Discover more from By the Book: Jamie McGarry at Valley Press
How to be a small press publisher
The ultimate, definitive guide – a work in progress
After a month-and-a-half of regular posting, I feel ready to embark on this blog’s first big project – a definitive guide to operating a small press, which can lead anyone from novice to expert if they have enough time, energy and dedication to invest in it.
I’ve been wanting to pursue this guide since at least 2016, with a few false starts, and I’ve usually envisaged it as a book; but this interactive platform, with its robust financial element and the ability to adapt, update and refine the material, now seems like the best possible venue. (Though I might turn it into a book when the dust settles – there’s still nothing quite like a book, which is why we need to go to all this trouble in the first place!)
Today’s post is a bit of an outlier – I’m not going in-depth on any one topic, just briefly defining the scope of the project, then listing the chapters that will need to be included. Unlike the other posts on the blog, this one will be regularly updated and expanded over time, with links to the relevant chapters added as they are written (and a few new ones squeezed in, no doubt). So, if you are going to use this like a reference book, the address of this post would be worth saving somewhere.
One more thing: I won’t be writing the chapters in the order below, instead focusing on a) what happens to be on my mind when I sit down to write, and b) which topics are most in demand from readers. I will also add new topics whenever someone has a brilliant idea; so please keep in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org (or whatever address you usually use) and help me shape this project to your needs.
Right then, let’s get started…
What is a small press publisher?
My most precise definition would be as follows:
A person or organisation that makes the writing of multiple authors available to the public, in a format self-identified as a book (whether physical or digital), and has no more than three full-time employees (or their part-time equivalent).
If I was setting up an award for small presses, that’s what I’d put in the entry requirements. The definition is needed here to separate what I’m teaching from self-publishing, for which there are already excellent reference books available, and independent publishing, a term which refers to any publisher not wholly owned by the “big five” conglomerates. I was once at a talk by a self-described “independent publisher” whose company’s sales were above £200 million a year; if you are in that position, and still desperately rifling through this guide for advice, please get in touch for some one-on-one discussion!
You may also have encountered the term “indie publisher”, which is used interchangeably to describe both small presses and well-organised self-publishers (though increasingly the latter). The confusion over this term illustrates that there is a significant overlap between our two pursuits, and self-publishers will find a lot to interest them on this blog – but I’m far more invested in training up publishers of multiple authors than helping authors publish themselves. Why? Because self-publishing is inherently unequal: to do it well requires significant investment in editing (the one process authors can’t properly do to their own books), which not everyone can afford. Truly great small press publishing offers equal opportunities to everyone; that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.
Here, then, is the table of contents, including every topic the “complete” small press publisher needs to learn. Please note: I am still at a very early stage of this project, so most of the items are not links yet – there isn’t a problem with your browser! The list is provided mostly for reference at this point. Come back later to see these chapters added, or better still, subscribe and have them delivered straight to your inbox:
A paid subscription to the blog will be needed to view most of these posts, and of course, provides essential funding for the whole effort. Thank you so much to everyone who has subscribed so far; you gave me the confidence to commit to this long-term, and I hope you enjoy reading and commenting on all that follows.
Table of contents
What is a small press publisher? (see above)
Small press branding – choosing the right name and logo, and what those choices signify (also: formatting a logo for long-term use)
Starting a small press, without a budget – early positive cashflow, and choosing the right first project
Small press software choices – what apps I use (and why), how much they cost, and my comments on the alternatives
How to write a small press publishing contract – for full books, and for anthology contributors
Structural editing of long-form works – novels, memoirs etc.
Structural editing of collections – poetry, short stories etc.
Copyediting – a beginner’s guide, with links to further resources, and some interviews with experienced editors on how they do their job
How to correctly use “track changes” – i.e. how to prevent your typescript devolving into an unreadable mess during editing
Proofreading – extolling the value of external proofreaders (but also, how to cope when you can’t afford them)
Choosing a book’s trim size
Key typesetting principles – and why it matters
Setting up an interior template
Importing and flowing text (and images) through your template
Using paragraph styles
Typesetting prose – perfect paragraphs
Typesetting poetry – superb stanzas
Final typesetting checks – everything I do before signing off
Exporting your PDFs – sure to be the most boring article, but this is where the untrained often undo all their hard work!
Part 1, Introduction: My design philosophy, key techniques, how to set up a basic paperback template, and how to add rectangles and text.
Working with text – choosing typefaces, styles and colours
Finding images – what to look for and where to look
Working with images – sizing, upscaling, extending, blending, adjustments etc.
Working with graphics – lines, shapes and shadows
Getting your spine right – one for the real perfectionists (but this is the most often seen part of the cover!)
Adjusting your template for other formats – i.e. paperbacks with flaps, various hardback configurations, and working with special finishes like “spot UV” and foiling
Exporting your PDFs – as above
Working with digital and long-run printers – plus my recommendations in both categories, depending on the needs of each individual project
Working with on-demand printers – meeting their demanding (no pun intended) file specifications, and accounting for print imprecision
How to price a small press publication – for profit, to compete with the conglomerates, or (with a few tricks) both
Small press business plans – at various levels of growth
The perfect production timeline for a small press publication
Publicity text and metadata – what you need, and how to write it well
Registering your book – covering as many destinations as I can find, and avoiding pitfalls
Marketing overview – listing the many options, and deciding which are appropriate for a particular book
Promotional copies – how to find the right recipients, and what to say to them
Publisher website best practices – plus, long-term marketing ideas
Producing an EPUB file – for prose and straightforward poetry
Working with Amazon Kindle
Working with other ebook platforms
Web-based books – a lesser-known but viable option (you’re reading one now!)
Audiobooks – tips on production and distribution
Readers’ questions #1: Includes an overview of the publishing process for absolute beginners, tips on producing the highest quality physical books on a shoestring, and my advice on eco-friendly packaging.
Readers’ questions #2: Includes an extended explanation of the supply chain for the UK book trade, and a brief overview of my publicity process.
Plenty to be getting on with, there – I’d best crack on! If I can manage one chapter a week (with a few weeks off), we’ll be done by this time next year.
As a final note, what do you think to the title of this post as the overall project title? My first attempt back in 2016 was called “Small Press Publishing for Profit”, and the slightly hard-nosed edge to that phrase always did well in search engines. I suppose it appealed to people’s “baser selves” (though, as reassuringly argued in this post from, there’s nothing unethical about profit).
Another option is “How to Succeed at Small Press Publishing”, but that’s a bit stuffy; or “Zen and the Art of Small Press Publishing”, representing my unusually chilled-out approach to the business, but which doesn’t sound very purposeful. If you have any ideas of your own, please get in touch and share them – if I end up using your title, you’ll be immortalised right here at the bottom of this index post, and I may even send you a few Valley Press books.
Otherwise, I’ll see you all again on the next post. Which chapter will it be…?