When I queried my first novel, I was looking for an agent, with the intent of pitching the “Big Five” publishers, and maybe some of the bigger small presses, if necessary.

I got some bites for partial and full manuscripts, as well as some encouraging comments, but no contracts.

Then, a small press approached me through #Adpit–a Twitter event where authors try to entice agents and editors with 140-character pitches. My first thought was that if this small press wanted me, surely they were no good. (Or as Groucho Marx said, “I refuse to be part of any club that would have me as a member.”)

What can I say, I’m cynical by nature.

There are plenty of horror stories out there to justify my cynicism. So many small presses turn out to be scams or vanity presses in disguise, with business models based on profiting off authors instead of readers. Others’ simply fail and disappear into a black hole, taking authors’ story rights with them.

But I didn’t want to miss out on a legitimate opportunity, either. So I took two weeks and vetted the small press — hard.

Ultimately, I decided I’d rather fail by action than by inaction, and I took the plunge.

A year later, I’m so glad I took the risk. My small press has been an incredible partner in this whole publication journey. In fact, I think working with a small press for my first release was better for me than working with a Big Five publisher.

Why? Five big reasons.

1. They give me generous attention and support

As a newbie to publishing, this was major.

My publisher was very understanding of my questions and nerves, and especially helpful when I had questions. In fact, I feel welcome to shoot an email to the chief marketing officer and the chief operating officer (the co-founders) any time a question pops up — and of course, my editor too. They don’t just tolerate this; they have been supportive and excited for me every step of the way, and have tipped me off to some opportunities I would not have found on my own.

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When my book launched, I received a detailed calendar of ads and promotions that my book would be marketed through, and the book got a number of reviews — and all were positive, save one who was just clearly not my target audience.

2. I’m getting an education in the publishing business

I expected to be excited when my book was released, but I was not prepared for what it would actually do to me.

I completely lost my mind. For a full month. Seriously.

My first book was going out into the world, and as it turned out, I absolutely could not be cool about it. I worked around the clock, could not sleep, and forgot where I put everything from my pen to my wallet.

I even forgot to celebrate.

When I finally I recovered, I realized there were a lot of aspects of writing as a business that I hadn’t thought about before, like promotion opportunities, sales funnels and pitching events.

But because I’m with a small press, I’ve been able to experiment, test and learn on-the-fly what works for me and what doesn’t, without the pressure of a major publisher hovering over my sales metrics. It’s been a real education.

3. They’re open to innovation

One of the most commonly cited benefits of small presses is that they are more agile and willing to take risks than bigger publishers. This has been true, in my experience.

One promotion technique I wanted to try was a reader magnet, a free piece of content you give away to email subscribers. I had a story in mind for a great novella that would tie right into my developing series and reward readers who read both with little surprise connections.

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Only problem was, my publisher has first right of refusal on anything related to my series.

I asked them about it, hoping to get lucky and have them waive their right to the material. What I got was even better: Not only were they supportive of the tactic, but they also offered to treat my perma-free novella like any other release, with pro design and editing services.

Would a Penguin or HarperCollins be up for giving away a book for free? For a debut author? I can’t be sure because I’ve never worked with one, but I really, really doubt it.

4. I’m part of a community of like-minded authors

When I joined my small press at the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention last year, I got to meet some of the authors they publish, and it was an immediate sisterhood. Since then, we’ve read each others’ books, shared promotion successes and failures, traded guest posts, and cheered each other on.

We all have the attitude that what’s good for one of us is good for all of us.

My publisher set up a private Facebook group specifically for its authors, with none of the editors or publishers in it, just so we could build these kinds of connections. I am confident these women (and some men now, too) will be part of my writing community for many years to come.

5. Someone’s looking out for me

My publisher is looking out for my best interest every step of the way. I know this because I have seen it play out time and again.

For example: At any publisher, authors get a certain number of copies of their book for free, but then must pay a discounted price for any books beyond that number (if an author got unlimited copies, at some point, the business model wouldn’t work). The discount I am entitled to is in my contract.

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However, when I placed a large order in preparation for a number of upcoming events, my publisher went to bat and got me a significantly steeper discount, and passed the savings on to me. She could have just kept the extra profit for herself if she wanted to, and I would never have known.

Even more recently, my editor invited me to be part of a panel she is pitching for an upcoming convention.

A first step for a long career

Signing with my small press was a gamble: I might find success, or maybe I’d get ripped off.

But one year later, I’ve had incredible, invaluable experiences that have improved my writing, set me up for long-term success, and have found an incredible community of authors and publishing pros. My first novel is even a finalist for a state-wide award that will be announced in October.  

While I hope to grow my author career by adding an agent, major publishers, and even some self-publishing into the mix, I would definitely publish with a small press again, too — particularly, the one I’m with now.

Culled from The Write Life