You Can Call it a Small Press

by Welmon "Rusty" Walker, Jr.
March is recognized as Small Press month. The celebration is now in its 14th year. Small Press, is that name meaningful? What names should be used to describe this business; Independent or Small, Publisher or Press? For me, the name Small Press works. Photo of Welmon Rusty Walker

It indicates a small business. According to R.R. Bowker, keeper of the official data base of U.S. publishers there are some 73,000 "small" publishers. Bowker's criteria for small is having one to ten active books in print.

In the business world small can be big. Depending on the specific enterprise, the SBA (U.S. Small Business Administration) considers a manufacturing business small if it employs fewer than 1,500. Book publishing is in the manufacturing (not communications) sector. Publishers arrange how a product is to look, feel, and read. I mean no offence to authors, by referring to their fine work as product.

Commercial publishers take the financial risk in a book project, paying for or doing all the work including advertising and publicity. The author is paid a royalty on books the publisher sells. Most publishers (large and small) contract a book manufacturer to do the printing. Few of us actually own or operate a printing press. Publishing and printing are not the same thing. Therefore, a true publisher makes money selling books, not printing books to sell to authors.

Because savvy Small Presses use the same book manufactures as the large houses, printing costs are reasonable. Examples: a 6 X 9 inch size, 224 page book, hardbound with a full color dust cover, printing costs are $3.45 a book with a press run of just 1000 copies. A 5 X 8 1/2 inch size, 204 page paperback book with a full color cover, printing costs are $1.65 per book with a press run of 2000 copies.

True publishers don't advertise for authors. Most publishers have stacks of manuscripts and offers for additional books at any time. Why would one advertise for more manuscripts? My company's most successful books come from seeing potential and approaching the author with a book idea. However, printers masquerading as publishers advertise for new authors all the time.

Another reason I like the term Small Press, it tells someone that I don't work the way the big publishers do. For That New Publishing Company, a new book a year is the average. However, the number of titles released is not a reflection of quality or success. Issuing a few of the right books can be very profitable.

Niche marketing is how independents succeed. Understanding, targeting and meeting specific reader group needs is the secret. Savvy and realistic use of the Internet takes you straight to a large number of book buyers. If done right, the potential is there to appear on best seller lists. Or how about a major publisher buying the rights to your now successful book for a six figure advance royalty? These things happen.

Here are excerpts from a U.S. News & World Report article on book publishing. ". . .large publishers, which account for 85 percent of the business, have taken a bath." and ". . .notorious for inefficiency, excess, and capriciousness. More precisely, money often flies around without much connection to logic." Small Press Industry data from PMA now called IBPA, the Independent Book Publishers Association (PMA 2003) has small publishers accounting for more than 29 billion dollars in sales. Yes, this Small Press stuff is serious business.

"With 200,000 book titles published in 2004 and the 'Big Five Publishers' taking home less than 45% of book sales, the Small Press Industry is booming." -Rita Mills, Executive Director of the American Book Cooperative

I am directly involved in every book project. Each dollar invested must at least break even. I usually work with first time authors Small Press Month Poster - March 2010 hardly past the outline stage of a manuscript. Sometimes a book comes out the other end. Other times it does not.

There are some hard times; explaining to an author with a finished manuscript why it is not right for this company. Then there are the good times when I read a review, see a new or old title on a bookshelf, or get an author signed first edition copy. It's great to hear a skeptic say, "Hey, this is a real book."

For me, helping a person start his or her own publishing company (many call this self-publishing) is a blast. Remember, there are 73,000 small book publishers in the U.S. You get one guess as to how the majority got started?

Because of the copyright law there is little direct competition among book publishers. If you have the rights to a book no one else may produce that book. Book readers have a tendency to buy many different books on a subject. I own many books on business, publishing, photography, computer and how-to subjects. For me the best part of this business is filling book orders to individuals, groups, bookstores and wholesalers.

Finally, I like the Press part of the name, as in "Freedom of the Press." It's kind of old and new world too. Visions of Johannes Gutenberg, his associates and Ben Franklin are invoked. This is keeping very good company, I think. Yes, you may call my publishing house a Small Press. Copyright 2010 Welmon Walker, Jr.

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Welmon "Rusty" Walker, Jr., MBA, is a publisher, consultant, university instructor, Webmaster and founder of the 30-year-old firm called, That New Publishing Company. The company started in Fairbanks, Alaska and is now based in Honolulu, Hawaii. It has published the work of 20 authors. Walker has been managing editor for books on Business, How-to, Humor/Essays, Software Training, Stage Plays plus consultant to many publishers and authors. Rusty is author of the Alaska Corporation Manual and the Save $1,500 Printing Your Book. He conducts Free Teleseminars and presentations on book publishing at AskRustyWalker.com. His latest book is called, Success With Your Own Home Based Business Corporation. You may contact him at E-mail

Read Rusty's review of a book on best selling titles
that started as self-published books

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3/24/2010