How Self-Publishing Made Today’s Small Independent Presses Possible

5 04 2018

My services can provide you with: editing, design, layout and a lower price than the big companies and I have the experience 29+ years to help you become a successful Independent Publisher!!!

This post was made possible by a sponsorship from Reedsy.

When you look around at the most beloved books of the past decade, the books that seem destined to be classics, one thing becomes clear:

Small presses are amazing.

Whether we’re talking about the more literary side of things (like Citizen or Grief Is A Thing With Feathers, both published by Graywolf) or weirder sci-fi projects (like Subterranean Press raising a $72,000 Kickstarter for John Crowley’s translation of The Chemical Wedding), some of the coolest things happening in the book world are happening by way of the small press.

Some of the coolest things happening in the book world are happening by way of the small press.

We’re also seeing some pretty crazy sales numbers in the indie book world, supporting the idea that small presses are riding a huge wave right now. Between February 2014 and May 2016, the percentage of eBook sales attributed to the Big Five publishers fell from just under 40% to below 25% In that same window of time, indie publishers went from producing under 25% of eBook sales to being responsible for just below 45%.

While the burst of small press publications we’ve seen over the last 10 years or so is undoubtedly a good thing, one thing that often gets overlooked is just how it came to be — and more specifically, how modern self-publishing made it all possible.

To understand all of this, you need to know what makes modern self-publishing different than the self-publishing of 10 years ago.

How Self-Published Authors Became Book Marketing Experts

In recent history, the only real marketplaces for books were controlled by major publishers. If you were an author who wanted to sell copies of your book, you needed major bookstores to carry it, and that could only happen if you went through a traditional publishing house. Self-publishing, as a result, was reserved for people who didn’t care about selling copies.

With the rise of the internet, and Amazon in particular, self-published authors found a way to sell books that didn’t involve negotiating with bookstores. And when a real sales channel opened up, dozens of book marketing strategies soon followed:

  • There was suddenly a premium on having a good author website, where you could blog or give away free writing to build a massive email list of readers.
  • Authors like Mark Dawson began using Facebook Ads to sell books, A/B test covers and to drive signups to their email lists.
  • Amazon released their own advertising platform (multiple, actually) that authors were able to use to boost their sales.
  • Authors began compiling “street teams” of their friends and colleagues, who could seed their book with reviews and social shares to get the ball rolling when a book debuted.
  • The position of “Freelance Book Publicist” was, for the first time, not just a job title you made up to sound employed.

Self-published authors were approaching book marketing the way a startup might approach marketing their company, and they were killing it.

Self-published authors were approaching book marketing the way a startup might approach marketing their company.

It didn’t take long for the success of self-published authors to trickle into the small press world. After all, most small presses are started by a couple of friends who’d like to publish other writers’ work — typically with the same processes self-published authors use.

From Self-Published Authors To A New Generation of Presses

Literary magazines, anthologies, and full-blown presses start popping up at an astounding rate, and some pretty amazing writing was published as a result.

The Adroit Journal, one of the most popular literary journals in America (especially among young writers), was started by a group of teenagers and originally published using a print-on-demand publishing service.

Through some popular events (like letting writers submit unlimited amounts of work to the journal for one weekend), they were able to create a massive subscriber list, and laid the groundwork for an insanely successful journal.

Sibling Rivalry Press, the amazing small press that published Ocean Vuong’s first chapbook, Burnings, uses Ingram — one of the biggest platforms used by self-published authors for book distribution — to distribute their books, and has built a massive community by publishing multiple literary magazines under the Sibling Rivalry umbrella.

And countless small presses use ecommerce platforms like Big Cartel, Shopify, and Squarespace to sell books directly to their readers — something that was previously only done by people who couldn’t get traditional publishing deals, i.e. self-published writers. Here’s an example from the amazing Two Dollar Radio, who recently published Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us, and host their entire store on Shopify:

All of this points to the same thing. What modern self-publishing has done — whether we’re talking about the small presses listed above or the new generation high-quality hybrid publishers like Bookouture and Mascot Books — is democratized our ability not just to publish books, but to market and sell them.

Modern self-publishing has democratized our ability not just to publish books, but to market and sell them.

As a result, some of the best writing of the last century has been published and championed by some of the coolest presses ever put together.


Authors Need Publishers Less than Ever

1 08 2016

Authors Need Publishers Less than Ever

Can authors compete with ‘non-competes’?

9 09 2015


6 03 2012

What do publishers mean when they tell would-be writers ‘this is too literary for our list’?!/search/%23publishingeuphemism

From Dan Poynter’s eNewletter 3/6/12


11 02 2012

Should You Self-Publish? How to Make the Decision

It is the question on every writer’s lips these days and the subject of countless blog posts. However, here is the first comprehensive and dispassionate guide to making this career-defining decision. The flowchart below will guide you through all the essential questions. Answer each one honestly and I guarantee you will come to the right choice for you.


  1. Start at the box labelled “Start” and follow the arrow.
  2. Answer each question YES or NO – you are not allowed any maybes. And follow the associated arrow.
  3. Take the advice you end up with and get on with your life.

It’s as easy as that.

The simple decision process every writer needs

SELF PUBLISHERS (A repost from Dan Poynter’s eNewsletter)

14 11 2011


–Rick Frishman, publisher Morgan James Publishing

From the vanity presentation that could never find its way to a shelf in a bookstore (most likely a LuLu type of book) to a slick presentation that a buyer at first glance assumes is from a traditional publisher, the self and independently published books from small presses have prospered.

Self-publishers range from those who only envision selling a few books to those who sell thousands of them. Many New York Times bestsellers began their publishing journeys via the self-publishing route. The usual reason is that they couldn’t get a publisher to pick it up and/ or get an agent to become their champion, thus never getting it to a publisher’s doorstep. Self-publishing’s Hall of Fame includes mega seller John Grisham. His first book, A Time to Kill, started out published by the author after multiple rejection notices and was later sold to Fleming H. Revell for a few thousand dollars. Revell in turn sold it for over a million dollars for much needed cash.

Management guru Tom Peters rolled out In Search of Excellence in self- published format before it was bought by New York; and Ken Blanchard started his One-Minute series from the kitchen table as did What Color is Your Parachute? author, Richard Nelson Bolles. Betty J. Eadie birthed Embraced by the Light on the self-publishing route along with Sandra Haldeman Martz with her When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple and Richard Evans with his The Christmas Box. Then, there are a couple of reference gems that started the self- publishing route. Consider Robert’s Rules of Order by Henry Martyn Robert and the all-time classic, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and EB White. To date, over 10 million copies of those tomes have been sold. All were rejected by traditional publishing the first go around. The authors had their vision and did it themselves. By the time New York came to the party, the checks written were quite hefty.

There is a difference between self-publishing and independent publishing. Most people put the two in the same pot. Don’t. Self-publishing is certainly on your own. So is independent. Within the self-publishing category is what we call the “hobbyist” or “casual” publisher. Making money isn’t the key factor. Just having a book is. Most selfpublished books look, well, self-published. Money isn’t dedicated to quality, although the content may be good. If you plan on selling fewer than 300 copies, this is a reasonable route to take.


Five Things You Need to Understand About Book Printing, Part 1

14 07 2010


You’ve finally written your first book, now what? Please make sure that you find an editor, book and cover designer that “specializes” in working with books. Be certain to interview them, get samples of their work and talk to their references before making your choice. Ensure that they are willing to “communicate” with your printer of choice, to make sure that the files (see #3 below) are prepared to the printer’s guidelines. (File preparation instructions should be found on your printer’s website). Experienced book & cover designers should understand that some design features can be very expensive (make sure they are aware of your budget) or a manufacturing nightmare. An enticing book cover will typically generate 80% of the sales of the book, so the front, back and spine should be equally interesting.