower royalty rate than you’ll get doing it yourself. However, if you’re doing it yourself and not interested in doing anything to boost your book to success, then you might still make more money doing it with me! lol.

There’s no pressure for anyone to sign up with my press. I am totally clear and upfront with every one who comes to me about what I do. There’s a lot that I do and there’s plenty of people who are not interested in putting that much work in after having written the book.

    Sara-Jayne Slack

    I agree wholeheartedly that a really, really important part of what we offer has to do with transparency. It’s funadmental – especially these days with so many online scams (-cough-iUniverse-cough-). Authors want to feel confident in their decisions.


Grace Peterson

Tim, I certainly can’t speak for Sarah-Jayne but I have a few thoughts. I am seeking an Indie Publisher for my memoir because I want the backing of a publisher. The writing process is such a solitary one and I feel like with my personality type I need that extra hand to help guide me. (I understand though that the majority of the marketing will be up to me.) Second, the publisher will foot the bill for fine editing and cover design, etc.

I think self-publishing is a fabulous option for those who wish to go that route but it’s a wonderful thing to have choices.

Ruth Madison

I think there are different ways for each author and each book and we don’t need to get angry about one way or another way. If it’s not the right way for you, don’t do it.

Leaving aside scams that steal money from authors, of course.

I wish people didn’t minimize the hard work that publishers do. Small presses often have people working extremely hard to market the books. They don’t get paid if the author doesn’t get paid, so it’s in their best interest to make the book a success. With the right small publisher, you’re both in it together to do the best you can for that book.

Lara Britt

Thank you Sara-Jayne for the post. Thank you also to commenters, Tim & Grace for bringing up issues the post elicited from me as well. And no, Tim, I don’t read your directness as being rude, but plain and to-the-point…and refreshing.

Phil Green

I stumbled across this website through Google – as you do and it is interesting a good read so shall hand around. I am an aspiring author having worked in the film industry my entire life in post production. I live in the UK and put my pen down on my first full novel almost 18 months ago and have been trying to get published traditionally. For someone coming into the arena it is a total minefield with many obstacles thrust in their way to seeing their novel in print.

I was surprised at how offhand (actually rude) publishers/literary agents can be with you over something you have slaved over, as if they don’t care. The publishing industries asset is the author. Yet they seem to almost not want them in the first place, which is why self publishing is a viable option. Not least because it is seems easier to achieve and can be instant, I would say that is the attraction.

Self publishing sounds simple reading the websites/literature but they forget to tell you about the marketing and selling of your book after that initial step. I’ve enjoyed the process and I’m still getting there, however I had an accident earlier in the year and stopped me in my tracks. The one thing that I realised is that after spending a year writing/researching and finishing (I use that term loosely) trying to self publish inhibits you from writing that next novel. It certainly has me and I am slow anyway. I am gathering speed again but still, having a publisher may take that away.

If I ever form some sort of career at the end of the day it from being an author it would be great to just hand over your beloved manuscript and let a publisher get on with it but as above, if they were more approachable in the first place maybe you would feel more confident in doing so.

    Carolyn Moir

    Good for you, exploring your options!

    I’m sorry that the traditional people can come across as rude at times. From their perspective, you have to realize that they have hundreds of people throwing manuscripts at them every day!

    Of course they need authors, but they also need authors who will follow directions about how to submit and who will supply manuscripts that are polished.

    You’d be amazed at some of the stuff that publishers get. One long run on sentence for twenty three pages. Incorrectly used words on every page. The “story” is actually a tirade about the authors mother that makes everyone who reads it feel awkward.

    Again, they are getting HUNDREDS of these.

    Sometimes your project is good, but not right for that publisher and they need to be able to tell you that quickly so they can move on to find the right project and you can move on to find the right publisher!

    You’ve just got to find the right publishing house for you! (And it is true that the self-publishing route requires a lot of work that will take away from your writing time).


Thanks for the refreshing article, Sara-Jayne. For encouraging writers who are eager and competent to self-publish, and for providing the option of investing in the experience and help that the small publishing companies provide.

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