Thursday, January 24, 2013

Starting/Running A Small Press

I promised a post about starting/running a small press, but I couldn’t figure out how I wanted to format it, as bulleted tips, as a story, in essay format, epic poem, and so on. I have finally decided to throw it out there as jumbled mess, question-and-answer-stream-of-consciousness pile and let you sort it out, but I did add a bunch of pictures so that it looks pretty.
Who to use as printer? There are really only two choices. Create Space and Lightning Source. We went with lighting source, the books are higher quality and they have more distribution channels. You do need adobe illustrator or another graphic design program for the covers. Note: Things might have changed. It was a few years ago when we weighed the pros and cons of the two. You might want to do the same.
Adobe Illustrator? Whew, that’s expensive: Yes, a new version is. And it takes a while to learn. Fortunately, I had taken some graphic design classes in school and we found a copy of illustrator 9 on ebay for $60. Then we used the profits from the first books to buy CS5 including illustrator, photoshop and adobe indesign. Indesign makes formatting books soooooo much easier once you get the hang of the program. Heck, it’s what most of the big publishing houses use.
Illustrator eventually paid for itself. I did a lot of work for other small presses: formatting covers for lightning source, creating ads, making bookmarks, etc. $10-$50 a project really added up after awhile.

Where did you get cover art? Lurk here until you find an artist you like, that is in your price range. Also you could always try big stock photo or dreamstime. We used stock art on our first few books since we didn’t know where to find an artist. You can get some nice covers with stock art, check out the mock up I did for the first issue of Dark Things: Horror Magazine, that sadly never got published. I think it came out pretty well. And no those articles and author names are not real, I was just seeing how the text would look.

Personal rejection letters? Just say no to them. We tried it and got some very angry people. Some people can’t take criticism.
Website? We used weebly, it’s a pretty easy way to create a website and then you can purchase your own domain name.
Advertising? This is a hard one. We tried a lot of things, and it seemed like what worked for one book did not work for another. What makes a book sell over 1000 copies when another book (that I personally liked better) sold less than 50. It’s weird.
For anthologies it is totally based on the authors. If you get 16-30 people all telling their friends what great a book it is, going to cons, talking it up on the internet then you will have pretty good sales. If you fill the book with authors who are like “that’s awesome” and throw the book on their stack of contributors’ copies and never think of the book again, then sales are not good. On the other hand having a book filled with first timers would probably be bad too. I think the best formula for an anthology (when you can’t spend tons of money getting famous authors) is to get one or two recognizable names, one or two newbies and then the rest somewhere in between. Of course we never tried following any formulas, we just picked the stories we liked best, but I think that this formula would work.
 Book reviews are nice, but they don’t create a buzz. People have to start the buzz, and then the reviews will make the chatter louder.
Novels were a bit different. Reviews did help, sometimes. Authors promoting their own work helped, sometimes. Advertising in magazines did not work. We contacted local television, radio, and newspapers near all of the novelist’s homes and only received a positive response once, from a public television show. The author balked at the idea and wouldn’t do it, despite the fact that we checked with the author  first, so I am not sure if they work. Some Podcasts helped, sometimes. We did notice a difference when some authors went to cons, sometimes. Postcards worked…sometimes. Hmmm…I guess the same thing never worked twice. Don’t know what to tell you here.

To Kindle or Not To Kindle? We had a few months when kindle sales beat out print sales, but for the most part print sales were better. But kindle and nook sales can certainly give you a boost. It did seem like sci-fi sold better on kindle than in print. Fantasy sold better in print. Horror was split down the middle. Anyway, ebooks are definitely worth doing.
Help? Our business was a family run operation. But we did talk to our local college and could have gotten an intern at some point. We would have had to pay $3/hour, not bad for a little help.
Forum? I loved the forum. I wish I could have been a little better about keeping up with it. It was nice to have a community of writers to throw ideas off of, or discuss writing topics. Other writing forums I have tried come with an overabundance of snark, which we tried to keep to a minimum. We got a lot of emails thanking us for the forum. Getting members wasn't too hard, we just gave away some free stuff and bam, instant community.
How to deal with detractors? No matter what you do, someone won’t like it. If you start a small press you will eventually get some hate mail. On the internet people say whatever they want, things they really wouldn't say in person. We have gotten hate mail about pay rates, rejection letters, our covers, our website, our logo, and even the wording in our calls for submission. For the most part we ignored it. Occasionally, if somebody was waaay out of line we would send out an email to other small presses telling them that the person was hard to work with.
But usually, it was best just to look at the submission cue and see all the familiar names. Then it was easy to see that we also had a lot of supporters. In the end it was really easy to see, with the dozens of emails thanking us and wishing us well. Thanks to everyone for that.
That’s everything I can think of. If you have any questions feel free to use the contact form or post in the comments.


  1. Thank you for passing your experiences along, Alva. This kind of information is extremely valuable.


  2. Thanks Alva. I am not sure if we will actually try starting a small press, but we are looking into the idea.