I see post after post on various Facebook pages discussing traditional publishing versus self-publishing, but no one talks about the independent publishers. No, not the vanity presses (see Part 1 of this series), but true independent publishers.
The smaller presses may not be as well-known as the Big-Five traditional publishers and all of their off-shoots, but securing a contract through one can be just as satisfying and rewarding. In fact, there are quite a few established authors who prefer smaller publishing houses where they're assured more personal attention.
As I pointed out in Part 2 of this series, books have been around since 868 A.D., and through all this time, the book industry has remained and still is today a massive influence in the global consumer market. So is it any wonder a number of smaller presses would open their doors and compete with those few traditional publishers we have left?
If you read the previous article where I focused on traditional publishing, you’ll recall that submitting to one of those big publishing houses directly is practically impossible. Very few (and I do mean very few) of their imprints will accept unsolicited submittals, meaning submittals that do not come directly through a literary agent. So if securing a contract with one of the traditional publishing houses is your ultimate goal, unless you can first secure a literary agent to represent you, your chances of doing so are slim to none. This is not the case with independent publishers, however, as contrary to those big publishers, the majority of smaller presses will accept submittals directly from authors.
I will add that if you submit to these indie publishers directly and they agree to purchase your book, many times, these smaller presses will still encourage you to get an agent to represent you. And of course, securing an agent when you already have a book deal is much easier.
So, why would you need an agent after the book deal is already yours? Well, you don’t plan on writing only one book, do you? And to repeat just a small part of the information previously provided, I’ll remind you that for their fifteen (15%) percent commission of your gross income, besides negotiating the best deal possible for you, a literary agent is your doorway to all those publishing houses that won’t deal with you directly, and this does include some of the smaller presses as well. That means you may want to take the time to do your research in regard to the many reputable agents out there, even if you’ve chosen the route of indie publishing.
Now, when doing your research into which of the smaller publishing houses out there are true independent publishers, remember this. If they ask you for money, they are not legit. Period. Again, refer back to my rant on the definition of a vanity press in Part 1 of this series and heed my warning!
Remember, too that even these smaller presses are selective; they aren’t just taking anyone. And they each have specific requirements and rules to follow when submitting to them. So, please, do yourself a favor and do your homework. Start by following the formula with regard to your work and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward for a great first impression when submitting to any publisher.
What’s the formula?
1. Write an outstanding book;
2. Write an awesome query letter; and
3. Write a fabulous synopsis (both a short and full one so you’ll be prepared).
In Part 2 of this series, where I focused on traditional publishing, I not only gave you a little information about the Big-Five traditional publishers, but I also listed fifteen others that may not be part of those publishing houses, although they are still considered part of the traditional set. As a little additional help in your research efforts, you'll find below a list some of the smaller presses, the independent publishers that may be more for you, and not because you’re settling, but because indie publishing is the right path for you.
The indie publishers may not offer as big of an advance, but then even the traditional publishers have cut back there. Likewise, the indie publisher may not offer quite as much in the way of marketing as the traditional publishers, but they can still offer you a lot and do much for your book, your brand, and your future writing career. So don’t count them out.
Now, as a disclaimer, I don’t have any personal experience with any of the publishing houses listed below, so please, do your homework! Research and check out any company you consider working with and don’t sign any contract without reading every line, the small print included. And if you can have an attorney look over that contract beforehand, I strongly recommend it. Be sure you understand what you’re getting in return for what you’re giving up.
And as always, I wish you the best of luck!
AUTUMN HOUSE PRESS is specifically interested in new and lesser-known voices in the literary world. They publish poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and anthologies, and typically only accept unsolicited manuscripts through their annual prizes. If you’re interested in submitting to their prizes or their online literary magazine, Coal Hill Review, you can find more information on their website. In addition, in the fall of every year, Autumn House accepts manuscripts for all genres.
TINY FOX PRESS is looking for YA and adult novels, in particular. So, if your genre is chick-lit, romance, mystery, or thrillers, don’t submit here. While striving for excellence, this small press takes on an average of only one to three new authors a year and will accept unsolicited submissions. If you’re interested in giving them a shot, check out their website for submission requirements.
GEORGE BRAZILLER, INC. is a smaller press founded in 1955. Although they publish a wide range of writing, their emphasis is on fiction. Distributed by W.W. Norton & Co., George Braziller is one of the larger “small” presses on this list. Query submissions are welcomed by email with specific submission requirements as outlined on their website.
HAWTHORNE BOOKS is one even I’ve heard of. They’re based in Portland, Oregon and publish both fiction and nonfiction. For nonfiction, they’re typically looking for hybrids between essay, narrative, and memoir. Unsolicited submissions are accepted on occasion and submissions through literary agents are accepted at any time. Check their website for specifics.
CATAPULT BOOKS is one of the larger independent publishing houses and opened its doors in 2015. They’ve published award-winning fiction and nonfiction and also offer writing classes taught by acclaimed emerging and established writers. In addition, Catapult hosts an open online platform where writers can showcase their own writing. See their Submittable page for submission requirements.
BLACK BALLOON PUBLISHING is an imprint of Catapult. However, Black Balloon’s focus is on graphic novels, hybrid books, and books that push the envelope. They accept unsolicited manuscripts twice a year through Catapult’s Submittable page, and you can sign up for the Black Balloon’s newsletter so you’ll be among the first to know when the next window is opening up.
DZANC BOOKS is more than just a small indie press. In addition to publishing books, Dzanc publishes an online literary journal called The Collagist. They also offer internship opportunities and have an international literacy program in Portugal called Disquiet with a contest designed to promote books that unify international exchanges and create a diverse literary discourse. You might want to check out the Dzanc Creative Writing Sessions or the Dzanc Writers-in-Residence Program as well. Check out their website for submission details.
COFFEEHOUSE PRESS is a publisher known to win awards. In fact, they’ve secured the American Book Award multiple times. And not only do they represent some big-name authors, but they’re also open to new authors with authentic and inspiring voices. Check out their website for submission opportunities.
C & R PRESS is among the few in the indie community that can often be overlooked.Their focus is on LGBTQIA+, immigrant, female, minority, or other progressive voices, with submissions open for full-length fiction, poetry, short story, memoir, and essay manuscripts.
IG PUBLISHING tries to focus on overlooked fiction and political/cultural nonfiction writers, offering subcategories from literary fiction to LGBT books, YA/middle grade, comics, and current affairs. Like many indie publishers, although they don’t normally accept unsolicited manuscripts, you can send proposals via email to the Editor-in-Chief.
BIG LUCK BOOKS is an indie publisher who prefers work that suits them by being outside the political norm. They like quirky, emotional, and genre-defying writing. They accept submissions on a rolling basis and hold two reading periods a year for chapbooks and their full journal, which you can read more about on the website.
FOREST AVENUE PRESS is another indie publisher looking for the next quirky read, as well as the humorous, and represents small and unheard voices in the literary world with the Main Street Writers Movement. If this smaller press sounds like it might be just up your alley, check out their Testimonials page, and if you’re hoping to submit without an agent, keep checking their Submissions page to see when that’s an option for you because it might not be at the moment.
MELVILLE HOUSE has been around since 2001 and has become well-known for its publications in fiction and poetry. They run multiple genre-specific series such as the Melville International Crime series and publish nonfiction of all types. They don’t take unsolicited submissions for fiction, but if you have a nonfiction proposal, you can send a query by e-mail.
UNBRIDLED BOOKS is based out of Colorado and practically in my backyard. They've been around since 2003 and are know for providing real support to the most gifted authors. Check out their website and Contact page for query specifics.
TUPELO PRESS BOOKS has been around since 2006. They have a reputation for their minimalist design, specific paper quality, and the type of writing they represent, which includes a variety of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction from both new and established writers. Tupelo accepts submissions on a rolling basis, but if you write poetry, you may want to check out their Million-Line Poem process at any time of the year.
UNNAMED PRESS is a company said to be looking for a bit of everything from fiction to memoir to poetry. Just check out their site for query requirements. They also host events throughout New York and elsewhere, giving you the opportunity to meet up with many of the influential people in the industry.
PRESS 53 has also been around since 2005. They publish five to six short fiction collections every year, as well as eight to ten poetry collections. If poetry is your thing, in March of every year, they also have a Gathering of Poets at their headquarters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. You can submit your manuscript through their Submittable page on their website or submit to their literary journal, Prime Number Magazine.
THE PERMANENT PRESS is a notable, well-respected publishing house that’s been around since 1978 and since then has racked up over fifty literary honors, including the American Book Award. Their focus is almost exclusively on fiction, and although they don’t accept electronic submittals, they are typically accepting submissions by mail. Be sure to check out their website and Submissions page for details.
BOA EDITIONS has been publishing since 1979 and has published over three hundred exceptional books from poets and authors across the U.S. You can submit your short story manuscripts to their American Reader Series, and you might also want to check out their annual Short Fiction Prize contest.
BLACK LAWRENCE PRESS also publishes a lot of chapbooks and short story collections. They hold several contests throughout the year and are said to have a stellar reputation for being reliable and publishing good work. Black Lawrence Press prefers offbeat contemporary fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Their open reading periods are held twice a year, but they just might have a chapbook competition in process now, so check them out.
LITTLE ISLAND PRESS is a U.K. company that publishes fiction, essays, and poetry. They work with a design studio, so all their titles match in cover design and aesthetics. That means you’ll definitely want to start by checking out their website to make sure they’re a good match for you.
INFLUX PRESS is a U.K. publisher focusing on geographical spaces and cultures. The majority of the work this smaller press takes on is centered on specific places and people. You can check out their website and sign up for their mailing list to get updates on when they’re open for submissions.
DALKEY ARCHIVE PRESS is an international indie publisher with offices in the U.K., U.S., and Ireland. They are known to prefer the experimental and avant-garde, so if you aren’t doing something out of the norm, don’t bother submitting here. If after checking out their website you think you might be a good fit, go to their Submissions page to see if they’re currently accepting and if so, be sure to follow the submission requirements.
FEATHERPROOF BOOKS was founded in 2005. They promote strange, lovely fiction, nonfiction, and all forms of tragicomedy. You’ll find Featherproof titles in stores and online in eBook format, but their newer books are traditionally released first on their website. Submissions happen on a rolling basis, so check back frequently to see when they are accepting new manuscripts.
OR BOOKS is known to be an extremely selective publishing house, wanting to be sure the work they put out is the best and that there isn’t a huge backlog. They take care of everything from editing to book covers and marketing but don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, so be aware you’ll need a literary agent for this one.
AKASHIC BOOKS is for the writers looking to avoid in-house politics and get a little more personal attention. Be sure to check their website to see if they’re currently accepting submissions, and if not, you might check out their online journal where they focus on flash fiction.
RED HEN PRESS is an independent publisher based in Los Angeles, California. They also publish in the Los Angeles Review and promote literacy in schools with a creative writing and literature outreach program for certain school districts in California called Writing in the Schools. You can check out their website to see if this press might be a good fit for you, and if so, follow the submission guidelines. Unagented submissions are encouraged.
BELLEVUE LITERARY PRESS is an NYU School of Medicine project seeking books about healing, illness, and medicine. They’re well-known for their very first publication, Paul Harding's Tinkersby, which won the Pulitzer. Like Red Hen Press mentioned above, Bellevue Literary Press also has an outreach program with local school systems and communities. They publish only literary fiction and narrative nonfiction. Go to their website for submission specifics.
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