Business with Small Presses

In an effort to grow my Quarter Castle Publishing business and publish books by more authors, I’m looking for help from authors who have been published by small presses. I want to be fair to authors while still being able to operate a successful publishing company that can expand and stand on its own two feet without government assistance.

I have never received nor will I ever request any money from government sources to publish books. You’ve seen those little notes of acknowledgement in the front of books, where publishing companies thank the government for funding. Getting  money from government means following their rules and fitting into their mould. Government money always comes with strings, and I don’t want them.

As more manuscripts arrive in the proverbial ‘slush’ pile and my assistant and I review them, I’m thinking about contracts, treating these authors with respect and wondering how their stories will perform.

I already have a fair contract for short stories that have been published in anthologies, and the books I’ve published by other authors were done on a case-by-case basis. But now, I have a few questions so I can get a better view of publishing as a small press.

When answering the questions, I don’t want specifics. I don’t want the name of the publishing company. I’m looking for information in general.

The Questions

1) In your experience, do authors in small presses get an author’s advance? If so, about how much? You can use ranges ($100 to $500; $500 to $1,000, etc.). I already know many authors in large publishing houses do, and well-known authors do, but what about very small presses?

2) When it comes to exclusive rights, in your experience, how long do publishers want to be the only one publishing your book? Again, ranges work (1 to 5 years; 6 to 10 years) Or is it forever until the publisher decides to return the rights? Which seems rude, but I’m sure some do that.

3) I’ve heard author royalties are between 5 and 10%. Is this what you’ve experienced? Or is it different. If different, what is it?

4) With regard to these questions, what would you consider a reasonable author advance, length of exclusive rights and author royalties? The key word is reasonable for a small press with an unknown author, who might be getting their first book published, a book that won’t sell a thousand copies, maybe not even 500.

If you have experience with small presses and answer these questions, I really appreciate it. Thank you. Diane

8 thoughts on “Business with Small Presses

  1. Hi Diane, I’ve been published by 2 small presses, one Canadian, one U.S. I rec’d $200 US advance from both.
    Contracts were 5 years renewable automatically annually thereafter and cancellable by either side after the 5 years with 90 days notice.
    Print royalties 30% for CA publisher, 50% for US publisher from net (not list).
    Digital royalties 50% net from both.
    Royalties paid quarterly.
    Be sure to add what rights you are buying — or not buying, i.e. audio, film, foreign, mass market, trade paperback, hardcover. Do not ask for rights you probably won’t use. That’s not fair to the author.
    Some publishers will have a clause stating the author cannot use characters from the book in any other book/story not published by them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Judy, for taking time to answer these questions. I plan to make it clear that the only rights I’ll be buying are paperback, eBook, large print and hard cover. I was thinking about audio, but I won’t be able to get that off the ground for a few years, so I’ll leave that out for now.

      When I thought about author advances for very small presses, I thought $100 or $200, then I wondered if that was more of an insult. However, it is better than nothing. It’s a start. As I grow, it will grow depending on the project.


      • I think it shows commitment on the publisher’s part to pay a small advance. I know a few authors with small press, and I believe the $200 is standard. Always US dollars, even if a Cndn. publisher — unless you only plan to publish Cndn. in which case CAD would be the way to go.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I agree on the part about commitment. However, as a Canadian publisher, I’d pay in Canadian dollars. I have no control over the exchange rate as it goes up and down, and I want consistency.


  2. I am with a small press, which I’m very happy with. Here are my answers for you.
    1. As far as I’m aware, authors with small presses do not get an author’s advance
    2. In my experience, small press publishers usually ask for 2 years to be the only one publishing the book
    3. My experience is 15% royalties on print editions and 40% on digital editions
    4. I don’t believe an advance is expected from small presses anymore. I do believe that everything needs to be clearly set out in a contract (royalties – amount and when paid as well as the rights to your work)
    If you have any other questions, let me know.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Darlene, for your detailed answers. My goal is to be very clear on what the author gets and doesn’t get.

      One complaint I’ve seen many times is the trouble authors find getting back their rights to the manuscript. Sometimes those rights are sold to another publisher, or when a publisher goes out of business, the author is left wondering what rights they have. I’m going to make it clear when those rights return to the author, that they will never be sold and that if QCP goes out of business, rights automatically revert back to the author. This seems like the fair thing to do, but I know many publishers don’t do that.

      Thanks again. Have a great Saturday.

      Liked by 1 person

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