Please contact E. B. Davis at for information on guest blogs and interviews. Interviews for August: (8/3) Dianne Freeman (8/10) Daryl Wood Gerber (8/17) E. B. Davis's Review of Granite Oath, James M. Jackson's new novel (8/24) Rose Kerr (8/31) V. M. Burns.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Self-publish versus Micro-press

by James M. Jackson

Recently someone posted a message—a rant from my perspective—on one of the online self-publishing groups to which I belong that stated no one should publish with a micro-publisher. Since my Wolf’s Echo Press is a nano-press, I thought a more nuanced approach to considering whether to use a small publisher or become self-published was warranted.

At its basic level, the difference between self-publishing and publishing with a very small press is this: when you self-publish you receive all the revenue from your sales, and you are responsible for all the tasks to bring your novel to the market. When you contract with a publisher, you agree to give the publisher a portion of the revenue, and they agree to perform some of the tasks of bringing your novel to market.

When you are responsible for a publishing task, you can hire someone to do it or do it yourself. If you do it yourself, you need to have or learn the necessary skills, and it takes time away from other activities (like writing the next book). If you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, it takes up-front money.

You wrote the book, and you polished it as well as you could—or at least as much as you chose—and now you are at the decision point of what publisher (including yourself) you’ll choose. Before selecting a publisher, it’s important to understand what they will and will not do to earn their share of the revenue stream.

Developmental Editing: Many presses perform a developmental edit of your work. You should understand how thorough that edit will be and who will do it. Some presses have full-time staff. Most use either a stable of on-call people or, in small presses, the owner performs that work. A full developmental edit, which is what I do for Wolf’s Echo Press clients, considers and offers suggestions about story inconsistencies, character inconsistencies, theme development, pacing, sub-plots, and character arcs—all with the intent to bring out the best in your story.

Some small presses provide little or no developmental editing. That may be fine if you have run your novel through a qualified critique group or have a stable of good beta readers, but even then, friends may have their own blind spots whereas an outsider brings a fresh perspective.

Copyediting and Proofreading: Once the story is locked down, it still needs copyediting and proofreading. My theory is that your name and the publisher’s name are both on the title page and both should want to produce a clean document. It’s nigh to impossible to create an 80,000-word, error-free book. How close does your publisher come and what is their process?

The best way to check the quality of the copyediting and proofing is to read, or at least skim, several of the publisher’s published books. You can often download free sample chapters from a publisher’s website or read the first portion of a book on Amazon.

Even if you have a perfect understanding of Chicago Manual of Style (or whatever style you use), I believe no one can proofread their own material. We read what we “know” to be there instead of what is actually there, and it’s especially hard to catch your own homonym errors.

Print Layout: While you are checking the quality of the copyediting and proofing, pay attention to the way the publisher laid out the print copy. Is it clear, readable, and attractive? Does it meet industry standards, or does it cram type onto a page to reduce the number of pages. Do the justified lines occasionally cause wide spacing between words? Do pages begin with a single line that should have been attached to the rest of the paragraph on the previous page? You worked hard to choose the right words, will the publisher display them in a manner that does you proud?

Electronic Layout: Do the electronic versions of the publisher’s books also look attractive? Go through the same evaluation process as for print.

Book Covers: Again, look at the publisher’s published works. Is that what you want for your book? If you already have a cover, will the publisher consider using it, and will they change the royalty terms?

Print Distribution: Where and how does your publisher distribute your book? Many small publishers use Print on Demand (POD) outfits such as CreateSpace, KDP, and IngramSpark to create print versions of your book. These are the same sources you would use if you were doing it yourself.

What retail stores (if any) will your book be automatically distributed to? Most nano- and micro-publishers have no ability to get a book into Barnes & Noble or Walmart. Does the publisher allow returns—or give you the choice to allow or disallow returns? If returns are allowed, are they charged against author royalties?

Electronic Distribution: Does the publisher insist on a strategy (going-wide, staying with Amazon only to take advantage of Kindle Unlimited) or, as Wolf’s Echo Press does, allow the author to choose an approach if they wish?

Marketing Efforts: What marketing, if any, does the publisher use? The sad fact is that books rarely sell themselves, and most of the responsibility for marketing falls on the author. Does the publisher take out ads? Engage in reduced-price sales events? Will the publisher share costs with the author? If Wolf’s Echo Press agrees to a marketing effort, it splits the costs with the author.

Royalties: Although it may be the first thing an author considers, if there are no book sales because of a failure in anything above, it doesn’t matter what the royalty terms are. Let’s assume you will have sales, so how are royalties split between publisher and author? Is it the same or different for print and electronic copies? Wolf’s Echo Press pays 50% of net revenue for both print and electronic.

Statements and Payment: How often does the publisher issue statements, and when do they make payments? A self-published author receives a plethora of monthly statements, one from each of the distribution entities that sold a book. The publisher does the work of consolidating the information into a single place, but their process also will delay payments. Wolf’s Echo Press issues monthly statements and pays royalties within sixty days once they reach a minimum threshold. You’ll have fewer payments to keep track of with a publisher, but they will be delayed compared to self-publishing.

Taxes: One advantage of using a publisher is when it comes to tax time. They provide you with a single IRS Form 1099 that shows your paid royalties for the year. Self-published authors must maintain and aggregate that information themselves.

Inevitable Typos: Despite everyone’s best effort, what happens when a reader contacts you because they found a typo on page 117? Some publishers (like Wolf’s Echo Press) will correct electronic versions of the work so future readers have a better experience. Others can’t be bothered. Similarly, what happens if some of your back-matter changes?

This is not an exhaustive list of things to consider, but if you do your homework, you should have a good feel for whether a publisher is right for you, or if self-publishing is the best approach.
~ ~ ~
James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree mystery series. Empty Promises, the fifth novel in the series—this one set in the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—is now available. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at


Ramona said...

What great info, Jim. Thanks for sharing. I am astounded sometimes at the criticism of other people's publishing choices, and what you have provided will help people make informed choices.

Those pesky inevitable typos get me, too. After you read a story, even once, your brain tells your eyes to see what you expect to see, not necessarily what is there. I call this typo blindness. I am sorely afflicted with this with my own writing.

Edith Maxwell said...

A clear and comprehensive post, Jim!

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

great information. Thank you.

Jim Jackson said...

Ramona - my favorite story is about a homonym that almost made it into my first published novel. The mistake was in all thirteen drafts, had gone through two critique groups, several beta readers, an editor, a publisher and Jan caught it on the very last read through. Seamus was mentioning that when he used the word "youse" in grammar school the nun wrapped his knuckles with a ruler.

After that, I'm willing to give any novel a couple of free mistakes.

Thanks, Edith & Margaret.

Liz Milliron said...

Great information. I used a micro-press for my very first writing job. When it ceased operating, they returned all rights, including cover art, to me. I continued to self-publish. But it's writing for kids and marketing to kids is hard if you don't have the weight of a big press behind you.

I give any published work a free pass on the first couple typos (I'm re-reading Harry Potter 6 and their is one early, "the fug of his breath" that makes me chuckle every time). Only when it gets egregious (one or two on every page) that I shake my head.


Jim Jackson said...

Mary/Liz -- children's books are a beast of which I know nothing other than how to buy them for grandkids.

Annette said...

Excellent information, Jim. Thanks for sharing it with us.

KM Rockwood said...

Thanks, Jim, for another installment of your insights, research and analysis. They are very helpful to all of us, and I appreciate them.

Warren Bull said...

Having another set of eyes look at your work is always helpful.

Daryl a.k.a. Avery said...

Well thought out, Jim. Good article. ~ Daryl

Lourdes Venard said...

This is a good checklist, especially the tips about checking out other books by the publisher.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Great points. Very informative.

Grace Topping said...

As always, helpful information from you. Thank you. If a publisher doesn't want my manuscript, which is now out for consideration, I'll have to investigate self-publishing, and this information will be helpful. My greatest concern about self-publishing is distribution.

Kait said...

Excellent article, Jim. As a hybrid - indie and with a small press - I can attest to all that you say and learned more from the post. I wish I had this guide before I opted for either path - would have cut down on the learning curve!

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Jim! Some people want one and some the other. However, I've been happy with a small press publishing my mysteries and myself publishing short stories. Still with both, it is up the author to promote the work.

Jim Jackson said...

Kait -- I too could have used this information from someone else, but alas, I had to figure it out on my own, as well.

Vicki -- I should have made the point more clearly that even for a single author, one size does not fit all.

Nabil said...

If there’s one online income source I like talking about most, it’s definitely self-publishing on Amazon. I’m normally a pretty modest guy but I’ve gotta say… I rock at self-publishing!

I’ve increased my monthly income from nothing to nearly $2K in less than three years just from selling books on Amazon… and I was making a grand a month within a year.

The post on how I make money self-publishing has been one of the most popular on my personal blog so I wanted to update it with everything I’ve learned over the last few years. I’ve included updates on how to turn your books into a passive source of income and how to make the whole process easier.

Ok, so $2K a month isn’t huge money but it’s getting there and it’s growing very quickly.

If you want to learn more about making money with Kindle then check out “” which is the #1 Amazon Kindle Training out there.

I can't recommend it enough. That's how I got started almost three years ago.