Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don't Discount the Small Publisher by Ruth Hartman

Everyone has to start somewhere. And most writers would like to start big. Skip all the seemingly unnecessary steps of getting published. I was like that, too. I sent manuscripts and queries to all the big, well-known publishing houses and magazines who published children’s stories. I waited. I waited some more. I never heard back from most of them. The others replied, but only in the negative.

I’d been scouring the Book Markets for Children’s Writers from the front cover to the back index. I highlighted. I turned down pages. There were notes in my scraggly script all over that book. One such publisher had the turned-down page, the highlighted details, and my scraggle-marks. But I didn’t send anything to them. I kept holding out hope for the biggies. The waiting and rejection wore me down. That publisher, Pipers’ Ash, just didn’t seem like it had anything to offer me. Or rather, I didn’t think they’d like anything I had to offer them. But, I reasoned, if they say no, what am I out?

I e-mailed them a 25 word query. Not an easy task, but that’s what their guidelines ask for. My query was for a short story I’d written about a girl with OCD. I happen to know a lot about that subject since I suffer from the illness myself. I heard back quickly. With a rejection. I read over their e-mail as I dejectedly slumped in my chair. I went on to submit to others publishers, but without much hope.

A few days later, I came across the Pipers’ Ash guidelines that I had previously printed out. As I held the papers in my hand, I was ready to toss them into the trash. A phrase caught my eye: “Topics such as adoption, abuse, etc are better suited to our True Life Series section.” It was then that I realized what I held in my hand. I went back and re-read the rejection e-mail they had sent me. “OCD” was substituted for “Adoption, etc.” I began to re-think my mission. Why couldn’t I write my story of OCD? I’d never thought about it until that moment. I re-emailed with that query and was given the go-ahead for a synopsis. First I had to figure out what a synopsis was. Off to the bookstore I went to find books on the subject. Armed with pad of paper and research books, I tackled my very first synopsis.

After I e-mailed it to Pipers’ Ash, next came the request for the complete manuscript. Their True-Life books are much shorter than traditional books, so I was only looking at 25,000 words or so. Only? I’d never written that many words at one time. Ever. I was, truthfully, more than a little panicked. Truth be told, I didn’t expect them to request my manuscript, so it hadn’t been written yet. I learned my lesson the hard way: write the story before you submit it. Or at least have most of it written. I started from page one. The only thing that made the writing of my story go quickly was that I didn’t have to do any research. The subject was me. My life. What I had endured while I battled with my OCD nemesis.

From my initial query for a children’s story, to publication of my book, “My Life in Mental Chains,” only took from July to November of 2008. Yep, you read that correctly. I know that seems like an impossibly short time frame, but keep this in mind: Pipers’ Ash is a small, non-profit publisher in England. They only work with a few authors at any given time. This affords them, and the fortunate author who works with them, the advantage of doing things more quickly. Yes, I realize it’s not one of the biggies. But you know what? If I hadn’t taken a chance on a small publisher that a lot of people have never heard of, I might not be able to say today, “I am a published author.” And in my mind, that would be a personal loss for me.

So, if the big publishers aren’t opening their large front gate for you, take a chance on a small publisher’s porthole. I did. And it was the right decision for me.


Ruth Hartman is a writer of fiction, humor, and stories for children. She is also a licensed dental hygienist. She lives in rural Indiana. Ruth has a degree in Science/Dental Hygiene from the Indiana University School of Dentistry. She also earned a diploma from the Institute of Children's Literature for "Writing for Children and Teenagers."


  1. Ruth, I completely agree with you re: small publishers. Rock Publishing Inc. took a chance on my first mystery when none of the bigger publishers would do so, even with an agent submitting it, and treated me SO very well! Sure, I'd love a big advance and better distribution, but time enough for that in the future.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Dana. I'm glad to hear you had a positive experience just like I did!


  3. Aren't small publishers the best?

  4. Ruth,

    I'm also with a small publisher and know there are many advantage. I'm very happy with GASLight Publishing.

  5. Lillie,

    Thanks for your comment! I agree with you. The small publishers can offer many advantages that large ones can't. It's more personal interaction, I think.


  6. Hello Ruth:
    Thanks for your article. I just wanted to mention a personal experience, something that happened to me last month. I’m actually very new to this business. I saw this publisher that said on their website that they were a small traditional publisher. Since their interest matched my story, I sent it in. Very fast a contract came, which was actually for me to cover all the costs. This was very much different than what they said on their website! I checked them on Writer Beware and found out that they were “strongly not recommended”. So, although I’d like to have a small publisher, next time I’ll research them first.

  7. Anahita,

    That sound awful! Unfortunately, there are those publishers who aren't on the level, no matter how much we'd like to believe otherwise. Hang in there. The right publisher for you is out there. :)