How to choose your Publisher, and what pitfalls to avoid #IndieAdvice

There are many who don’t know my full backstory. I actually published my first novel in November 2003 at age eighteen. I had this silly notion deep down that I was meant to achieve something great that would immortalize my name in history books long after I have left this world. LOL!

SJI was young and naive, and even agreed to a ridiculous bet with a co-worker that I would make a million dollars within the next year. Having been enthralled by the idea of being an author, I was wooed by a Vanity Publisher and made the mistake of paying just under a thousand dollars to publish my story (with this terrible cover that they slapped together). I convinced myself that I was about to become super rich and famous from being an eighteen-year-old published author, and that I would win my bet.

So, yeah… it boggles my mind to this day how I could have been so delusional. Reality finally slapped some sense into me the following year when, after receiving a total of $14 in royalties, the Vanity Publisher advised me that to keep my book on the shelves I would need to pay them $500 per year.

So, to my friends who are trying to decide which publishing route to take, be advised that there are 4 different types of publishers:

  1. Big Five Publishers (Traditional)
  2. Small-Medium Publishers (Traditional)
  3. Vanity Publishers (Indie)
  4. Self Publishers (Indie)

The Big Five Publishing Houses are the most difficult to get published with. You typically have to already be an established author with a large following and have hired a Literary Agent to even be considered for publishing with these houses. The names of these companies are as follows:

  • Hachette Book Group
    • Imprints include (but are not limited to): Grand Central Publishing; Little, Brown and Company; Little, Brown and Company Books for Young Readers; Faith Words; Center Street; Orbit; Yen Press; Hachette Audio; Hachette Digital; Forever; and Forever Yours.
  • HarperCollins
    • Imprints include (but are not limited to): HarperCollins; William Morrow; Avon Books; Broadside Books; Harper Business; HarperCollinsChildrens; HarperTeen; Ecco Books; It Books; Newmarket Press; Harper One; Harper Voyager US; Harper Perennial; HarperAcademic and Harper Audio.
  • Macmillan Publishers
    • Imprints include (but are not limited to): Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Henry Holt and Company; Picador; St. Martin’s Press; Tor/Forge; Macmillan Audio; and Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.
  • Penguin Random House
    • Imprints include (but are not limited to): Random House Publishing Group, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; Crown Publishing Group; Penguin Group U.S.; Dorling Kindersley; Mass Market Paperbacks, Penguin Group U.S.; Random House Children’s Books; Penguin Young Readers Group, U.S.
  • Simon and Schuster
    • Imprints include (but are not limited to): Atria, Folger Shakespeare Library, Free Press, Gallery Books, Howard Books, Pocket Books, Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Threshold Editions, and Touchstone.

Small-Medium Publishers are all of the other traditional publishing houses that are not included in the above lists (Disclaimer: The Big Five I mentioned are the U.S. big publishing houses – there are other large publishing companies in other countries). These are usually local companies that only print for specific local audiences. Usually you don’t need a Literary Agent, and can submit a query directly to the publisher. For example, in Utah where I live the following Small-Medium Publishers exist:

  • Burgoyne & Burgoyne Publishers
  • Cedar Fort, Inc.
    • Imprints Include: Sweetwater Books, Bonneville Books, Front Table Books, Hobble Creek Press, Plain Sight Publishing, Horizon Publishers, Council Press, and King Dragon Press.
  • Covenant Communications Inc
  • Deseret Book
    • Imprints Include: Shadow Mountain, Ensign Peak, LDS Living Magazine, Shadow Mountain Records, and Excel Entertainment.
  • Eagles View Publishing Inc
  • Future House Publishing
  • Gibbs Smith
  • Great River Books Inc
  • Greg Kofford Books
  • Torrey House Press
  • Tree of Light Publishing
  • University of Utah Press
  • Utah State University Press
  • WiDo Publishing

The biggest downside of Small-Medium Traditional publishers is the fact that although in the past these publishers were willing to carry the burden of mainstream marketing efforts, for most of these publishers this is unfortunately no longer the case. Authors are now expected to pay for their own marketing efforts. I have one friend in particular who hitched up with one of these small publishers. Although the story is phenomenal (I’ve read it myself), the author has only been able to sell a total of 12 copies within the past 2 years.

Another downside is that the maximum average royalty percentage you can yield is 7-14%. Many (but not all) of these publishers also require you to sign away any rights to eBook and Audiobook editions. So, unless your target market is a niche audience in a rural area and you have funds to use to market your own books, pitching to a Small-Medium Traditional publisher is probably not your best choice.

Vanity Publishers are a complete waste of time and money. This is a publisher who you pay out of pocket to publish your books using methods that are available to everyone for FREE. Their demeanor has the same flavor as a sleazy salesman or a scam artist. Yes, my opinion is rather skewed – but only because I experienced it first-hand. The only reason I can think of why it might be a good idea to choose one of these run-of-the-mill vanity publishing houses is if the author is absolutely not tech-savvy whatsoever and has difficulty learning new skills. That said, vanity publishers unfairly target the elderly who want their life’s work to be published before they lose the opportunity.

Finally, Self Publishing has gotten a bad reputation. Being a self publisher doesn’t mean that you’re lazy, that you’ve given up trying to query the Big Five for your chance to become the next J.K. Rowling, or that you’ve gotten fed-up with spending countless years wading through rejection letters from Small-Medium Publishers.

Self Publishing is a method authors can use to be in full control of their success or failure. As a Self Published author, you can receive as high as up to 70% in royalties. You can adjust your pricing whenever you want to for promotional events. You can update your covers if the market changes.

Whether or not your story does well is entirely upon your shoulders. You hold all the cards. You are responsible for seeking beta readers, editing, formatting, hiring a professional editor, hiring a cover artist, marketing, etc. Yes all of this might sound very daunting, but that’s why you have me as your friend.

So whatever publishing option you decide, make sure you do your research for your individual situation. Don’t be duped by Vanity Publishers, and don’t expect Small-Medium Publishers to front any marketing costs. I wish you luck in your publishing endeavors!


Each week I will be posting free tips and tricks that I have learned over the years to help you kick that Indie door wide open. For those of you who intend to include images inside your stories, the first of many step-by-step tutorials is now available for only 99 cents on my Courses page. Check back often, for I will be posting more soon!

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