SPECIAL FEATURE Small Publishers Rock


Camilla Chester looks at the benefits of being published by a small publisher.


Reeling from a hefty knock-back at late acquisition stage from one of the big five, I did what I always do and turned to my SCBWI tribe for comfort. I’m a previously self-published author, used to getting on with things, this was my third book out on submission through my agent, what was going wrong? Why weren’t things happening for me and what could I DO about it? Maybe, I thought, we were going too big. 

I put an appeal out to SCBWI authors and illustrators on the Facebook page asking for positive experiences with small name publishers. It was quite eye-opening and included a long list of names. Some, like Barrington Stoke, Orchard, Wren & Rook, Hot Key, Nosy Crow, Knights Of, Chicken House, Pushkin Children’s, David Fickling Books, Guppy and Firefly, I’d either heard a lot about already or I knew were imprints. But there were many others: Old Barn Books, Zuntold, Otter Barry, Beaten Track, Maverick, Tiny Tree, Cranachan, Fledgling Press, Two Hoots, UCLan publishing, Upside Down Books, Alan-na-Max, Five Quills, Telos, Rock the Boat, Storyhouse Publishing, Book Island, Darf, Neem Tree Press, b small, Scallywag Press, Cicada Books, Fuzzy Pig, Victorina Press, Flying Eye Books, IFWG, Little Door Books, Ransom Publishing, Cillian Press, Larrikin House, Tiny Owl, Troika, Indie Authors World, Little Island, Child’s Play and Handerson Publishing. Wow! 

Wanting to find out more I asked Anne Glennie, the founder of Cranachan – a very small publisher with a big reputation – and one of her authors, SCBWI member, Barbara Henderson, to join me on a Zoom chat. The conversation was a joy and I’ve picked out some highlights to share. 

Anne and Iain Glennie at the Bologna Book Fair

“We’re told, as authors, that the route to publication is always to get an agent, but that isn’t the path for everyone,” Barbara told me. Her debut, Fir for Luck, was picked up in a Scottish Tweet Competition by Anne when she’d only just formed Cranachan. “Anne asked to read the full manuscript, we went out for dinner in Inverness and now we’re on the sixth book!” 

The natural warmth between Barbara and Anne was obvious. 

“I have a very close relationship with all my authors and they’re involved in everything,” Anne said. “It’s one of the benefits of being small, I can be totally honest and we’re genuinely all friends.” 

“It’s definitely Clan Cranachan,” Barbara agreed. “Everyone supports each other when things don’t go right, but we also celebrate our successes.” 

Barbara with some of her books

Only five years old and just a two-person band, Anne, and her husband Iain, run Cranachan from their home on the Isle of Lewis. “I do everything, from editorial to foreign rights, invoicing to cover design and campaigns. There is never enough time, but would I change it and surround myself with a busy office? No, because then I would lose the family feel and the close relationships I have.” 

Both Barbara and Anne obviously benefit from the closeness of their working relationship. In a large publishing house, although authors may have a bigger platform and reach for their books, they can sometimes feel forgotten. With a small publisher everything has a more equal footing and can be less money-orientated.  

“When I set this up I’d been a budding author myself and had authors in mind,” Anne explained. “I thought about the high moments, like signing the deal and holding your book for the first time and wanted to make sure they were celebrated. Authors too often get the roughest deal, and they are the talent!” 

With no agent involvement, Cranachan sounded to me mid-way between self-publishing and being with a bigger publishing house and I asked them both about that. 

“I wouldn’t say it was like self-publishing,” Barbara said. “Some of my ideas and proposals for books, Anne has turned down, but I do feel that Cranachan has invested in me as an author and I’m very grateful. It’s a partnership. For example, I’m writing something Victorian at the moment, but before I started, I talked to Anne and she suggested areas that I needed to include to ensure the book had market appeal.” 

“We work closely with schools and I would only consider a book with classroom appeal,” explained Anne. “Especially now, when books sales from retailers are low, we’re dependent on strong relationships with our markets, and at the moment this is schools. Like Barbara, I’m from a teaching background, and even though first and foremost our books tell great stories, it really helps if they have useful links to the curriculum.” 

“Going into schools is the best thing to me as an author and if I have a book that is useful that I can promote I’m very happy,” Barbara said.  

It all sounded idyllic, but what were the drawbacks? Did Anne feel lost in the sea of publisher competition?  

“I’d say the biggest challenge, apart from not having enough time, was reach. It is incredibly hard to distribute books even around the UK. We’ve got an International Rights Agent we work with, but the pandemic has stopped the progress we’d planned through Bologna. Cash flow is difficult as publishing margins are ridiculous. But being close makes us all want to work together to see the business succeed. One of our books, Tiger Skin Rug (by SCBWI member Joan Haig), has been nominated for the Carnegie Medal, and now Fir for Luck is to be translated into Gaelic which we’re all thrilled about.” 

Now that we all want to submit to a small publisher how do we go about it? Well, you have a starting list provided by your fellow SCBWI authors and illustrators (above), and Anne has some fantastic suggestions too. 

“Research the publisher thoroughly, get to know their list and when you’re sure they’re the right one, be careful to follow the submission guidelines carefully.” 

More specifically, what about Cranachan? Is it just for Scottish writers? 

“No, but we’re closed for submissions at the moment. If in the future you do submit, make sure it’s to me, Anne of Cranachan, don’t just say here’s a book I’ve written, please publish it, tell me why it is the right book for me.” 

After my lovely chat I’m feeling all warm, cosy and ready to join a small publishing family. I know you’re with me! 

 *Header image: Camilla with some of her books

Camilla Chester is a chocolate eating, dog walking, horse riding, children’s author (and SCBWI volunteer). Two of her three self-published books have been shortlisted in national competitions, she’s a 2019 Mslexia finalist and is repped by Laura West at DHA. Best to catch her via her website as The Social Dilemma scared her away from social media. www.camillachester.com

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