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How to Find a Reputable Small Press

Small presses fill a necessary niche in the publishing world today, but finding a reputable small press is not a straightforward process. The recent kerfuffle at City Owl Press underlines how difficult the choice can be.

Let’s think about the issues raised during the recent disagreement between City Owl Press and its authors because those issues can directly affect your publishing experience.

Fallout at City Owl Press

When I wrote the post, Unveiling Publishing Turmoil: The City Owl Press Controversy and Lessons for Indie Authors | Writing Pursuits, I was hoping for the best outcome for everyone concerned, but the mess has grown.

You know I’m not a journalist. I’m not a trained reporter. I’m simply an interested bystander who writes for the benefit of fellow authors, so I was surprised that I was one of the first to blog about the City Owl Press (COP) controversy after I heard the rumblings on Threads in January.

I will defer to the authors’ accounts of their individual experiences—read their posts and threads to learn the details. (A list of the authors is included in Victoria Strauss’s article mentioned below.)

Writer Beware Post by Victoria Strauss

On March 8, 2024, Victoria Strauss waded into the fray by publishing a post about COP on WriterBeware.blog, and that’s not usually a good thing for the publisher. Here’s the link: Author Complaints at City Owl Press – Writer Beware.

Rebuttal

The COO of COP, Tina Moss, commented on Strauss’s post, rebutting the allegations of payment irregularities and stating that:

“In nine years, we have had two accounting errors, which were corrected, and amended statements were issued. Note: City Owl Press’s Ingram discounts are the standard 40% on all print books, not 20%, as stated in the post. “

Rebuttals of the Rebuttal

In the comments of Strauss’s post, several current and former COP authors directly contradicted Moss’s statement about accounting errors and irregulatities. I am inclined to believe the authors’ collective experiences.

Honestly, the whole episode makes me sad.

Inherent Conflict of Interest

Maybe the lesson to be learned is that publishing companies formed “by authors for authors” have a built-in conflict of interest.

If Author A provides publishing services to other authors and publishes all the books under one umbrella, the temptation for Author A to favor their own books will always be present.

The suspicion that your publisher isn’t playing on a level field with their clients will always be lurking in the background. Any perceived slight, error of omission or commission, scintilla of favoritism, any mistake, oversight, or instance of deficient performance can blow up in the publisher’s face.

If an author becomes a publisher for other authors, they must accept these tasks:

  • being fully transparent;
  • hiring competent assistants, accountants, lawyers, editors, and cover designers;
  • meeting deadlines;
  • keeping the lines of communication open;
  • marketing consistently for all concerned; and
  • being an all-around decent human being every day.

I like to think the situation at City Owl Press will improve, and I hope this small press and their current and future authors will experience wild success.

reputable small press

The Author’s Responsibilities

Authors must accept the reality that choosing a publisher is a cold, hard business decision, perhaps the most important decision for their success.

These days, you can publish your books yourself as an indie, or you can find the right publisher for your books. You can even be a hybrid author, going indie for some books and contracting with a traditional publisher for others as it makes sense.

Choosing how to publish is an author’s responsibility, but choosing a reputable publisher is obviously not as easy as we would hope. Your job is to guard your intellectual property rights and use them wisely.

Also, no matter which publishing decision you make, marketing goes with the territory, and it never ends.

reputable small press
Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

How to Find a Reputable Small Press

Finding a reputable small press boils down to research, research, research.

Look for scams. Search for “press name” + “scam” + “scandal” + “complaints.”

Beware of vanity presses; they are good at seeming legitimate.

Ask around in author groups. Search through Reddit and Substack and Medium.

Search Writer Beware and Absolute Write Water Cooler. (Links in Resources below.)

Trust your gut.

Providentially, Amy L. Bernstein’s detailed post, The Case for Pursuing a Traditional Publishing Deal Without an Agent | Jane Friedman , was published on Jane Friedman’s website this week (March 12, 2024)!

Bernstein zeroes in on choosing a reputable small press.

The post covers the following topics:

  • alternative paths to publishing (without an agent),
  • viability of small presses,
  • potential benefits of bypassing agents for debut authors,
  • guidelines for vetting small presses as potential publishing partners, and
  • submission strategies.

What are you waiting for? I highly recommend taking the time to read Bernstein’s post and saving it in your notes.

Resources:

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