How to save thousands of dollars publishing your book (9 reasons you shouldn’t work with a small press).

How to save thousands of dollars publishing your book (9 reasons you shouldn’t work with a small press).


I’ve been sitting on this post awhile.

It’s opinionated. I’m rankled. Which means my judgment may be clouded, and I don’t want to pass my cloudy judgment on to you.

On the other hand, I’m getting pretty damn good at helping authors publish books and just about every aspect of self-publishing. I can take a book, format it in InDesign, make a full print cover, convert to ebook versions, and have it everywhere in week. When I do my own books, even if I outsource the boring work, it costs less than $500, and my sales and reviews are strong from the get-go.

I realize most authors don’t have that kind of experience or technical know-how and publishing a book seems like a major effort. It’s much easier to pay somebody to do everything for you.

You can sign up with one of the big, major publishing conglomerates and pay a few thousand dollars; and they generally do decent work. I don’t recommend it though, because

A) They don’t have many samples on their websites

B) You don’t know specifically who’s formatting your book or doing your cover

C) You’re just one in a thousand. If they can’t make you happy (within their limited rounds of revisions and changes) they’ll just refund you. It’s not in their interests to really care.

Plus, you’re worried about stuff like how to put your book together, where and how to sell it, and all that other technical stuff. So you may start looking for a small press.

But my experiences of small presses are mostly negative…

1. My concerns start with ugly websites, and ugly book design samples.

Small presses are usually not designers. They are rarely super tech-savvy. They may have some “know-how” but it totally doesn’t matter, because in the end book sales and publishing success is about the product.

This is why a lot of authors pay to publish with a small press but hire me anyway to do the cover.

2. Then they hire someone else to do the formatting. So the author, formatter, publisher and me all have to work together to make the product look good (too many chefs in the kitchen… and only a couple know how to cook!)

3. The finished product takes much, much longer to get organized, with lots of confusing emails, and you’re waiting on your small press or publishing company to help you create your Kindle or Createspace or Lightning Source accounts (which you could have set up yourself in 30 minutes) and upload all the files.

4. Most publishing houses or small presses don’t offer any marketing. So I’m left wondering, what exactly do they do? They may let you use their name and logo – which is often ugly and poorly designed – but that won’t actually raise your credibility. They may make the process easier by being your crutch, and that’s fine, if you understand you’re basically paying for an overpriced virtual assistant (you can hire one on to do a lot of the same things).

5. Most small presses or publishing houses are vanity presses – which means they will publish just about anything. This is because they don’t need your book to be successful (it’s also why they charge upfront, rather than taking a percentage of sales). If they got a percentage of your book’s sales, they’d probably only focus on really great books, and they’d make damn sure it was successful. But if they charge up front, they’ve made their money after they’ve helped you publish. They’re done.

6. Think publishing with a small press will help you get into bookstores? Doubtful in the extreme – even big publishers can’t buy coveted bookshelf space. Bookstores stock books that are selling; a small press may set your book up on Lightning Source the right way with a 55% industry standard discount, but nobody will stock it unless you’re already getting huge sales numbers.

7. You can get paid easier, and faster, by just uploading your files to Createspace and Kindle (or Smashwords, or BookBaby). See your sales right away. No waiting. Forget about Lightning Source, it isn’t worth the time and effort, and expanded distribution on Createspace works about as well (I’ve had bookstores order my books in bulk through Createspace), and I’ve also sold international translation rights.

8. All you need to publish your book is a great cover, a cleanly edited, well written book and a professional formatting job. So choose the BEST book cover designer and formatter to make an incredibly professional product. This can range from $500~$1500 (that’s what I consider a ‘reasonable price’ to get something of high quality, although price is not an absolute indicator of quality). A decent designer will also be able to answer all your publishing questions and they won’t charge extra for it.

9. Skipping a small press doesn’t necessarily mean doing everything on your own – you can still get help. But you can be choosy, and you can spend more on what really matters – the cover design, formatting and editing. And even then, you’ll probably save $1000 which will go a long way to begin marketing your book (if you do it smartly).

Ps. A lot of small presses are nice people just trying to run a business around a passion they enjoy. I’m not against them as people, and I don’t mean to say that they are untrustworthy or ought to take your money unfairly. They make money helping you publish, and if it makes your life much easier, it’s money well spent. This post is just to let you know you can be your own small press very easily, make your own publishing imprint name and logo, save a lot of money, and focus on the things that matter.

I consider this a better self-publishing strategy.

On the other hand I’ve often considered opening my own small press (which is actually, basically what I do on Creativindie Covers) so that I can take over author’s publishing efforts and strenuously steer them in the most profitable direction, rather than letting them make poor decisions.

If I did so, I know my help and advice would easily double or triple sales (I’ve already tested this with many clients), and so I’d feel pretty comfortable offering a high-priced package, wrapped under a publishing imprint and logo (again, basically what I already do, except I only charge for individual services and all the help and advice and extra stuff I do for free).

It’s definitely an iffy subject. Publishing fees and services and options are hugely diverse and can seem scary. Just remember all that matters is the first 3 seconds when a potential viewer finds your book on Amazon (or other sales page). Does the cover grab their attention? Does the description ignite their interest? When they click “look inside” is the layout breathtakingly beautiful? These are the things that matter – not how you got them made or uploaded.





  • Meg Justus Posted

    The one thing I wanted from a traditional publisher was as much marketing as I could squeeze out of them, which from what I can tell is about as much as I’d get out of a squeezed lemon these days.
    What I really want is to hire a company (no scams, please) that can properly get my books into the hands of readers. It’s amazing how many “we can construct your book for you” companies are out there (when that’s the relatively easy part — heck, if I can create a good cover and build a print book, anyone can), and how few “we can successfully market your book for you” companies are out there.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      I think there’s a larger issue you’re missing: whether or not the book is marketable, and how big the market is. Any book’s success depends on the quality of its story (or information) and the size of the potential readership for that genre. Out of 100,000 random people, maybe 5 may enjoy your book. So the majority of any marketing is going to fail – marketing doesn’t work if it’s trying to sell something to people who don’t want it. The part that DOES work, is getting your book in front of exactly the kinds of readers who may be interested, in a casual way. The absolute best strategy for this is probably Facebook ads (where you can target only readers who enjoyed a book very similar to yours). $100 will buy you at least 10,000 views, probably more, and they will be highly targeted. After that it’s up to the quality of your ad, your sales funnel/sales page, your Amazon description and reviews… if your book is good and those readers enjoy it, you won’t need much more marketing than that. If you get 100 highly targeted readers to discover your book and they read it but aren’t impressed by it, you don’t need to spend more money on marketing, you need to go write a better book.

      • Meg Justus Posted

        Well, yes, that’s what I wish I could find — a better way to find my target readers. And help with a quality ad, sales funnels, and the Amazon description (I’ve done my best with the last two, and don’t have money to invest in ads at this point or in the near future). Targeting is a concept I’m having an extremely hard time getting my head around. And that’s why I wish I had expert brains to pick on the subject. As far as the quality of the book goes, well, I’m not the one to judge that, am I? The folks who need to judge that are those targeted readers — I need targeted readers *before* I can get reviews. But it seems to be a chicken/egg conundrum.

  • Nicole Wendol Posted

    I understand the urge to warn against scammers (or simply poor business decisions) that inspired this post, but it seems there’s some mislabeling and misuse of terms that could be drastically confusing for newbies. You seem to use small press to exclusively discuss author service companies or vanity presses, neither of which could be considered a true small press. Also, this line is worrisome: “Most small presses or pub­lish­ing houses are van­ity presses – which means they will pub­lish just about any­thing.”
    Is Simon and Schuster a vanity press? I think not, though it certainly is a publishing house. Indeed, should your book be accepted there (or at any legit publishing house, be it big six or small press) they pay you. You do not pay them.
    Again, I understand the motivation here, to avoid warn people that paying for author services companies will not guarantee sales or even a quality product (and maybe there’s also a purpose to warn that traditional publishers and small presses still require a lot of marketing effort on the author’s part—this got confused), but the imprecise use of terms seems extremely misleading, regardless of good intent.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Thanks Nicole, you’re absolutely correct and I appreciate your comment. I am prone to carelessness, although the terms and lines have also become confusing. You’re right, I meant only “publishing services” that require money upfront… which technically probably shouldn’t be called small presses at all, except I often see them heavily marketing themselves as such. And in some cases, paying for author services (when you know you’ll be getting the best quality work) can be a reasonable investment. Just make sure you know what you’re getting for your money, what the alternatives are, and ask to see a lot of samples of the work they’ve done.

      • Lynda Lee Posted

        I found your site as I was searching for ideas on how best to write-edit-design-publish-and promote my work-in-progress. I immediately liked what I saw here, so I clicked on your FB page and found that I liked what I saw there, too. But, I wondered: Who is Derek Murphy and is he for real?

        Then I read your comment above: “Thanks Nicole, you’re absolutely correct and I appreciate your comment. I am prone to carelessness, although the terms and lines have also become confusing. You’re right, I meant only “publishing services” that require money upfront… ”

        Wow. Yes. You are definitely for real. Honesty and Humility. The world needs a lot more of that!

        You’ve got a new fan and very likely a new customer in the near future.

        Lynda Lee, aka @LadyQuixote

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