Small presses are not “less than” presses. Almost every major publishing company today began as a small press. In fact, the Association of American Publishers reports that over 73 percent of its membership qualifies as small or independent press. However, understand that some small presses have not been in business very long, others have not enjoyed much success, and many may not be familiar with working with outside authors. In fact, a small press may simply be the expanding company of a successful self-publisher.
These presses do not come with red flags to help you recognize their flaws. If a small press wants to publish your book, or if you are discussing co-publishing or contract publishing with a small press, find out about the following before you sign a contract:
Years in business. A company in business less than two years may not be in business next year, due to bookstore returns, and wholesalers and distributors that are historically slow to pay. Unless the company is appropriately funded to endure the first two years of business, they might not be right for you.
Cataloging-In-Publication. According to the Library of Congress, CIP data is “a bibliographic record prepared by the Library of Congress for a book that has not yet been published. When the book is published, the publisher includes the CIP data on the copyright page thereby facilitating book processing for libraries and book dealers.” With exceptions dictated by the LOC, most publishers participate in the CIP program with the Library of Congress. The cataloging data will appear on the verso (copyright) page of their books. An LCCN number is not the same as a CIP; rather, it is “a unique identification number that the Library of Congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections.” (www.loc.gov/ cip) Self-publishers are not allowed to participate in the LC-CIP and must use other sources, such as Quality Books, Inc. (www.quality-books.com), to provide a P-CIP, or Publishers Cataloging-In-Publication.
Well-reviewed books. A publishing company that is doing its job correctly garners great reviews, regularly, for its books. Especially important are prepublication reviews from publications such as Booklist, Library Journal, School Library Journal, KLIATT, Publishers Weekly, Fore Word Magazine and others. Ask a librarian for help in learning if a particular publisher’s books have been reviewed favorably and regularly.
Distribution outlets. A publishing company with over ten titles in print should have distribution with Ingram Book Company and Baker & Taylor Books. If they do not, they may not create enough demand, they may not have saleable books, or they may have too many returns. The chain bookstores order small press titles exclusively from such wholesalers.
Nontraditional (non-bookstore) sales. There is more than one way to buy a book; books are ordered from many more places than bookstores. Sales to catalogs are a good example of a non-bookstore sale. Savvy small presses pursue nontraditional sales outlets with vigor.
Subrights sales. Subrights are those rights from a book that a publisher will license to others. Foreign translation rights, book club rights, audiobook rights, ebook rights — and much more — are all part of a publisher’s work when selling a book. A small press should actively seek subrights sales on its titles.
Author contracts. A substantial small press should have a professionally written author contract that has been vetted by an intellectual properties attorney who specializes in books. Will you recognize such a contract when you see one? If not, get your own experienced agent (or Intellectual Properties attorney) to review the contract for you. Remember, only an intellectual properties attorney who specializes in books has the publishing contract experience to recognize an industry-standard contract. An attorney specializing in business, even in contracts, is not specialized enough.
Betsy Lampe has 20 years of experience in the book publishing industry. She is president and editorial director of Rainbow Books, Inc., a 30year-old, family-owned, independent publisher of self-help/how-to nonfiction and a very small line of mystery fiction (characte-driven medical murder mysteries and cozies). Rainbow publishes approximately 20 titles per year. It is a house member ofAAP, PAS (founding members) and FPA (founding members), and its books are distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor and many, many other specialty distributors. Betsy also works as association executive of the Florida Publishers Association, Inc. She can be reached at BetsyLampe@aol.com.