Why Small Ebook Presses are Thriving And How You Could Join Them

This is a guest post from Ali Luke and Jim Maher from Espresso Books, a new digital-only publishing company.

If you read the news, you might despair of ever getting your novel published.
The book industry is undergoing a huge upheaval, with high street chains – like Borders – closing down. Big publishers are focusing on established authors, rather than taking risks on anything new.
Ebooks, though, are taking off. You might have been eyeing stories about Amanda Hocking, J. A. Konrath and Stephen Leather – and wondering whether you’ve got the time, skills and energy to publish your own ebooks.

There is a middle way.

Publishing may be in crisis – but small digital-only or “digital-first” publishers, are flourishing. And the great news is that they’re often actively looking for new authors with distinctive voices. For instance:

  • AddaBook (Sweden) is a new startup looking for “short stories, poetry, or shorter works of fiction in any genre – of between roughly 2000 and 10000 words.”
  • Lyrical Press (New York) publishes manuscripts in ebook format first, and considers works over 60,000 words for print publication. They are “actively seeking erotica, romance, and urban fantasy.”

Founding Espresso Books

Recently, I got involved in the world of small press publishing too. Back in January, I co-founded a digital publishing company, Espresso Books.
I already had a (rather more than full time!) business – writing blog posts and articles, publishing my own guides to blogging and writing, coaching writers and running ecourses. But at the end of 2010, I got a Kindle, and I found myself becoming more and more interested in the rapid changes in publishing and in the ebook world.

My brother Chris came to me with the idea for Espresso Books: an independent publishing house that would produce high-quality, great-value ebooks – “for the price of your morning coffee.” We were both especially keen to promote new authors, and we were hoping to find fast-paced, compelling stories with a strong narrative voice.

We hit the jackpot first time, with Jim Maher’s fantastic Hemingway Man, a fun, fast-paced novella about 16-year-old Will’s quest to “become a man”. From our perspective, Jim has been an absolute dream author – friendly, professional, and able to turn around edits in next to no time! I wanted to invite him to share some of his experiences here:

Interview with Jim Maher

Ali: As a writer myself, I get the question “where do you get your ideas?” quite a lot! So where did the inspiration for Hemingway Man come from?

Jim: I lost my dad when I was sixteen, and always wanted to write a story about it.  Not about my experiences exactly, but about the horror of losing someone so close.  I didn’t want to be maudlin and depressing about it, and when I came across the Hemingway list, the world of Will started to bloom immediately.
My ideas come from anything and everything: the news, some fun bit in a video game, chatting with my four-year-old, a line in a song.  Most important thing is to write it down.  Any idea.  Even if it doesn’t become a full story, you could write a kick-ass scene based around the delicious chocolate chip cookie you got for free because you held a door open for an old lady.  For example.

Ali: When you first got in touch with us, you’d already published Hemingway Man on Smashwords as a free download, along with some of your other novels. Would you recommend this?

Jim: Absolutely.  It’s a great way to get your work out there, and start building up a potential audience.  Smashwords gets your book to a huge group of people, with the author in total control of pricing, content (within reason) and where you want the book distributed.

Ali: I was really impressed by how polished the Hemingway Man manuscript was – you set a very high standard for our other submissions to match up to! I was also impressed that the document you sent me had “draft seven” in the filename…
…how long did it take you to write – and rewrite – Hemingway Man?

Jim: The first draft was about a year, and then a year and a half rewriting.  I’m a firm believer in editing the heck out of stuff, but at some point, you just have to wash your hands and let the baby go.

Ali: Have you got any tips for other authors who’re trying to get their books out there into the world?

Jim: Keep writing.  Even if you have short stories, novels, plays, a recipe for guacamole…whatever it is, out there and submitted, keep writing.  You never know if and when something will be picked up and they want something else…fast.  So, keep writing.

If you’d like to find out more about Hemingway Man, you can read an excerpt on the Espresso Books site, or download a free sample from Amazon.
(And if you want Jim’s recipe for guacamole, you’ll have to ask him on Twitter…)

And if the indie publishing world looks a bit terrifying – if you don’t want to learn about formatting ebooks yourself – then why not give digital publishers a try? You might well find that a small company is much more approachable, friendly and responsive than one of the big print publishing houses.

Have you had any experience with small press publishers, or with setting up your own company to produce your own ebooks? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Ali Luke is one half of Espresso Books, a new digital-only publishing company. She loves short manuscripts with a strong narrative voice and a fast-paced plot.
Jim Maher is a father of three boys, who loves writing, reading, hockey, video games, his lovely wife, and spending his days with his amazing sons as a stay-at-home dad.

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  1. Marc Bischoff says

    Hi Joanna

    this is really an interesting article, especially because i am actually thinking about building a digital-only publishing house on my own in germany. It might even be interesting to build a network of indie-digital-only publishing houses with the long-term goal of standing against the big publishers and get stuff into other markets. Maybe the guys at espressobooks are interested in discussing this?


  2. Doug Lance says

    I’ve debated taking on clients to format books and design covers and such. I think that may be the direction my company goes in the next year or two.

  3. lara the logophile says

    This is a great article

    I have literally just set up my own eBook company. I figured there had to be a middle ground between absolute self publishing and the big publishing houses. Its a great adventure and it has me reading more paper books and kindle books than ever before.

    I wish the espresso company all the best as well.

  4. says

    Great article. We hope to go the same route with our publishing company. We started 18 months ago with the plan of publishing three books (our own). So far we’ve achieved our goal, so we hope to open up to other authors soon, possibly next year. Hopefully we’ll come across a dream author, too!

  5. says

    I wish Espresso Books all the success :)

    One thing which has remained unclear for me – after reading this article and visiting their site – is what’s the exact value that they bring to an author?

    When I compare their business model to the one of Smashwords or Bookbaby, for example, their value seems to be in formatting and added promotion opportunities? Am I correct? There seems to be only a couple passing references to the business model.

    Just trying to understand :)

    • says

      Hi Austin,

      Ali is a wonderful editor, and she’s willing to take the time to take your already polished work (I did seven drafts, and we worked together to make the book the best it could be) and she obviously cares deeply about getting the best work out there. While formatting, promotion, cover design, etc. are part of the equation, working with someone as professional and skilled as Ali has been the great benefit with this experience.

  6. says

    I’m a bit late, but as a young aspiring author, I’ve been wondering: How is the digital publishing revolution affecting the length of books? It seems like they’re getting a bit shorter, more like novellas, but that could be my imagination. Can anyone help me out?

    • says

      Hi Cameron – I think it’s less noticeable what the length of a book is – but small books sell well, and also ereaders are very handy for the HUGE fantasy novels. You don’t have to break your arm carrying all your favourite George RR Martin books around :)
      There are Kindle shorts and novellas selling – so basically it’s anything goes!

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