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.




About Derek Murphy

Hey there! I'm a philosophy dropout and book cover designer with a PhD in Literature. After spending a decade as a starving artist, I vowed to create the life of freedom my restless spirit demands. I covet a cabin full of cats, where I can write young adult fantasy novels and do a few editorial critiques to pay for my cake addiction. Sometimes I live in castles. FREE GUIDE: Book Marketing is Dead.