Independent Publishing Houses

How Independent Publishing Works:

In a world where everyone with enough money can self-publish, smaller houses have been incorrectly associated with vanity presses. On the contrary, independent houses are the backbone of the indie market, often giving new writers the stepping stone needed to take a major leap into the industry.

But how can they afford to publish so many unknown writers? Like self-publishing houses, small publishers often publish on-demand, which means that books are published when ordered and not in one large mass that is then distributed to bookstores. This allows the publisher to keep costs low while also supporting great works of literature. Although this usually means that fewer books are printed, many independent houses offer their writers higher royalty percentages. Other benefits of publishing through smaller venues include the acceptance of unsolicited manuscripts, more flexible timescales, and an easier market to penetrate.

These differences should, however, not construe smaller houses as any less prestigious. Just like any publisher, independent houses only publish quality work, for they too are investing in your ability to sell your writing. Submit to these houses with the same care and assiduousness that you would any other.

How to Choose an Independent House

As always, the first step in choosing a house is research. Visit the sites of independent houses that are accepting submissions for your genre type. Review their requirements and the works they have published. Read some of the book reviews and, if you can, invest some money in purchasing their top titles to study writing levels and publishing quality. Also make sure that the houses you are looking into are a part of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).

Many successful TBL writers have published first novels through independent houses, using their wonderful publishing opportunities to build a fan base and publishing credit.

Below you will find three reviews from members who have published with independent houses to help you in your own search. Remember, while traditional research is important in this hunt, nothing beats advice from experienced authors when it comes to choosing an agent or publisher.

Troy Matthew Carnes, author of Rasputin’s Legacy:

Black Rose Writing is a small independent publisher focusing on the needs and desires of the authors they serve. Owner Reagan Rothe is also a talented writer who understands the frustrations experienced by new authors seeking to establish a foothold in the literary world.

As a first time author, I was thrilled but somewhat skeptical when BRW offered me a contract. My paranoia drove me to make a number of inquiries into the company’s reputation. The answers I received were all very positive, but I was not completely satisfied.

I called Rothe personally and essentially asked him why BRW wanted to publish my novel. He admitted that he had not read the manuscript himself but that two of his trusted readers had strongly recommended pursuing a contract. He then forwarded the actual notes sent to him by his readers in regard to my manuscript. I was impressed with his honesty and his patience with a suspicious first-time author.

As we moved forward, Rothe allowed me to negotiate a few fine points in the contract, and he was willing to work with me until I was completely comfortable with our arrangement. Once I signed the contract, BRW followed through on all the promises they had made. I was allowed far more artistic control than I had imagined was possible, essentially designing my own cover. The book was ready before the projected release date, and the finished product was exactly what I had approved.

Throughout the publishing process, Rothe and his staff were readily accessible and thoroughly responsive whenever I had a question or a suggestion. After Rasputin’s Legacy was released, BRW was very attentive to my needs as I set out to market the book. They placed the novel on, and, and marketed the book heavily through their own website, Royalty checks have been distributed promptly and accurately as scheduled, and BRW has responded quickly to whatever inquiries I have had regarding payment.

For all their virtues, BRW is not a major publishing house, and there are limits to what they are able to do in terms of editing and marketing. The book you produce through BRW will very much be your unaltered work. If you desire an extensive edit, you need to solicit a third party. Also, your book will not be stocked on the shelves of every bookstore in the country within weeks of release. BRW does a good job of getting your book where it can be found, but mass distribution is not within their scope.

What you will receive from BRW is a quality book in print and the diligent support of a reputable publisher in your marketing efforts. Your book will be available to book sellers and online shoppers. You will also receive sage marketing advice from BRW’s staff.

My overall impression of Black Rose Writing is that it is a highly reputable organization determined to carve a niche out of the market as a true author’s publisher. As a first-time author, I feel that I was afforded unusual respect and attention. I have been completely satisfied with the product they produce and the service they provide, but I have been most impressed by the honesty, integrity, and professionalism with which they conduct business. I recommend Black Rose Writing to any author, but especially to those who seek a close, honest relationship with a reputable, professional publisher.

S.D. Brownlee, author of Sum of One:

PublishAmerica is an honest and inexpensive way for first-time novelists to get their work out to the public. The greatest benefit of PublishAmerica is that the author is not required to purchase any books to get a publishing deal. Other companies require you to purchase anywhere from 50–250 copies of your book and then sell them on your own at signings you set up. PublishAmerica is a print-on-demand company that gives you an author’s discount if you want to purchase books for signings, etc.

PublishAmerica has quality editors and cover designers. They pay fair for royalties, give advice, and help authors build their name and brand to the public.  Also, their contracts are shorter, usually only six or seven years, so you are free to bring your novel out to any other agent or publishing company when your contract expires!

Essentially, PublishAmerica is ideal for the new novelist who wants to get some of their work in print and available for purchase and critique by the readers. Your book is available through all major chains like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon. The starting price for your novel is a bit higher than mass produced novels, but for a first time novelist, this is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives time to think your book through, get a taste of what you want to be doing in the business and get your first novel out of your system so you can focus on bigger and better things.

Will you make millions going through any print-on-demand company? Very likely not. But, you will gain valuable experience, grow as a writer, and have the benefit of your work in print.

Stephanie Webb, author of How I See It:

I chose CreateSpace for one simple reason: as a winner in 2007’s NaNoWriMo, I would receive a free proof copy of my book from CreateSpace if I chose to submit it. And I did.

The process was straightforward. Authors were expected to upload their book contents and their cover under formatting guidelines provided on the website. Formatting the text was simple, and they even provide a quick and dirty cover service for those less tech savvy. You choose the size, add a picture, and throw in some text, upload the bad boy and you’ve got yourself a working book. Much like other print-on-demand sites, you retain your property rights just in case a publisher picks you up after you self-publish. That was round one for me.

I waited two years before I submitted a version that I would actually make available to the public. I was pleased to find that not only was CreateSpace still around, but they had updated some of their services. The cover options were more robust and they had entered into the world of Kindle. I wound up creating a cover with Adobe products and uploading it to the site—worked like a charm. Once the proof came and I was pleased with the outcome, the pricing was also made simple. You choose how much you want to charge and they outline your earned royalties. You can also choose to purchase a plan to make your work available on sites other than CreateSpace and Amazon. I have continuously been pleased with CreateSpace—both with the way they make publishing easy and their provision of high royalty rates.

If you are looking into publishing, I would suggest shopping around. Consider CreateSpace. When you are on the site, look up How I See It. With all self-publishing, a little shameless self-promotion can go a long way. Good luck!

How to Submit

Since smaller houses often accept unsolicited manuscripts, you query them in much the same way you would an agent (for more information, visit our “Writing a Query Letter” article). After your query has been accepted by an editor at a smaller house, they will ask you to send in a writing sample or the entire manuscript. Make sure to visit their sites so you can format your submissions correctly (for more about general guidelines, visit our formatting page).

Once you have been offered a contract for your work, make sure you choose the best possible option, and be mindful of how long they hold your contract for. If you need any help navigating these legal documents, please do not hesitate to ask our team of editors on staff!

Dani Hedlund published her first novel, Threads of Deception, at the age of eighteen. Experiencing the difficulties of breaking into the market, she founded TBL in 2007 to help other new writers perfect and publish their works. Offering free writing coaching, editing, and publishing guidance, Hedlund expanded TBL into a global community of writers, editors, and artists. In 2010, she pushed the company to new heights, creating TBL’s literary journal, Tethered by Letters Quarterly Literary Journal which has since evolved into F(r)iction Series (published by Sheridan Press), a literary and art collection that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling.