The Pros and Cons of Writing for a Small Press

April 2nd, 2008 · 31 Comments
by TJ Bennett

The BS family is very excited to have debut author TJ Bennett with us today. I’ve known her for years and am thrilled that someone recognized her talent and published her novel. I asked TJ to talk about some of the challenges and benefits that come from writing for a small press. At the end of her post, check out information about a contest she’s running (What? You thought we’d make it easy for you?).

Cover of The LegacyI’ve been invited to guest blog on Booksquare about the realities of writing for a small press. My debut novel, The Legacy (April 2008), published by Medallion Press, is a historical romance about the destructive nature of secrets. Set in 1525 Wittenberg, Germany, the novel follows the arranged marriage of a printer to an ex-nun during the Early Reformation period, playing out an intimate love story on the canvas of history.

The Legacy is the first book I ever wrote. Not just the first to sell, but the first I wrote. I finished it back in 2001 in blissful ignorance of market trends, distribution, print runs, sell-throughs, etc. I had a story to tell, and figured out how to tell it my way. Of course, very soon thereafter, I realized that maybe I wanted other people to read it, too, and so I joined a chapter of Romance Writers of America and started sending my pretty baby “out there,” certain that New York would snap it up.

My arrogant innocence quickly morphed into jaded understanding. The “book of my heart” was an impossible sale. While many people were interested in a romance set in Martin Luther’s Early Reformation Germany, none of them were editors who thought they could actually sell the book in the marketplace. I received several “good” rejection letters praising my voice, my characters, and my sexual tension, but those comments were always followed by a perplexed, “I’m not sure where it would fit on our lists,” or “I don’t know how I would sell this, but if you’re interested in writing a Victorian romance, I’d love to see it.” I discovered what many other newbie writers have: if it isn’t set in England or America, folks, it’s a hard sell. I had already started on a sequel to the manuscript before I realized neither would likely sell, put them both away, and moved on to writing contemporary paranormals.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to my dreams. A new small press opened its doors in 2003. The publisher, Medallion Press, was founded by Wrigley heiress Helen Rosburg, an author and book lover searching for a way to bring outside-the-box novels she loved to the people who wanted to read them. Medallion doesn’t have guidelines for the books they buy, only that they have to love them. I watched this new company grow and take steady steps toward success and finally decided to submit my manuscript to them in 2005. To my shock, Medallion bought the book.

The whole process has been an education for me. Would I sell to a small press again? Well, that’s a good question. Let me answer that by examining the pros and cons.

(Note: According to the founder, Medallion has shed its small press designation and is now quantified as an “independent press” because of its financials.)

First the cons: there are some major differences between a small press and say, a major New York publishing house. First, because of smaller print runs, it is unlikely my book will ever have the chance to hit the New York Times bestseller list, something every author dreams about. The distribution numbers just aren’t there. Whereas some of my author friends have seen their books go into six-digit press runs, that isn’t going to happen with mine simply because of capacity. Smaller numbers mean readers aren’t going to be able to find my book as easily as they would the ubiquitous Nora Roberts, for example. Therefore, while my publisher does have distribution into all the major chains and retail outlets, and co-op money to spend for shelf placement, their distributor, IPG, also has to convince booksellers to stock the book in large enough numbers so that readers will perceive it is as an “important” book. If the book isn’t physically present in a store in numbers “too big to ignore” (forgive me, Helen Reddy), than the likelihood of hitting any lists is minute.

Secondly, while a smaller house can afford to take a chance on books that are unusual and different, and while they can sell those books in smaller numbers and still consider them successful, a large number of returns on a book could do a lot of damage to their financials. Booksellers are aware of this and are always concerned about ordering from smaller houses for this reason. They have to ask, will the money be there for refunds if the book doesn’t sell? The demise of Triskelion showed just how critical that question is (reportedly, a large number of returns hitting at once started the publisher on its downward spiral toward bankruptcy). A bookseller might buy conservatively as a result, if at all. Valid or not, the perception that small houses can’t handle big returns is a problem difficult to overcome, such as when industry professionals (agents, booksellers, authors) assume the house is an e-publisher because they’ve never heard of it (in fact, Medallion Press is not an e-publisher, but rather a bricks-and-mortar Illinois-based company).

Third, being newer means the house is still establishing its procedures while it reaches out to the marketplace. New authors and new houses sometimes make mistakes, and the learning curve occasionally catches up with us. Additionally, because of smaller dollars to spread around, the advances and contract terms for new authors are not the kind one might see with larger houses, although the royalty rates are more than competitive.

Now that we know what some of the cons are, it’s time for the pros. Why am I happy I took a chance on this company?

Because Medallion Press had the cajones to take a chance on me. The romance genre market is trend driven. Because of its outside-the-box setting and characters, The Legacy is a book no other house in the traditional romance market could have published, and I’m delighted Medallion had the vision to see what could be done with a strong niche market. Wonderful books are seeing the light of day that might not have, and I’m not only referring to my own. Look at Medallion’s list ( in every genre and you’ll see what I mean.

In addition, since the working atmosphere is more intimate and flexible, I had input on my incredible cover. Medallion takes pride in their covers, and they are being noticed everywhere. How important is a cover? Ask any author who ever got a bad one, and they’ll tell you how dramatically it can affect sales. Medallion’s covers trumpet the importance of the writing within, and the company ponies up the bucks to place ads featuring the covers prominently in each of the genres most important magazines.

Medallion authors are racking up awards after awards, showing that there is a recognition of quality writing, no matter how small the press, and devoted readers are taking notice. Devoted readers spend money. Let’s be frank: if my book and its sequel, The Promise (May 2009) sell well, it is likely I might come to the attention of a house willing to pay larger advances and offer more flexible contract terms in the future, or I might even be able to negotiate a more lucrative future deal with the house I’m at. In other words, I’m getting a chance to strut my stuff, and that is worth the price of admission.

Would I recommend that new writers or writers trying to reinvent their careers consider signing with a small press? If they do their homework, understand the tradeoffs, pick a house with good financial backing, a strong history of sales, and a commitment to quality, and they are willing to endure a few growing pains, then yes, a small press is definitely something they should consider. I’m certainly glad I did.

If you get a chance, please stop by my website at and read excerpts, send me an e-mail, check out pictures of conferences I’ve attended, and comment on my blog. I’d be interested in hearing what Booksquare readers think about the unusual settings and subjects of my books.

Now for the contest: comment on at least two of the blogs TJ’s touring on this week for a chance at a free book and a $40 gift certificate to either B&N or (a German foods importer). Details and blog tour schedule are at If you win, BS really likes sausage (hint!)

File Under: Square Pegs · Wrapped Up In Books

31 responses so far ↓

  • traci hall // Apr 2, 2008 at 6:16 am

    TJ, that was very nicely explained! I can’t wait to read this book ๐Ÿ™‚

  • doglady // Apr 2, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Wow, what a great discussion of the world of the small press. I didn’t really know all of the ins and outs of going that route, but now I do. And I LOVE your cover! I first discovered your book on History Hoydens and now I cannot wait to read it. I have to agree that the chance to “strut your stuff” is well worth taking a bit of a risk. My first novel LOST IN LOVE is a finalist in the Golden Heart this year so I am trying to find out everything I can about this business. It is all so new to me! Thanks for a really informative discussion!

  • Hellion // Apr 2, 2008 at 7:40 am

    Your cover is exactly why I’ve been stalking you from blog to blog. *LOL* I saw the advertisement for The Legacy in RWR’s last mag, and I went: OMG, a historical that doesn’t take place during the Victorian period! The premise sounded so fascinating! And the cover was gorgeous.

    Kudos to you for taking a chance on Medallion; and major kudos for them taking a chance on you!

  • Roben // Apr 2, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Excellent discussion TJ. I like how you showed both sides of the coin. You’ve obviously studied in depth the sometimes treacherous path to publication and your honest insights will help others on their road. I’m glad The Legacy found a home with Medallion Press and they got behind your work. And yes, beautiful cover. Wishing you every possible success and looking forward to reading it.

  • TJ Bennett // Apr 2, 2008 at 7:54 am

    Thanks for dropping by Booksquare so bright and early this morning, ladies. I’m still yawning and searching for my morning cuppa. Yes, Traci and Doglady, the past couple of years have been a real education in the business for me, but I know I still have lots to learn. Doglady, congratulations on your GH final. I was a finalist in 2005, and I felt like a princess all year. Enjoy! And Hellion, my own personal stalker! I have arrived. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, the cover is truly eye-catching, and believe me, my publisher understands the importance of a good cover. I got lucky, even so. Now I’m anxiously awaiting the cover of my next book, THE PROMISE. *gnaws nails*


  • Lisa Marie Wilkinson // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:16 am

    That was a great article! It provides a very balanced view of going the “small press” route. I am certain your book will be successful and I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

    Lisa Marie

  • Vicky // Apr 2, 2008 at 11:46 am


    That was a well-written and professional analysis of the pros and cons of writing for a small press publisher. Thanks for the enlightenment!


  • Robin Bielman // Apr 2, 2008 at 11:56 am

    Hi TJ! Thanks for sharing all this great information and the road you travelled to getting published. I too love the cover and wish you loads of success!

  • M.L. Malcolm // Apr 2, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    T.J., that is a beautiful cover, and you explained the pros and cons very well. My first novel, “Silent Lies,” was published by Longstreet Press, an independent press with a 15-year history that went under 10 months after my book came out. I was able to keep it in print by negotiating an independent contract with the distributor, National Book Network (Longstreet owned NBN a lot of money, so it acquired much of Longstreet’s backlist). The lesson I learned was that a small press (assuming it’s solvent) is only as good as its distributor.

    Now I’m with another small house that is bringing out “Silent Lies” in paperback and publishing the sequel, “Deceptive Intentions.” The distributor is Midpoint Trade Books, which, like IPG, strongly supports small publishers that are poised for growth. There are only a dozen decent distributors for independent presses, and if your publisher is not with one of them (for example, Midpoint, Atlas, NBN, IPG) your book is unlikely to get far, because it’s the distributor’s sales force that does most of the selling, and the distributor who actually takes the financial hit for the returns, then turns around and back-bills the publisher. So when picking a press, it’s vital to ask, “Who is your distributor?” Best of luck to you!รขโ‚ฌโ€M.L. Malcolm

  • anne // Apr 2, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks for this insight and glimpse of The Legacy. I am charmed and riveted by this wonderful new release. Best on this and many more.

  • TJ Bennett // Apr 2, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Hi, Roben, Lisa Marie, Vicky, Robin, and Anne! You found my next blog stop. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I appreciate you taking the time to come by, and hopefully I threw some light on the process of publishing with a small press.

    M.L., you make some very good points. I knew little to nothing about distribution when I signed with Medallion, but learned quickly. I was lucky in that after I signed my contract, IPG decided to partner with Medallion due to its strong growth. It’s been an interesting year since then, in which I’ve delved into the business side of publishing probably more than I ever dreamed I would. I’m also learning that even with a great distributor, release dates are not carved in stone, and accidents happen–I’ve recently been informed that The Legacy’s release date has been pushed back a few days due to a fire at the printing plant. It affected several titles, not just mine. has been sending out messages to preorder customers today saying the book won’t be available until June, but I’m assured by IPG as of this date that we are still on for April. So folks, if you’ve preordered the book and are awaiting it to arrive in your hot little hands, say “YES!” when Amazon asks if you still want to authorize shipment. It’s coming, I swear it is–and soon!


  • Lynn Reynolds // Apr 2, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    TJ – I’m a big fan of Booksquare, so I was thrilled to see you blogging here. As you know, I thoroughly enjoyed The Legacy and I’m looking forward to your sequel. Your blog does a great job of realistically explaining the pros and cons of being published by a small press. Unfortunately, the tendency of publishers and bookstores is to latch on to one specific trend in fiction and beat it to death until the public is thoroughly sick of the thing. I’m glad there are small publishers and e-publishers willing to take chances on “outside the box” stories like yours.

  • Brenda Knutson // Apr 2, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks for the informative article about the pros and cons of going with a small publisher. It sounds like you made a good decision. I hope that I am so fortunate when (if????) my time comes.

  • Lucie Simone // Apr 2, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Thanks for that very informative peek into small press publishing! And congrats on the book deals!

  • Virginia H. // Apr 2, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    TJ, I am really looking forward to reading this book. I love anything that is historical. Can’t wait!

  • Lynne Marshall // Apr 2, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Hi TJ!

    You analysis of the small book publisher market was fascinating. Unfortunately, I received a message from my pre-order at Amazon that the book delivery will be delayed. I hope to get my hands on your book soon!

  • DianeH // Apr 2, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    TJ, Beautiful explanation of the whole Independent Press option. I never really thought of Medallion as small, more medium! But it depends on who you compare against. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Pam P // Apr 2, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    Hi TJ. I like that the smaller presses enable more out-of-the-box stories to reach we readers. Yes, pros and cons, but as you say, well worth it to get your book out there for us to find.

  • CHARLENE // Apr 2, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    congrats on the new release. I think it’s great that there are publishing houses willing to give authors with out 0f-the-box, a chance.some of us love to read books that don’t fit into a certain catagory.

  • TJ Bennett // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Wow, lots of posters since last I checked in! Thanks for your comments, everyone, and I agree that outside-the-box historicals are the wave of the future. The reading public gets bored with the same-ol’-same-ol’, and it is good to mix things up once in a while. I love a good Scottish, Victorian, etc. historical like everybody else, but every now and then I want to learn something new. The major houses would benefit, I think, from mixing in something new now and again, and giving it the same level of promotion they do their more mainstream books. I was compelled to write something different because I am THE target market for historical romance, and I felt that if I wanted something new, so would a lot of others. I’m hoping in seeing how MP’s gamble on unusual genre books pays off, the other houses sit up and take notice so that there will be room for everyone.

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 2, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    TJ — this was a great article. Thank you.

    And I’d like to reiterate the excitement for out-of-the-ordinary historical romance. I think some of the best reads of the past few years have come from authors who have moved beyond traditional Regency/medieval territory. I will continue to confuse all the arcana of Germany/Saxony…at least until I read more books set in that region and era!

  • TJ Bennett // Apr 2, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks for the invite, Kassia. I’ll be sure to keep you straight on the Germany/Saxony thang. ๐Ÿ˜‰ In the meantime, I’m taking a few days break from the blog tours, but I’ll be guesting over at the Jaunty Quills on April 7 ( as the last stop on my week-long book tour. Remember, anybody who posts on at least two of the blogs during my tour will be entered for a chance to win a signed copy of The Legacy and a $40 gift certificate for B&N or (yum, apple strudel)! Hope to see some of you over there, where I’ll talk a little about the real people who inspired my Reformation-set tales (rebellious nuns and dangerous mercenaries–yee-haw!)

  • TJ Bennett // Apr 2, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Hmm. My last post didn’t make it on. Let me try again–I wanted to stop by one last time to thank Kassia for the invite to BS with all you nice folks, and also to let you know I’m taking a few days break from the blog tour. However, join me on April 7 over at Jaunty Quills ( where I’ll discuss the real people who inspired me to write my Reformation-era romances (rebellious nuns and dangerous mercenaries–yee-haw)! Remember, anyone who posts on at least two of the blogs during my tour will be entered for a chance to win a free signed copy of The Legacy and a $40 gift certificate to B&N or

  • Robin Haseltine // Apr 2, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Great food for thought, TJ. Lots I didn’t know about the industry and I appreciate your balanced opinions. Can’t wait to read your book!

  • Lynne Connolly // Apr 3, 2008 at 4:40 am

    A very good analysis. However, you haven’t touched on the area of e-publishing. Now that companies like Harlequin and Simon & Schuster routinely bring their books out in electronic format, it has progressed from being an interesting oddity to a serious part of the market.
    For the author, while sales are much smaller than print, royalties are higher, so there is the prospect of earning as much money as the smaller print houses. For instance, authors with Ellora’s Cave can have electronic sales on the same level as authors with Dorchester or Kensington (check Brenda Hiatt’s “Show me the Money” survey).
    I’ve been in electronic publishing almost since the beginning, and I’ve seen it grow from the Wild West to a respected market sector.
    But the downside is that there are many companies starting up all the time, and most of them will fail. While the companies at the top of the market are stable and solidly financed, producing books in e-format and print, the ones at the lower end are extremely volatile.

  • small press pros and cons « Locus // Apr 3, 2008 at 11:43 pm

    […] Posted by locusbooks on April 4, 2008 Over at Booksquare there’s an interesting article on the pros and cons of writing for a small press. […]

  • Margay // Apr 7, 2008 at 1:52 am

    TJ, what a great article! I am an author myself, aspiring to be published, so this is very timely for me. I wouldn’t have thought to seek out a small press before, but this article has opened me up to the possibility of choosing this route should others not pan out. Thank you for posting it.

  • catslady // Apr 7, 2008 at 10:32 am

    Although I’m just a reader, I found it very interesting to hear about how things “work.” I’m so glad you were able to publish your first book – it’s sounds wonderful.

  • Fedora // Apr 7, 2008 at 1:22 pm

    Hi, TJ, Just a reader, but thank you for giving some insight into the publishing world and explaining some of the differences in publishers–there’s so much I don’t know about how great books get into my hands! And the more I read, the more I’m learning about smaller publishers and e-book publishers and all sorts of avenues for books to get to readers. Thank you for writing and for sharing your knowledge!

  • limecello // Apr 8, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Hi TJ,
    Yes, I’m following all the links to your blog posts O:) – how interesting. Thanks for sharing about small presses. I knew pretty much nothing about them before this post! Congratulations on your new release!

  • TJ Bennett // Apr 13, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    Hey, folks, in case you didn’t catch the announcement, we have a winner for the blot book tours! BROWNONE is the winner of her/his choice of a gift certificate from B&N or and a free autographed copy of The Legacy. Please visit my website’s contest page and send me an e-mail to claim your prize.