How to screen small presses

As I’ve been learning about publishing, marketing and all that jazz, I’ve been developing a method of screening small presses.

First and foremost, check their guidelines. Do they publish the stuff you write? If yes, great! If no, find another press and start over.

Next, check out their stable of books. Good cover art? If the cover art is bad, RED FLAG! Run away!

If their book covers look decent, time to check marketing. Go to Amazon and type in the publisher’s name. Amazon will spew forth the publisher’s actual track record in the form of prices and reviews.

If this is a decent publisher, they’ll have a decent amount of books to scroll through. Are there both paperbacks and ebooks? How are the prices?

If the ebook prices are 5 bucks or higher, RED FLAG! Current convention says 2.99 and 3.99 are the sweet spot for sales right now. The publisher is either desperate to recoup costs, or out if touch with market trends.

How about reviews? You’re looking for ten to fifty reviews, or an average higher than five. Also watch stars. Most books will have four or five stars, but obvious stinkers will have less. If 3 star books are the trend, RED FLAG! If most books have 5 or less reviews, RED FLAG! Marketing and/or a good product don’t matter to these people.

Final litmus test–read a bunch of sample previews. Are the books well edited? Do the stories start without a cliche?

(Common cliche openings: waking from a dream or sleep, a description of the weather, a character thinking, an epic battle scene, a character complaining about being bored).

If you spot plot holes, typos, misspellings, or for heaven’s sake, writing on par with any random word-vomit on Wattpad, RED FLAG! This press’s editors either don’t know a thing or they sign any author who waves a query at them.

The final test is to follow them on Facebook for a while. If you come to hate their very existence, RED FLAG! These will be your co-workers and business partners. Make sure you can stand them.

This is my personal screening test for small presses. I’ve chewed through lots of presses and I have a list of potentials who I’d like to submit books to.

Did I miss anything? Are there any other critical steps to weeding through small and medium sized presses?

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2 thoughts on “How to screen small presses

  1. Great list! Two more ideas. Contact a few of their authors and ask how their experience has been, especially if their title(s) have been out awhile. They’ll probably be frank, not wanting someone else to be surprised if there are deficiencies, and interested in welcoming new authors to the house if they’re happy to be there. Most authors are easily e-mailable through their Amazon author links.

    Also, you shouldn’t have to pay for anything with a traditional publisher.

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