Indie Publishers

If you’ve decided that it’s all just too much or will take too long or is too uncertain to try for a NY Big Boy Publisher, your next choice is a smaller, independent publisher.

Now indie publishers can range from large companies with dozens of employees to a “mom&pop” publishing company run by just one or two people. Some may have an agreement with a distributor, some may not. Some give advances, and some do not. Some actually require submissions strictly through a literary agent, so you’re back to trying to find one of those.

In this day and age, nearly every indie publisher will have a website. On this website will be their submission guidelines. Follow them. Here again is where you have to do some research and follow simple directions.

If they publish solely paranormal romance, don’t submit general fiction.

Common sense, really.

You’ll also want to follow the same instructions for writing a query letter, as if you were writing one for a Literary Agent. It’s still a good idea to know something about the publisher, their acquisitions editor, and what they like.

When you leave the realm of Literary Agents and NY Big Boy Publishers, you have to start watching out for total scams. There are *many, many* people out there who want to prey on your dreams. Don’t let them.

Things to watch out for:

  • ANY PUBLISHER who asks for money upfront *is not* a traditional publisher. They are a vanity press trying to pass as a traditional publisher. A traditional publisher takes on a huge part of the financial risk, that’s why they get such a big cut (at least 80%).
    • Traditional publishers pay the editor.
    • They pay the proofreader.
    • They format and lay out the book.
    • They deal with the Library of Congress and the US Copyright office.
    • They pay for the ISBN numbers.
    • They pay for the print runs.
    • They send out review copies at their expense (both printing & shipping).
    • They help you set up book signings & should have a nice release party for your book.
    • They, hopefully, have distribution – or else your book isn’t going to be available in stores.

    You will get X# of copies of your book for free, but you will have to buy other copies from them for your own purposes/events. This should most definitely be at least for 50% of the cover price.

    But beware:

  • If a publisher says something like: “The more books you buy from us, the more it will help us out.” RUN! Very fast in the opposite direction.
  • This indicates that they do not have the working capital to invest in a proper print run without your (the author’s) financial help.Here’s how it works:
    • Publishers get books printed for a fraction of the cover price. A paperback book of about 250 pages, 8.5×5.5 in size, should cost between $1.50 and $3.50 per book to print, depending on how many is in the print run.
    • For a small print run of 1000 books, that’s $3500. If they’re charging you 50% of the cover price (say, $14.95), you’re paying that for 235 books.
    • They just got 765 books without *any* financial risk of their own.
    • Yet, they’re taking at least 80% of the sale price from the print run you funded.

    You might as well publish it yourself if this is the case.

    However, again, if you just want to see your book in print and not worry about any of the publishing aspect… if you don’t plan on doing much promotion or if it will just be  an after-work hobby for you, this type of publisher can work for you.

    Just know what you’re getting into.

  • Same as with the Big Boys, and every other option, promoting your book is up to you. With the independent publisher, they, too, might have an in-house publicist at your disposal. That’s a good thing. It also means they make enough to have employees, another good sign that they are a viable business.

My advice: unless a publisher gives you an advance, even if it’s a small, token advance, they’re not going to have the capital or the incentive to really push your book.

Be sure to check out Predators & Editors before signing anything. It’s certainly not comprehensive, but it’s a start.


Are you an author who has been published with an Independent Press? Tell us your story.
Would you consider an Independent Press before self-publishing?

10 Comments Add yours

  1. This is good advice, Christine! There are a lot of scammers out there masquerading as independent publishers. It’s scary sometimes!

    1. Christine says:

      Don’t I know it, Christina — there are many, many con artists out there. Some that have even convinced themselves that they are traditional publishers.

  2. Jessie says:

    I would just like to clarify something about how much money publishers make from books. There is not a publishing house in the world that takes “a big cut of 80%” of the sale price of a book, not even the New York Big Boys. On average, publishers, sell books to booksellers for 50% of the list price. Sometimes they get to sell them for 55%. More often, they sell them for 35%. Then they pay writers 10 to 12% of the list price, and another 10% or so goes toward printing costs. That leaves the publisher, on a good day, with 35% of the cover price to pay for all the expenses listed above (not to mention rent and taxes) and get some kind of profit. But from the numbers above, you can see they also might only have 15%, not much more than the author. And you’d better hope they’re making a profit, or, you’re right, they won’t be able to pay you an advance. This is not meant as a defense of sleazy publishers, but as both a writer and a student of the publishing industry, I think it’s important writers understand that actually, no one is making a lot of money from books. If you understand the publisher’s position, you’ll be in a better position to ask for more when you deserve it, but also not push so hard that a publisher just can’t afford you.

  3. Jessie,

    As I stated above, out of that *at least 80%* (as NY BB get much more), publishers have a lot of overhead to pay for, including distribution. The industry standard is 55% discount off the cover price for distributors. That comes out of the publishers cut.

    I think if you will reread my post, you will see that nowhere does it say that publishers are making a lot of money off books. But the reason they take the lion’s share is because they are providing all that’s listed above. If they’re not, they don’t deserve that 80%+ cut.

    Since you’re a student, you’re obviously still learning about all of this. We’ve been living the reality of it for the past 5 years.

    This blog series is to protect the author from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous publishers.

    Bottom line: if they don’t give you a significant advance or prolific distribution, i.e. prime real estate in major bookstores, then you need to go elsewhere. You could do as well on your own and get more than 5-20% of the cover price.

  4. Jessie says:

    I stand by my comment that no publisher ever sees “at least 80%” of the cover price. As you say, the industry standard is to sell books at a 55% discount. That means, in an average case, your publisher will never be paid more than 45% of the cover price, of which 10-20% will go to the writer. So their “take” is still 35%. Giving writers the impression that their publisher is making off with 80% of the cover price is setting them up for unreasonable expectations down the road.

  5. Graeme Smith says:

    Lady Christine

    First, though my opinion to which nobody need pay attention, I agree with every word.

    Lordy, that sounded crawly :-).


    Yes, there’s a but.

    For print publishers, I’d agree entirely. But the same thoughts can be applied to e-publishers. Yes, writers can self e-publish, just as they can self Print on Demand publish. But they can also find a small e-publisher.

    A lot of the considerations are similar:
    * e-publishers pay the editor.
    * They pay the proofreader.
    * They format and lay out the book.
    * They sometimes deal with the Library of Congress and the US Copyright office.
    * They pay for the ISBN numbers.
    * They send out review copies.
    * They, hopefully, have electronic distribution links – or else your book isn’t going to be available in virtual stores.

    The biggest difference? Few, if any, e-publishers pay advances. On the other hand, the percentages they pay on sales are (generally) higher. So the

    The end advice? Much the same. Know your enemy – and recognise your friends. Keep a close eye on Predators and Editors – and find other ratings sites. Piers Anthony does one at There are others. The credence anybody places in each one is, sadly and gladly both, a matter of personal choice :-).

    I guess the thing I’d open to more debate, for e-publishing with indies, is:

    “My advice: unless a publisher gives you an advance, even if it’s a small, token advance, they’re not going to have the capital or the incentive to really push your book.”

    On the other hand, I’m an Idiot – so I’m probably wrong :-P.

    1. christinerose says:

      Great points. Thank you for you input.

  6. Reblogged this on mrgurupublishing and commented:
    Reblogging this great post.

    1. christinerose says:

      Thank you!

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