"I would love to read your thoughts on the merits (or lack thereof) of publishing via small, boutique publishing companies. As a first time author, I get the feeling that I have a better chance of being published if I am able to make a deal directly with a small company, but I fear that I may lose out on potential earnings and exposure versus working to get connected with a major publisher. What are your thoughts."—Kevin Jackson
Small publishers play an important part in the industry, often nurturing newer authors who would otherwise not see print at larger houses. However, they often pay very small or even no advance. And authors need to beware of contracts that are grossly advantageous to the publisher. For example, such contracts may insist on World rights, including audio and even film and television rights. Larger NY publishers would be less likely to insist on such terms, especially if the author is represented by an agent.
Additionally, smaller publishers may not have the resources to actively promote and market your work. Even with larger publishers, much of the weight of promoting a first novel falls on the shoulders of the author. The publisher is not looking to make a bestseller; it is looking to make a profit.
I once heard a New York Times bestselling author complain about how her publisher promoted her work. It had hit the list around number eight. She asked her publisher, "How are we getting it to number one?" They informed her the marketing budget was already spent. She said, "I understand, but we hit the list. What can be done to move it up the list?" They replied, "The marketing and advertising budgets have already been spent." She ranted and raved about the stupidity of this publisher. I sat in the back shaking my head. She didn't get it. The publisher never expected the book to hit the list. When it did, it was like hitting a jackpot. Why keep pouring money onto the table if you are up really big? One could argue that you are now playing with the house's money, so why not? I would argue that that is a sucker's bet, as the odds always favor the house.
And perhaps there was more. Perhaps the titles already on the list were selling in such greater numbers that there was no way to move up the list. Perhaps the publisher already saw a trend in reorders that said sales were going to drop off, so it would be a losing bet to spend more on marketing. Either way, it seems petty of the author, whose book was made into a movie and undoubtedly sold hundreds of thousands more copies after that, to complain that her publisher got her onto the bestseller list, but didn't do enough to make it move up the list.
On the other hand, small publishers will do nothing. Fortunately, in this day and age of blogs and websites, the cost of promotion has come way, way down. Small publishers and authors can do far, far more for far less. Alas, we are all inundated with information from websites and Facebook postings, so you have to constantly barrage the end-user to penetrate the natural defenses against such promotions.
So, for many, smaller publishers can be a great opportunity to get into the business. But there are caveats and authors should given them close attention.