Small Publishers – A Checklist #wwwblogs #amwriting


I recently wrote a bit of a rant about the quality control of some small presses whose books I had read. You can read it here.

If you are thinking of signing with a small publisher, then do bear a few things in mind.

  • Do your homework – start off by Googling the publisher. You might find threads on writing sites that go into a great deal of detail about your chosen publisher. Read them – they can be incredibly enlightening.
  • Ask questions – if your publisher is honest and genuinely wants the best for you, they should accept that you have a right to want to know about them. After all, you are placing your book and all the blood, sweat and tears that went into writing it in their hands.


  • Who are they?
  • How long have they been publishing?
  • What exactly is their background and experience? You want specifics about this. Who have they worked for? Where did they get their experience? How many years?
  • Who will your editor be? What experience do they have? Again, specifics here not vague assertions and statements.
  • How many editors will be involved?
  • Who else have they worked with? Once you know this you can see for yourself how well their books are doing.
  • What can they offer you? Editing? Book cover? Promotion? What sort of promotion?
  • What do they expect from you?

If you get through all this and still want to go ahead, then make sure you read the contract really closely. Look for things like cover design, for example – who has the final say? And how many editors will be involved? How does the editing process work? What about copyright? What happens if you aren’t happy further down the line?

Always get a lawyer to look at your contract. Always.

Some warning signs:

  • Companies that state they don’t deal with agents or lawyers. Why don’t they? What are they afraid of? Surely it’s up to you if you want to have an agent.
  • Companies that insist it’s like a family. Why do they think that’s a good thing? This is a business relationship and it should be treated as such.
  • Staff that are vague about their experience.
  • Companies that approach you. If they’re any good, they will be fending off submissions.
  • Dreadful covers on current books.
  • Glowing five star reviews on current books by other authors also published by the company.
  • An insistence that you read and review their other authors’ books.
  • Reviews of other authors’ books that mention typos, grammatical errors, poor editing and poor formatting.

Any one of these things should give you pause for thought. At the end of the day it is your choice, but do ask yourself what it is exactly these publishers are doing that you can’t do yourself. OK, so they might offer editing. You can hire a freelance editor. OK, so they format and do covers. Again, you can source that yourself. You can even learn how to format and do that bit for nothing. They promote? How much? And how much will you have to do?

Now be truly honest with yourself. If you can do, or can learn to do, what they are offering, if their books aren’t really selling that well, if they’re vague about their experience, then why are you even considering signing with them? Is it because you’re flattered? Is it because someone is actually interested in your book? I do understand, after all, we all want to be told that someone loves our work, that they value it, but unfortunately that’s what some of these companies are relying on. Don’t waste your time. And do do your research!



  1. Brilliant, well said, and shake my hand! Re the last bit, it’s so often back to that bit about the vain and the ignorant thinking who just want to be able to say ‘my publisher’…!!

    Julia and I have been banging on about this for ages – if you want to see if a proofreader or editor is any good, ask them what other books they’ve worked on, and have a look at those books. It’s not hard to work out, but it’s amazing how few people this occurs to.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was very interested in this, Alison. I’ve been with a small press for five years and found myself nodding in all the right places. I’m happy with them – and I’ve always been able to choose my covers so think, for now, I’ll stay there. But sage advice. Thank you.Jx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Judith. I think the fact that you’ve been with them five years and the head nodding speak volumes! There are undoubtedly some excellent small presses out there, but unfortunately there are also a huge amount of publishers who just don’t seem to know what they’re doing.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Alison. All of the things you mention above are absolutely valid and in principle I thoroughly agree with them. As someone who is published by a small publisher I’ve had to accept that most of the publicity is down to me, and I’m not very successful with that yet, but that is also often the case with a large publisher, too. And of course with self publishing. But the reason I’ve stayed with my publisher for a second, and third book is the top-notch quality of the finished product. The back and forth editing and proofreading service, and the boxes full of quality paperback books with professional covers that I receive at the end of the process. I know from the experience of setting up Wild Pressed Books with my husband that this comes to in excess of £2000. This is why my 4th book is coming out with Inspired Quill next March even though my 3rd is coming out with WPB.

    WPB has five authors signed up, books scheduled up to the end of next year. We are in talks with a sixth who is taking his time to make the decision over the contract, which we advise all our authors to do. They need to know what they’re signing. Once signed, it’s to everyone’s advantage to do the very best they can to make sure the book works. We provide professional services including proofreader (hello, Julia!) and award winning cover designer, and eight rounds of editing after the author has completed their final edit. We fund everything ourselves, penny-pinching to do so. That’s why we intend to remain small. I do it because I bloody love it, and my husband because he hoped we would make some money, hah ha. It’s nothing to do with vanity on anyone’s part. It’s simply a different kind of publishing from big publisher or self-publishing.

    Just wanted to make my point 😊

    I read your post with interest, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment.
      If you read my previous post, particularly the comments, you will see that unfortunately there are a lot of companies out there treating authors very badly indeed. I’m not for one moment suggesting that it’s all of them, but it certainly happens.
      While I appreciate that your company may well do its best for its authors, there are many, many companies that don’t. I read a great many books, many of them published by small presses. I have to say that the quality of these books is very often absolutely abysmal. And these are presses that provide editing and proofreading. These books are full of typos, grammatical errors, clunky dialogue, information dumping, dialogue tags, plot holes…the list goes on. And yet they all have glowing five star reviews – mostly from other writers published by the same company.
      The point of the checklist is to help authors make an informed decision. I’m not saying don’t sign with a small press; I am saying be very careful about what they can offer, what their experience is etc. A lot of these companies are very vague indeed about their past experience. Many offer no information at all. The checklist will hopefully help an author to be clear on what to look for and avoid the horrible experiences of the authors that commented on the previous post.
      Good luck with your company – I genuinely hope that you are one of the exceptions and that your enterprise is a success for both you and your authors.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Tracey, the point Alison and others (including me!) have made about vanity is that some writers can be swayed by the prospect of being able to say that they’ve been ‘picked up by a publisher’ – and unscrupulous companies can take advantage of this. I’ve seen it so often in the nearly 5 years I’ve been at this game, and before. Writers blogging or going on Facebook boasting (yes, there’s no other word for it) about their publishing deal, when it’s not a publishing deal as we would recognise it at all. They merely been sucked into signing their creative control over to people who wouldn’t be able to edit a tweet, let alone a novel, and think they’re going to make money out of them. Or, worse, companies that say ‘we love your book’ and then charge them money to get it published; they know how to appeal to the writer’s vanity in order to get them reaching for their paypal account, basically!

      Alison has also made the point, in the previous article, that there ARE some good, small companies out there – this is just a check list for new writers to keep with them, especially if they are naive about how the publishing industry works. Congratulations on being one of the exceptions 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks for the compliment, Terry, and as I said, I do find Alison’s points absolutely valid, where applicable. I’m just sticking up for the good guys in the indie presses, who are very passionate about their work, as I am 😊


  4. Right on, sister. I’ve RT’d this because I think it’s really important. There are some disreputable people out there who prey on inexperienced authors, or those who are too susceptible to flattery and just want to say things like ‘I’m a published author’. It’s a bit like saying ‘I’m a model’ when your picture was used once years ago in a NatWest leaflet – and no, I’m not talking about myself!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent advice here, Alison. Your ‘rant’ is jolly good too. As a proofreader, writer and reader this subject is close to my heart!

    I was flabbergasted when I found out from a couple of authors that their small publishers only provide one round of editing and no proofreading. I feel a rant of my own coming on, so I’ll stop there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s