The Truth about Small Publishing Companies

Within the book publishing world, there are a handful of companies that make up what is called The Big Five: Hachette, Holtzbrinck/Macmillan, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster. You might be familiar with these names or, even more likely, have seen them printed on the spine of your favourite novel. They are a list of publishing houses that make up the majority of US book sellers, but they are also the businesses that provide writers with the opportunity to leave their mark on the world. They play an essential role in the publishing process, acting as its backbone, by actively doing all the heavy lifting to make sure your book gets out there. Yet, during the actual writing process, there is not much thought given to these companies, specifically on how to get your novel into their hands. 

Growing up with the aspirations of becoming an author, I never thought further than the action of writing; I thought that all one needed was the dream, a drive to write and a really good idea for a story. At that age, writing for the sake of writing was also all that inspired me; money and fame came second to the love of the craft. Only when I got serious about acknowledging the desire to make it a real career, all of the smoke was lifted and the curtains pulled away to reveal the truth: that, like most things in life, aspirations such as this weren’t going to be easy to achieve.

The Truth about Small Publishing Companies

After writing your book, the next step would be finding an agent and a publisher. You dream of being published by one of those famous companies that you know by name, that Cassandra Clare or Suzanne Collins took a chance on and vice versa. Yet in reality, it is more likely that smaller, independent companies will be the ones to give these writers the opportunity to touch even a little bit of that dream. 

But why is there so much bias against these independent companies? They become the butt of a joke. 

Authors have many advantages that comes with publishing their book at a small press, in terms of more creative control and quality of work. Authors work closely with publishers in these types of settings on their hopes and dreams, as well as the design of the book.

A smaller company can only handle and support so many projects at a time due to their low budget compared to a larger company. Yet, these companies are willing to tackle a new, innovative idea that differs from those of mainstream media. They take a chance on aspiring authors who are concerned with getting their stories told, sticking to their ideas and having their art be seen in the way it was intended. With a larger company, authors are persuaded to, what editor of Writer’s Market, Brian Klems writes in his article, “commercially marketable stories” that are more likely to appeal to a wider audience. This makes it less likely for ideas outside this realm of mainstream idealism to be noticed and published. 

The Truth about Small Publishing Companies

In terms of finance, Klems explains what the situation looks like when it comes to a writer’s earnings with these companies. Larger companies tend to pay an advance on the book in question while sometimes the advance from smaller companies are as little as nothing at all. Yet, royalties, which is really “a payment to an owner for the use of property” are postponed until after sales with bigger companies, while authors at a smaller press will earn them sooner. Smaller companies take a chance on their writers, believing in their work and paying them for their efforts, while others’ first instinct is to verify how you can benefit them.

It is a one and a million chance that your novel could be seen by one of the Big Five, to even imagine them taking a look at your manuscript. It is an equally difficult opportunity to be seen by any other publishing company as well. Yet, by putting your faith in a small press, you are choosing to believe in your work as you intended it to be written. You agree to taking a chance and being patient, putting your faith in a company who is equally putting their faith in you. It’s an opportunity for both parties to learn. 


  • Jamie Tenn

    I read as much as I talk and I talk too much. I love writers with great last names: Poe, Shakespeare, Dickens, Fitzgerald and Nick Miller.

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