Author Beware—What to Look for in an Indie Publisher

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of geishaboy

On Wednesday, we talked about all the types of publishing paths and how the new paradigm is becoming increasingly flexible and author-friendly. There is no “right path” only a path that is right for you, which we will talk about in a moment.

To keep up with all the changes in The Digital Age, we created WANACon, which is a virtual conference and as close to the real thing one can get without a holo-deck. No travel, no hotel, from home, and all recordings are included so you can fit a writing conference to your schedule no matter where in the world you happen to live. Also you can listen to anything you miss or might need to revisit. Talk to agents, editors and professionals without ever stepping outside.

Over 20 presentations on craft, social media, platform-building, web design, cover design, and agents…delivered straight to YOU. No matter which publishing path you choose, WANACon has you covered—Traditional, Indie and Self-Publishing. Our Early Bird Special lasts through January 31st. Use the code EarlyBird for $30 off the $149. Sign up here.

Since WANA embraces publishing as a whole, we have USA Today best-selling authors, best-selling Indies and Self-Pubs. As I mentioned, WANACon has even recruited literary agents and editors to present and take pitches. We want the perfect fit for you.

Today, one of our presenters, PDMI Publishing is here to talk about the advantages of Indie Publishing and what to look for before you sign any contract (whether it is with them or another Indie Press).

I know PDMI is committed to writers. They’ve been very good to me and extremely supportive even though I’m not one of their authors and they make no money being kind to me. Even WANACon is almost 100% volunteer. It’s how we can keep the price affordable. Yet, PDMI is sending in an entire team to educate authors.

Take it away, Victoria!


Most of us go to work to pay the bills; if we get to enjoy our job, that’s a plus. If we’re passionate about what we do, that’s both unusual and remarkable. But should it be?

Many Indie publishers are guided by the idea that, if we’re going to spend so much of our lives working, why shouldn’t it be a pleasant experience? Passion is paramount. From the owner to the newest trainee editor, a good Indie team loves what they do, and they’re committed to the authors in their care.

Indie houses are in the pioneer stages of development, and this sense of being in at the start of things gives their products a fresh edge and encourages imagination. This is what makes dealing with an independent publisher so special for an author.

The question is, how does an author find the right fit?  What can she hope for? What can she demand? At our press we look at three crucial areas of expertise, and we develop teams for each author based on her goals and the expertise required.

Step #1 Editing

This heart-wrenching but critical piece of any professional publication starts before the manuscript is submitted. First, an author needs to make sure – double sure – that her manuscript is in the best possible shape before it’s submitted. Check each press’s submission requirements and follow them closely. Indies are usually understaffed, so an author can lose a chance at getting an ideal fit simply because he/she failed to follow instructions.

Editing, a conversation between the author and her assigned editor, usually occurs at least twice.  Many times the editor is paid from royalties, so he has a vested interest in the book’s success. The author should find a mentor; a guide–someone that allows that special voice to shine but brings polish and professionalism to the text. The process can take 3-4 months to complete.

No editor will make a good team member if he’s continuously harassed about a manuscript.  On the other hand, the author should get an expected timeline for delivery and start checking if a deadline slips by. Find someone who can help you grow something other than gray hairs. 

Step #2 Artwork

Indies also give an author an opportunity to express her work in illustrations and cover art.  The author needs an illustrator that listens to her voice and happens to care what is actually in the book.  However, it’s also important to listen to the pro when it comes to marketability.  Remember, this is a team.

The Indie staff has a vested interest in the success of the book, so use their expertise. Indies might have several illustrators, and sometimes more than one will work on a book. The author should look for the partnership that makes her feel like part of the process, and not like a commodity.  But listen to the artist – you don’t want your book to get lost in the crowd, and a stan-out cover that pops can be critical for success.

Artwork doesn’t stop at the cover or with a few illustrations. Formatting style can be the difference between looking like the book came off a copy machine at the library or looking like a crafted work, designed by someone with a passion for detail. Not all Indies spend a lot of time here. While searching for a team, consider purchasing a published book from the potential press. Does the work look like it can compete in the commercial market, or does it look like it came off a mimeograph machine?

Step #3 Marketing

The last component that our team focuses on is marketing. Kristen is the ninja when it comes to author strategies for marketing author brands and their work. Yet, an author still needs a publisher that is willing to support all that hard work. Indies have very limited resources for adverting, and they tend to use them judiciously, but there are many things that an author should expect as a bare minimum. Again, in this world, it should be a team or the author needs to keep searching. Not all Indies are equal in this most critical step.

The author should expect help to secure several reviews in different venues. There should be an active program to submit manuscripts for awards.  At our press, the editorial department is responsible for selecting the book and the genre. Our authors can enter in more genres if they choose. We also help with special events, conventions, and signings.

Some Indies require their authors to have a webpage, some build them; still others offer training. In our case, we have a close-knit group that supports each other and shares ideas on how to get the book and the author in the public eye.  Sometimes our clubhouse looks like Romper Room, sometimes the War Room; but we have fun and support each other every step of the way.

Writing is a lonely occupation, but for those who connect with one of the growing number of small independent publishers, it can become a bit like joining a family. There is a true sense of coming home and knowing that for all the employees of the firm, your success will be felt as their success. It’s what they come to work for and what makes dealing with them so rewarding.

Who are we?

We are PDMI Publishing, LLC; a place where team is a way of life, not a cliché.  Our Marketing Team, Peter Wells and Daven Anderson, invite you to join the company at the Birmingham Public Library Authors Expo in Birmingham, AL on February 1, 2014.  The Expo runs from 9:00 AM to 3:00PM.  We’ll be taking Kristen with us!  Well, at least we’ll have her latest book, Rise of the Machines, on hand.  On February 2, some of our authors will be guests at 2nd & Charles in Hoover, AL for a book signing event from 1:00 to 3:00. You can also catch us at WANACon 2014!

Wherever you go, whatever you do with your career, stay true to yourself as your manuscript finds its way to market. Find a partner that helps you mold your thoughts into a professional and marketable piece of work. Here at PDMI, we’re happy to help you discover what path is best for you; this is where we “sculpt personal voices and visions into print.”


Thank you so much for your time. As a writer who was once Indie, I can attest these are all areas we must examine thoroughly before making any final decisions. It’s a lot of work writing books and building a platform. A publisher—ANY publisher—should make life easier. No press is perfect, but publishers can strive to always improve and innovate. My experience with Indie was very positive. I know there are many wonderful committed teams out there who love writers and love books.

What are your thoughts? The PDMI Team will be around to answer any questions and I look forward to seeing y’all at WANACon!

I LOVE hearing from you! Comments for guests get double points.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

I hope you guys will check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World and get prepared for 2014!!!!


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  1. I am a soon to be published author at PDMI, and I have to say, being with them reminds me of my first term at University, and the excitement I felt, and sense of camaraderie: I just cannot imagine getting that from a ‘Big Five’ publishers. Being with people who really care, and are engrossed in the process of taking words from ideas to print is truly inspiring and energising. I never spend a day now without thanking myself for getting involved with such a pioneering outfit

  2. This post was very informative, Victoria! I am both an author and editor with an indie publisher and related to everything you described about the process.
    (And Kristen, I’ll take you up on your offer!)

    1. Thanks for your vote of support! This is not an easy busy and there do be dragons in the forest. We really do work hard to take care of our peeps and help them build a dream.

      1. Indeed. To Sculpt Personal Voices & Visions into Print.

  3. I confess to being a little confused at the opening of the article, by the use of the term “indie” – since most writers today now use “indie publisher” as synonymous with “self publisher”, as in “the company owned by the writer that is publishing the writer’s work”. I know that’s not the old industry definition, but it’s the one most folks are using these days, so it took a minute to mentally re-adjust!

    So: why would you use a small press today?

    First, why would you not? A small press cannot get you into any new venues, generally. You can found your own small press and get everywhere they can. They also take a chunk, generally 50-75%, of profit earned from the book. And you lose significant levels of control by working with a small press. Last, frankly most small presses today are just bad at what they do. They don’t return enough value for the income percentage they take.

    Why WOULD you use one? The answer is pretty simple. You’d use one when the small press has a record of success – which means a strong record of sales for the majority of the works they publish. If a small press is taking half the profits, then they need that least be doubling your sales to really be worthwhile. If they’re taking 75%, like the big publishers do, then they need to be at least quadrupling the sales you would make without them.

    One excellent way to vet a small press is to check their record. Look up all the books they have published in the last six months on their website. Then go to Amazon, and check the Kindle ranking for each.

    A good small press will have multiple titles in the top 10,000 ranking, and pretty much everything in the last six months in the top 100,000. A mediocre or poor small press will have rankings like a shotgun blast – all over the place, with some recent titles selling OK, but many selling barely at all. If a small press has multiple recent releases at the 400.000+ ranking, it’s VERY clear that they’re not doing any serious marketing of their wares.

    Editing is inexpensive, and cover art is pretty cheap too. The main advantage a small press can offer is to market your books. If they’re doing that in an effective manner, they’re a huge boon. If they’re not, then they probably should be avoided.

    1. The market is in constant flux. One of the reasons that Amazon is forever updating their algorithms. What a real marketing strategy does is makes distribution channels available so that focus can be shifted when it seems best. If they are willing to pay the price, small presses CAN get you into bookstores by accepting return policies and deeper discounts. They can help you get your books into libraries, schools, awards contests and foreign markets. Depending on what you want to accomplish, a small press can help multiply your efforts. We are a young press and our published portfolio is rather small just now. However it is scheduled to more than double in the first quarter of this year.

  4. Thanks for sharing this information. I’ve done a lot of research on self publishing and traditional (big five) publishing, but still have a lot to learn about indie publishing.

    1. Hi Alison,
      I’m a writer and an editor with PDMI Publishing. I’ve both self-published and indie published.

      If you have questions, perhaps I can help.

      1. I’m still pretty much in the research phase, but in terms of Indie Publishers I guess my two major questions are if you need an agent to work with one and how to tell which indie publishers are reputable.

        1. For most small presses, no, you don’t need an agent.

          I don’t have an agent, and I’ve signed with 4 indie publishers, 5 if you count the online serial. All the ones I know of will work with an agent if you happen to have one, but they’re also ecstatic to work with the writer directly.

          I detailed a vetting process on the comment below, but here’s the short version:

          The short version?
          1. Check out P&E’s (Preditors and Editors), Piers Anthony’s, and any other watchdog’s sites for lists of publishers who’ve not played the game fairly. BUT… be aware that there have been reports that some of these listings contain complaints from cantankerous sorts with an axe to grind, so it’s a starting point, not an ending point.

          2. Look up the publisher on the web. Check out their webpage in excruciating detail and look also at other sites that mention the press and what they have to say.

          3. Contact one or more of the press’s authors and see what the author thought of the experience. If you associate with lots of writer/editor sorts online, you could even cast out a “Hey, anyone know anything about ____ press?” See what sort of answers you get.

          4. Interact with the press in social media. Watch how they act, especially on hot topics.

          If you do land with any publisher, indie or other, don’t sign the contract immediately. Check it out thoroughly. If you have a pal who does legal stuff, give them a peek, or ask some other writers you know if the gig sounds legit based on the contract. One writer I know hires a lawyer with a specialization in Intellectual Property law to look over all book contracts.

          I’ve only run across one so far that was not in the writer’s best interests. With that one, I found a clause that sounded hinky, so I went to my social media account and posted, “Hey, this sounds weird: [insert detail of hokey clause]. Is that setting off any alarm bells with y’all?” (<–Yes, I live in Texas. 😉 ) A publisher I know wrote back and said, "Don't go there, sister. Not safe for humans." or something like that, and I bailed.

          If /any/ press asks you to put money up front to publish your book, RUN, don't walk, the other way. Maintain minimum safety clearances. That's generally a scam.

          Does that help?

          1. That is seriously so helpful. Thank you so much.

            • CKoepp on January 18, 2014 at 10:54 am

            No problem! Glad to help.

  5. Kevin makes a great point in the previous comment. Though this article makes some great points, there is more to the vetting process. Publishers should be thoroughly investigated before you consider signing a contract. Check P&E and Absolute Write, and if the publisher isn’t listed on P&E, chances are they are too new to have a proven track record. I would be very cautious before signing with a new publisher. I’ve seen too many small publishers go up in smoke over the past few years. I’ve seen husband and wife publishing teams divorce, leaving authors in the lurch. Like Kevin says, unless the small press has multiple titles with good rankings and can offer something you can’t do for yourself as a self-publisher, be very, very careful.

    1. Hello Tricia,

      I’m a writer and editor at PDMI Publishing. I’ve self-published my own works (teacher references) and have published (and am publishing) some fiction through indie presses.

      P&E is a good place to start. Piers Anthony ran (he might still … haven’t been there for a while) a similar list off his webpage. I have heard of people filing false reports with one or both just to be vindictive, but I haven’t chased any of those stories down. I have used both sites to give me a starting point when doing my due diligence.

      In addition to those, here are some other strategies to consider when you’re trying to find out about an indie.

      1: Go to your favorite search engine and look up the name of the press. Check out the press’s webpage, sure, but also look for unrelated sites talking about the press. See what people have to say. Consider the preponderance of the comments. A negative or two could be a personal mishap, but if there are more negatives than positives, that could be a flag.

      2: While you’re on the press’s webpage, jot down the names of some of the authors. Look them up and contact them about their experiences with the press.

      3: Interact with the press you’re thinking about online. With social media all over the place, find them and follow/friend/whatever-the-idiom-is-for-that-site the press. Watch how they interact with people /especially/ when sensitive or hot-button kinds of issues come up. If they behave like civilized people, keep checking them out. If they become twerpy, maybe time to think about going elsewhere.

      On one hand, small presses are run by regular humans who have good days and bad days like the rest of us, but on the other, we don’t want our intellectual children in the hands of a monster, either. So far, I’ve landed mine with some pretty good folks. Each has strengths and weaknesses, sure, but I haven’t been disappointed by them.

  6. Kristen, I left 2 comments – both remain unanswered. The first asked about editing services, the second was to inform you of the link I added on my blog to yours. I have no idea if you’ve read my comments, or put anything in a hat, never-mind twice. It’s disconcerting to be talking to a communicative writer that isn’t communicating.

    1. She definitely goes through and reads comments. If you raise any interesting unasked questions, she’s probably more likely to reply to that? She’s replied to me a handful of times and I’ve only found her blog around Christmas time so I can vouch on the interactivity/involvement lol.

      As for the hat thing, I wouldnt put too much thought into it. That’s just like a bonus lucky raffle; the content she regularly posts is the bigger win for me BY FAR.

    2. Wendy, I try to answer as many people as possible. The reason I don’t answer everyone is this blog is blessed with A LOT of comments. And, some people subscribe to any follow-up comments. If I replied to everyone with the THANKS!!!! (((HUGS))) like I want to, I’d blow up people’s e-mail. So I did see you and you are entered and I AM VERY grateful :D.

  7. I would love to hear plans as on getting indie publishers, who often use a POD print method (like Ingram), inside brick and mortar stores. The Indies can’t afford (being small press) to commit to huge print runs (say, over 1000 copies at a time) and the brick and mortar stores can’t afford to order books from Ingram (which doesn’t allow for returning remainders) and get stuck with titles that don’t sell. I love my small publisher, and want to see them thrive, but that’s surely a stumbling block to interpersonal sales (for folks who want to go into a book store and touch the book before buying). Any ideas?

    1. We would recommend that your publisher make an account with BookBuzzr This is a great way to feature a preview of the quality and content they provide to your publisher’s customers. Also, we would recommend that your publisher establish relationships with the managers of local bookstores and coffee shops. Communication is key.

  8. I think there may be a bit more to choosing a publisher than what was mentioned, also. However, I may be biased because I work for a very small press publisher. We started out just republishing the backlist of the owner, which is extensive, going back to the 1970s. She restarted a shared universe series that she created in the 1980s but dropped when she went to work for the government, at their request, for 20 years. We are just now starting to accept submissions from other authors and it pretty much boils down to how well they write and what. I have been proofreading and copy-editing for *cough* a number of years and now do most of the editing on the series we put out (and I write at least one short story for each volume of the series). We are very, very passionate about what we do. She and I are both just a teensy bit A/R and possibly an itty bit compulsive about getting things right. I was a typesetter/commercial artist in the dark ages before PCs and we had to learn the rules of publishing typesetting, so most of the books, especially ebooks, I see coming out now drive me crazy with all the errors and lack of conformity to the rules.

    If you want your book to look and sound professional, look for people like us! My boss is excellent at letting a writer have his or her own voice and giving technical advice that doesn’t crush that voice. I love working with the authors since I do the copy-editing and proofreading before the file turns into a typeset manuscript. Then I love making it as perfect as I possibly can, and thank goodness I have great tools for this!

    I think a lot of an author’s decision of who to go with as far as a publisher should be based on how much the people you will work with reflect your own values and vision for your work. We are still learning the marketing angle of this very new industry (and if they would just hurry up with the cloning technology I would be able to deal with that more easily!) so we can’t offer a marketing package to an author, but we have contacts in the marketing industry and have a very steep learning curve. Hopefully, soon we will be able to offer our services to a wider range of writers.

    Remember, an indie small press is really just getting into this groove as it is carving itself into the publishing business. The experience brought to the table by the publishing team is a major consideration, since few small presses are more than a few years old. The people in the business, however, may have been involved in this for years, so check out the people as well as just the press itself. And good luck! Keep putting one foot in front of the other, take Kristen’s information to heart because she really does know what she is doing, and you will succeed, if you really want it!

      • Kevin on January 17, 2014 at 10:31 am
      • Reply

      Muse… I don’t doubt that your company is able to produce quality work. However, if you want to both look and sound professional, there are many, MANY ways of doing so. And many indie writers – who hire freelancers to handle any tasks they cannot do themselves, and publish their own work – set bars higher than even the major NYC publishers standards for production quality.

      The path you pick as a writer is no barrier to quality. 😉 There are ways to get a high quality product out for each path.

      I disagree that vision ought to be a defining characteristic of partnering with a publisher. This is a business decision, not an artistic one. You need to pick a business which is going to do the best job helping your business grow.

      I should add that some level of longevity to the company IS worth thinking about, though. Remember that if you license rights to a company, and that company goes under, the rights will likely be tied up in bankruptcy courts for years – and then bought cheaply by some other publisher, which you will have no control over. Better, by far, to pick a company that has some staying power!

      1. One crucial advantage of a small press is that they are not bound to New York’s ever-narrowing market formulas, thus the small press can accept and publish work that New York does not deem to be “commercially viable.” If New York lauds the quality of your submission even while they are rejecting it, this can be a “clue” that your work does not fit in with their commercial formulas.

        At this juncture, the author can:
        1) Re-write to meet New York’s formulas
        2) Submit the work to a small press
        3) Self-Publish

        New York’s algorithms have never been 100% accurate with regard to potential sales, of course. Many books New York thought were “sure-fire” hits crumbled to dust (this has been true for decades on end), and other books that did not meet New York formulas went on to huge success in self-publishing. Now even New York offers contracts to authors such as Amanda Hocking and Hugh Howey who didn’t meet the New York formulas and went on to succeed anyway. 😉

        1. The ideal small press is a marriage wherein art and commerce work together, with authors’ creations are held in high esteem.

    1. Howdy!

      That’s a great description of the benefits of a small or indie press.

      All my experiences with small press editors have been along those lines. They have worked closely with me to improve the story without totally squashing my voice. Each time I have worked with an editor at an indie, I’ve learned more about the craft of writing.

      I try to impart at least some of that to the writers I work with at PDMI.

      Although marketing is still my job as a writer, I get a lot of help from the indies I’ve worked with. I’ve gotten suggestions of things to do, things that would be a waste of time and effort, and I’ve cross-promoted or been cross-promoted by others associated by that press.

      /I work with PDMI Publishing as an editor and writer.

  9. So what is an Indie Press?

    A small press is usually defined as those that publish an average of fewer than 10 titles per year, though this is not always the case.

    The terms “small press”, “indie publisher”, and “independent press” are often used interchangeably, with “independent press” defined as publishers that are not part of large conglomerates or multinational corporations.

    Small presses (indie presses) should not be confused with self-publishing presses (sometimes called “vanity presses”). Certainly not all self publishers are vanity presses either. Self-publishing or subsidy presses usually require payment by authors, or a minimum purchase of copies. By comparison, small presses make their profits by selling books to consumers, rather than selling services to authors or selling a small number of copies to the author’s friends.

    According to Bowker, small presses generate more than 100 titles a year. This overly rated system leaves room to question this statement. It seems that the true definition of what a small press is, remains unanswered and simply is a matter of opinion.

  10. Regarding the comment about inexpensive editorial services and cover art being available to those who self-publish–in both these regards, you often get what you pay for. One of the stigmas attached to self-publishing is the amateurish nature of production–in terms of both editing and cover art. A small press, by contrast, handles fewer authors than one of the New York publishers, and so can afford to spend more attention on each client, both with respect to editorial work and to cover art. I am the Chief Editor for PDMI Publishing, LLC. I can tell you that both in terms of the manuscripts we accept for publication, and in terms of the editorial process followed by both myself and the editors who work in my department, a high standard of professionalism and quality is employed. Not only do we have a relationship with our authors to consider–a relationship that is very important to us–but we also have the reputation of our company to consider, a reputation we strive to preserve, with integrity, in every action we take.

      • Kevin on January 17, 2014 at 10:36 am
      • Reply

      Yes and no. It’s worth asking around. There are several indie writer communities where a number of successful pro indies chat about their methods with other writers, and share freelancers they’ve had good experiences with.

      Avoiding poor service providers is nowhere near as difficult as it once was. Finding good ones has become pretty easy.

  11. Wow what a great post! Thanks very much for all the information. 🙂

    1. Thank you Cynthia.

  12. Reblogged this on Cynthia Stacey and commented:
    Great post for those interesting in Indie Publishing, or just want more information.

    1. Thank you so much.

  13. Kevin, as always, you’ve hit the nail on the head. What I read above sounds encouraging and get’s me excited about a small press publisher, but the devil is in the details and everyone must do their homework.

    1. I would say that it is always a great idea to do homework before making any leaps and bounds. 😉

    • Lisa on January 17, 2014 at 11:07 am
    • Reply

    Good information here, both in the article and comments. Thanks for this, Kristen. I don’t have a blog, but I have tweeted the article. Does that count? 🙂

    1. Lisa, Tweeting is a great form of communication. It is highly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to tweet this article.

  14. I think Kristen makes a point when she says to do what is right for you and your work. Of course you should investigate publishers and their track record. You should talk to other authors and editors and people in the field. For some people self publishing seems to be the best of all venues, yet there are those of us who would rather write than format! I have had experience with two Indie Publishers and though I wasn’t completely happy with the first for various reasons, they still gave me what they promised and I became a published author. It wasn’t hard at all to get my rights back and I moved on, chalking it up as experience. Despite the rough start, I’m pleased that I’m not still sitting around waiting for an agent to discover my work. I’m not sure I could live that long!

  15. I would second that. Twitter has become a very important marketing and promotional tool, as well as one of the most widely-used forms of mass communication today.

    1. Indeed.

  16. I think its very easy to talk about the pros and cons of any approach to getting published, and about business. Certainly sales are important but just making the journey from idea to print is a key part of the experience in my opinion. I don’t really care whether my publisher, PDMI, is called Indie, Independent, small, niche or anything else. What I do care about is the effort and sincerity and expertise they put behind my work and effort, and on that score I cannot fault them

  17. All authors have to self-promote and market their books nowadays, regardless of who is publishing their work. What the small press really offers authors is a “happy medium” between do-it-yourself publishing and the major publishers.

    Yes, D.I.Y. publishing offers “complete control”, but this has led to a massive proliferation of e-books that are of substandard quality in every respect, tarnishing the reputation of self-publishing in many readers’ (and even authors’) eyes. Yes, D.I.Y publishing has given us many excellent books that we would never be able to read otherwise (a number of which have gone on to be traditionally published, in fact). The problem for readers is that they have to wade through a jungle of substandard e-books to get to the “cream of the crop.” There is no “vetting”, with all of the good and bad points this entails. A key advantage of D.I.Y. for an author is that they have freedom to publish a quality work that does not “fit” within publishers’ considerations. The problem for the author is that they face an uphill battle in promotion. Many will assume their work to be substandard, just because it is self-published. If your books do not fit in with what publishers want, and you have crafted works of quality that you believe can reach a wide audience, then D.I.Y. is your best choice. Just be aware that even in the best case, your work will be a “diamond in the rough”, and that having readers discover your creation will rest entirely on your shoulders.

    Signing to a major publisher solves the main problems of the D.I.Y. approach. Your work is vetted, and more importantly your READERS know it has been vetted. When the reader sees the major brand name on the spine, they know the work had to pass through many hands, and many judgments, to get in print. Of course, not every work released by major publishers appeals to every class of reader, but even the “worst” major publisher books meet certain basic standards of grammar, editing, story structure, et al that D.I.Y books are notorious for failing at. Yes, a D.I.Y. book CAN BE formatted and edited in an equal manner to the major publishers’ standards, but all too many are not.

    The main problem of the major publishers is that they no longer offer the “power” they used to, due to the changing realities of the marketplace. Number one on that list would be promotion. The major publishers used to have the muscle to get new and mid-list authors prominent placement on major chains’ bookshelves, but this is no longer true. Signing with a major publisher no longer guarantees you any shelf space, anywhere. Even the biggest name authors are finding their shelf space reduced, particularly with respect to back catalog, which is a crucial source of income for them.

    That said, if you wrote the “Golden Ticket”, the major house believes you have done so, and they are willing to get behind you, then you will be right at home. Just be aware that you will have to move a LOT of books, and it still rests on YOUR shoulders to do the promotion that the majors used to do decades ago.

    What the traditional small press offers readers is a guarantee to readers that the work meets a “vetting” quality standard, without the debits of the major publishers. Readers get to enjoy quality works that may not fit into major publishers’ ever-narrowing marketing strategies, without having to sort the D.I.Y wheat from the chaff.

    The main advantage of a small press is that the author is “not alone” (as Kristen says). The author receives editorial, formatting and cover design support equal to, or in some cases better than, the major publishers. The larger small presses’ distribution of books is also equal to that of the major publishers. The fact that major publishers can no longer guarantee shelf placement for authors (in the way they used to be able to do) levels the playing field here. New and mid-list authors will have a 50% royalty rate in most cases, as compared to the majors’ 25% or less. If your work does not fit into the majors’ marketing formulas, but industry people agree that you have crafted a quality work, and you don’t want to have to machete your way out of the overgrown D.I.Y. jungle, then the small press will be your best home.

    You, the author, have choices. But you are in charge of your marketing and your brand, regardless of the path you pursue.

    1. WOW, thank you for this. You answered some of my questions 🙂

      1. You’re welcome 🙂

    2. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an author and marketing director for PDMI, but I am not trying to “sell” you on any particular publishing path here. My author friends cover the full spectrum of publishing, succeeding in venues from New York to D.I.Y. and everything in between. You the author have to choose your path, and carefully.

  18. I’m still a little confused about “Indie” and “Small Press.” I guess I’d love to know what percentage the average small press takes and what you get for that percentage. Also, I’m confused by how the process works. Do they have their own agents, or do agents pitch to them, or do you personally as the author pitch to them? Thank you Kristen and Victoria 🙂 I’m still learning…

    1. With small presses, the “pitch” methods can vary. You are not locked into the agent system as you would normally be when dealing with the major publishers. Only a very few have sufficient connections to submit to New York editors directly (as I myself did; full disclosure again 😉 )
      As a general rule, you the author will present your submission to an Independent traditional publisher, but if you by chance have an agent they can submit for you as well.

    2. Generally, but not always, a small press will take 50% after printing costs. Within our percentage we provide editing, graphics (any and all), formatting and marketing support. At our press we use Kristen’s plan and train our people, but we also let them develop something to suit their own personality. We support that by setting up signings, conventions, and other appearances, and we share the costs for these and other activities. Oh, and we are working on awards programs and getting onto school lists. We also pay for a larger distribution network than offered by the self-pub outlets. We accept industry discounts to get books into catalogs and book stores (including B & N) and we allow returns. All that costs a pretty penny so we don’t make anything unless you do. And you make it sooner. Not all presses do this and you really need to check out the services and the contract before you sign. Just because your work is accepted does not mean you have to get married. Talk to an editor or illustrator with the company to see if it is a fit.

      We do not have agents – that’s just another cut of the pie that we are too small to pay as yet – our managing editors look at each submission and respond accordingly. They will be at WANACon.

      I also see a lot about – “it’s a business decision – not a vision.” If we are not in this business because of a passion then the end product will be flat and won’t last. Yes, it is a business decision. We have had to make those from our side as well, and it is not always pleasant. But if you lack passion – the project will not succeed.

    3. “Small Press” may be a better term for the likes of PDMI, as “Indie” can be confused with Do-It-Yourself publishing.
      Many small presses use a 50% royalty structure, as compared to New York’s 25% or less.
      What “small press” means here is a traditional publisher not connected with the major publishers centered in New York.

  19. Isn’t the term Indie Publisher kind of an oxymoron?

    1. Hi Peggy,

      An indie or independent press is called that because it’s not associated with the Big Presses in NY.

      Editor/writer at PDMI Publishing

        • Kevin on January 17, 2014 at 12:20 pm
        • Reply

        Which is why all self publishers are also indie publishers, but not all indie publishers are self publishers… 😉 In other words, the company owned by the writer which produces books by that writer (self publishing) is always indie. But most small presses that publish the work by multiple writers are also “indie”.

        It gets a little confusing sometimes. 😉 But not an oxymoron!

  20. I edit for two presses (PDMI Publishing and Barking Rain), and I am published … or will be within the next year. My works are in the pipeline and moving right along … with 4 indies (Under the Moon/Final Sword Productions, Splashdown Books, Seventh Star Press, and PDMI Publishing). I also self-published a collection of teacher/homeschooler resources.

    The benefits of self-publishing:
    I could publish whatever I wanted. I didn’t have to go through a submission process. If I could follow the set-up guides, which aren’t that hard even for the weird stuff I was doing, I could put whatever I wanted out there.

    The drawbacks of self-publishing:
    I had to be my own editor. I looked into other editing services, even with good folks I know, and I couldn’t afford their prices. The only way I could’ve gotten someone else to edit my work was to work on a Trade-ya basis.

    I did have to hire someone to do the cover art for the first one, and I have yet to make the money back on that. I did my own artwork on the other 3 using GIMP and some royalty-free art from Stock XChange. The result was okay, but not fabulous.

    The benefits of indie publishing:
    I stink at editing my own work. I do well editing someone else’s, but for my own work, my brain tries to read what I remember writing not what I actually wrote, so the errors have to hold up neon signs and dance a jig. By going with an indie publisher, I get someone /else/ to look at it and find all those sneaky errors and incomplete edits and other shenanigans. So far, all the editors I’ve worked with at indie presses have done a fabulous job, and I’ve learned a lot from them… and I didn’t have to pay for editing.

    Artwork is no longer my problem. I’m happy with the cover art on the book that’s out, and the interior art on that book was snazzy, too. I’ve seen the cover art and interior art for what’s coming down the pike at PDMI on one of my teacher resources. It is incredible! It’s a whole lot better than I could do on my own, and I didn’t have to pay someone to come up with something.

    The layout is better than what I can do myself, too, especially on the teacher resources.

    The drawbacks of indie publishing:
    It does take longer than self-pubbing. One of my books has been in the queue at one indie for over a year. I was able to produce 3 self-pubbed teacher resources in 1.5 months this past summer, but producing just one of them with PDMI has taken about that long. However, you know what they say about “Hurried work is worried work.”

    Do the thing that works for your idiom. I’ve gone down both paths, and I prefer the indie route.

  21. I have a couple of questions for Victoria. First, how would one go about submitting a self-published book? Would you even look at one that’s gotten great reviews but not a lot of sales (i.e., fewer than a hundred)?

    Second, and this is off-topic, but I’m also a web designer. Do you, or other indie houses that you’re aware of, ever work with freelance designers to develop author websites? Author sites and blogs are one of my favorite things to design and build, but unfortunately not many self-published or indie authors can really afford to hire a professional web designer. Is obtaining web design work from indie presses a viable avenue to pursue?

    Thanks for this info. I’ve been self-publishing for a few years now, but this has got me considering going the indie press route.

    1. I can’t speak for Victoria, but I am happy to reply that at PDMI, the artistic quality of your submission comes first. Like I said here in previous comments, it is hard for an author to stand out in the massive self-publishing jungle, and quality works that can appeal to a wide audience remain “undiscovered”, despite their creators’ best promotional efforts. We at PDMI realize this state of affairs, and it’s another reason why joining the team at a small press can be superior to walking the “lone wolf” DIY path, for some authors.
      Your website design skills are always valuable, regardless of which publishing path you are on.

    2. Okay – first things first, and from our perspective – I can’t address other presses. We will accept self-published works for review but you must indicate that it has been previously published and where. You have to be prepared that if accepted we will, without fail, edit the manuscript. We will also review the graphics and let you know what the marketability is and suggest any changes. We would put you through our marketing training.

      I think that web/blog design is a viable pursuit. Cost is a factor. Most of us in management at PDMI have spent a few midnights trying to get people set up in a spot they want to spend time in. Also, there are programming and update issues that are sooooo, difficult to stay on top of when you are short staffed. If it is something you are truly fond of doing, well, PDMI is looking for programmers to build the ultimate small press web interface. Who knows, maybe we’ll even sell it one day. We will be rolling out our new face soon, but there is always “stuff to do.” You might drop us an email with your CV! Mine is

    • Ashley on January 17, 2014 at 1:17 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you’re going to my hometown! I really wish I was going to be in town – I’d love to meet you in person. 🙂 I am looking forward to seeing you again at WanaCon in February.

    Kristen and Victoria, I really appreciate this article, as I have been researching publishing options and ways I need to focus my energy in preparation for publishing both fiction and non-fiction books in the future. When reading this post, I felt an instant connection with PDMI since it’s located near my hometown. In my opinion, the time it took to write this information and now respond to comments and questions says something positive about PDMI’s work ethic and desire to work with authors throughout the process. PDMI will definitely be on my short-list of publishers to check out prior to submitting my work!

    Thank you, Kristen and PDMI!

  22. Ashley, Thank you so much for your lovely comment. It is always a pleasure to hear. We do hold true to our work ethics. We even have our own ethics committee here at PDMI. We welcome you to submit your work to us. Our submission guidelines are located at the following:

  23. I have self published and am now an author and illustrator with PDMI Publishing Inc.

    While we are on the subject of dissecting the differences between a big publishing house, small presses, and self-publishing indies, I’d like to point out the differences in the graphics and illustration details:
    Have you ever noticed how, with most major publishing houses, the interiors of the books all look the same? Sometimes even the covers can start to look a bit formulaic.

    Big publishing houses typically have their own budgets and agendas to worry about. You provided the story for them. Now, not only are they going to rip your story to shreds and it may or may not still represent your personal voice, but now they are going to slap whatever cover on it they want just to make it fit in with the rest of their books.

    Small presses typically have the volume to attract and hire talent that can work with you and your book to mold it into the work of art that you envisioned it to be. They also know the market and what sells. The inside of the book could be just a plain jane set up, all neat and crisp. With many customers reluctant to buy paperbacks though, wouldn’t you want the interior of the book to speak volumes about your work artistically? The benefit to a small press is that while they may (depending on the publisher) allow you and your design team to get creative, they will also be able to inform you of design flaws, printer limitations, and what sells in the market too.

    With indie self-publishing, you will be hard pressed to find REALLY spectacular interior formatters who know how to do the amazing stuff and who will still keep their costs low. Many of the ones I have seen only do the plain jane, neat and crisp interior design. No WOW factor. Same goes for cover design. Sure, you can find someone for cheap to put together a decent cover- but it will cost you a pretty penny for that WOW factor.

    After all of this, with indie self-publishing, you are completely on your own when it comes to figuring out what the printer is and is not capable of. You are on your own when it comes to promoting your work. You may also stumble into many design elements that will make your reader run screaming for the hills before you figure it out.

    A small press is there to share their experience, and to support you when you try to promote your work. A larger press pretty much keeps their experience sharing to the bare minimum, while the indie self publisher is left trying to figure out what sells- even on the visual level, all on their own. Remember, the reader is judging your book, and whether or not they will buy it, even before they pick up the book.

    As for a personal opinion: I would much rather walk up a bookstore and be able to say that my publisher liked my book so much that they are backing it, than to walk up to them and say, “I’m doing this on my own.” That person you walked up to will not be calculating how much money YOU and your team sunk into it. They will be calculating whether someone else liked your book enough to take a chance on it.

  24. An Indie Author would NOT be considered an Indie Publisher, due to the fact that most self-pub authors use createspace and/or lulu, and not make their own label. As well as Indie Publishers publish MORE than ONE author. Not just one’s self. ALSO most (not all, I know PDMI does as I am the Co-Owner/Formatter) Indie Publishers use a unique barcode structure that includes the price within the barcode which ALL bookstores look for.

    1. Technically, no, Nessa.

      An indie publisher, as mentioned above, is any publisher not owned by a conglomerate. That includes a lot of mid sized publishers, almost all small presses, and every self publisher I am aware of. By definition, any writer actually self publishing (as opposed to paying a vanity press) owns their own company and is the proud owner of a small press, whether they actually register a business name (which they should) or not.

      So yes, the old industry definition of “indie” includes all self publishers, alongside most of the small presses and a scattering of others.

      Worth noting, however, that the media and public now use the term “indie publisher” as *synonymous* with self publishing. Indie publisher is now, in the public’s mind, the same sort of thing as “indie musician” – the person making the art produces and publishes the art.

      That’s not the way the publishing industry sees it. That’s not how the term *used* to be used. But it IS the dominant use of the term in the US today.

      (PS: Anyone using Createspace can get their price added to the bar code just by asking for it… And LSI does so automatically, I believe.)

  25. Reblogged this on Vampire Syndrome Blog and commented:
    My publisher, featured on Kristen Lamb’s blog 🙂

    1. Awesome Daven!

  26. “That person you walked up to will not be calculating how much money YOU and your team sunk into it. They will be calculating whether someone else liked your book enough to take a chance on it.” This point that Virginia made is one of the strongest, best reasons to recommend the small-press publishing approach over self-publishing. I am also an author with PDMI Publishing, LLC, in addition to now being part of the editorial staff. Before I got my contract with PDMI, I self-published my first novel. I cannot emphasize enough how much it helps to have a team behind you who cares about you as a person and an author, and believes in you and the vision of your work–not merely the revenue it is likely to generate.

    1. With a small press, you are “vetted” by a team who believes in your creations, without having to adhere to New York’s “commercial formulas” (which have been upended by the likes of Hocking and Howey, anyway!)

    2. Smiling here, Clay – your Director of Business is rather interested in the bottom line – it keeps us both in business. But, yes. No matter what you do you need to be enjoying it. The first paragraph in the post talks about having a passion AND making a living at it. It is business. If it wasn’t, we could publish anything that walked in our door and say we fulfilled someone’s dream. No, we didn’t. If we operated that way we would have lied to them and let them believe that it was all that easy. We have a team because we firmly believe that is what it takes. We know we are not perfect for everyone – and that’s okay. But those that do fit our model will get what they pay for through their royalties and we’ll do whatever we can to help them improve in the craft.

      1. I’m smiling too, because PDMI is working hard to prove that art and commerce can not just “co-exist,” but complement one another.
        Our team has the same faith in our books as their individual authors do.

  27. Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    decisions, decisions

    1. Thank you for reblogging.

  28. WANAcon sounds like pretty great value, shame I’m broke atm lol. Then again, I guess I still have time to work on that, ha!

  29. Reblogged this on napowblog and commented:
    Another great blog piece by Kristen Lamb

  30. I just reblogged a previous article with a question about the difference between Indie and Self publishing, Now I get it. Thank you Kristin all your info,

  31. Reblogged this on Dara Rochlin Book Doctor and commented:
    interesting article that makes some good thinking points.

    1. Thank you so much for the Reblog Dara.

  32. So is your new book being traditionally published if you’re no longer indie? 🙂

    1. No idea. And there is a misnomer with “traditionally published.” We make that synonymous with Big Five NYC publishers and it has more to do with business practices and distribution. Indie is really anything beyond the realms of NY. No idea. Will send to an agent friend who wants to read it and get her thoughts. Her agents are very progressive and many will be at WANACon.

  33. Thanks!

  34. Thanks for the advice/information.

  35. Reblogged this on Dyslexics' Can.

  36. I’m working with an indie e-publisher for my third book (a collection this time). I don’t understand why e-publishers don’t want to provide a POD option. Seems to me, this would increase sales, not to mention that some review venues accept hard-copy only. And having a few physical copies for the author to pass around and sign is good advertising.These days, POD is very simple owing to the large number of online venues who will do it for free except the sale price of the POD copies themselves.

    1. Some do. Depends. There are set-up costs. The book has to be formatted for print, which costs time or money. There is more profit in e-book. If an Indie is too new and doesn’t have a lot of money backing it, it makes sense to begin with e-book only.

    • Jennifer Rose on January 28, 2014 at 3:13 pm
    • Reply

    This is a helpful article. I’m starting my publishing exploration process, and it’s helpful to know what should be expected from an ‘indie publisher.” For how can you vet a company, if you don’t even know the baseline?

    1. Agreed. Thank you for stopping by and joining in the conversation Jennifer.

  37. Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

  38. Reblogged this on Chad B. Hanson.

  39. Reblogged this on PDMI Publishing, LLC: The Personal Publisher.

  40. I’ve been published by four indie publishers now, and there’s a lot of difference among them from the author’s POV: thoroughness of copy editing, care in designing and producing the cover, “gotcha’s” in the contract, attractiveness of the final product. To be honest, I could do all this stuff myself on Lulu or CreateSpace (except a great cover). What I mostly value is being acknowledged as a writer by people who (I hope!) know more about this business than I ever will. My biggest disappointment: not even an attempt at promotion, no matter how slight.

      • Kevin on May 13, 2014 at 7:09 pm
      • Reply

      That’s pretty normal from all publishers, however. It pretty much doesn’t matter what publisher you work with – unless you got a six+ figure advance, count on doing all your own promotion!

    1. Hello Terence Kuch,

      Indeed, most indie publishers do not have the means to promote their authors. However, PDMI does just that. We love promoting and marketing our authors. We believe that it is 50/50 on both parties to accomplish greatness. This is why we have a full marketing staff team and we (Authors included) gather to discuss ideas and implement new strategies. We are sorry you have been disappointed by other Indie presses.

  1. […] Author Beware – What To Look For In An Indie Publisher – guest post by PDMI Publishing. Definitely some good advice here. I’ve been quite lucky with my publishers, that’s for sure. […]

  2. […] We hear a lot about self-publishing and the Big 5 traditional publishers, but there are a lot of small, independent presses out there as well. PDMI Publishing tells us 3 things to look for when going with an independent publisher. […]

  3. […] Author Beware-What to Look for in an Indie Publisher – Kristen Lamb […]

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