If you have spent some time researching publishing options, you may already be at the information saturation point. Trying to sort through, understand and finally choose an option can feel like a monumental task. The good news is that once you get a feel for the lingo and the mechanics of the publishing process, it all starts to become perfectly clear.
Start by sorting the options into 2 piles (literally):
Spending hours researching, only to end up more confused can be avoided like this: Each time you find a publishing option, simply write it down and place it in one of two folders:
- Folder A: Traditional Publishing
- Folder B: Self-Publishing
In my opinion, all publishing options can be placed in one of these two categories. The way to decide which category is simple: Follow the money.
- If the money flows from the Publisher to the Author, it’s Traditional Publishing.
- If the money flows from the Author to the Publisher, It’s Self-Publishing.
So much has already been written about the pros and cons of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing that I won’t bother re-inventing the wheel. What I will do instead is give some practical tips on what to look for with each option:
A traditional publisher will pay you for the rights to publish and sell your book. A royalty advance is the Holy Grail. The traditional publishing route is open to every author, but it seems harder and harder for new authors to be picked up by the fewer traditional publishers that remain. If you want to give this option a try, I offer the following practical tips:
- Start searching for a traditional publisher well before your manuscript is finished.
- Read, understand and follow the submission guidelines for each publisher you consider. You may find that your finished manuscript is not the first thing they want to see. Correspond in the format they suggest to improve your odds. The submission guidelines should be on their website.
- The process will take a long time (6-12 months or longer), so start early.
- Set a cut-off date. If you have tried the traditional publishing route and are not picked up in a reasonable time, consider moving on to self-publishing.
- Submit to multiple publishers at the same time. This allows parallel wait times instead of a send-wait-send-wait scenario.
- Consider using a literary agent instead of dealing with publishers directly.
- If a traditional publisher asks for any money, they are not traditional publishers. Just move them to the self-publishing folder. This may happen simply because the lines between traditional and self-publishing are blurring. Traditional publishers are also opening “divisions” that offer self-publishing services.
This is the most popular and realistic route for new authors. You will need to pay to have your book published. The cost will range from $0.00 and hundreds of hours of your time, all the way to $20,000 and very little of your time. Like many things in life, you can choose to pay in dollars or time.
Here is where the confusion will start to vanish and your publishing choice will slowly become clear. You simply need to compare the services provided (and the associated cost) to your specific needs. Each company will have their own slant on what they do and how much it costs.
- Self-publishing may be called many things. Look for phrases like: Subsidy publishing, partner publishing, royalty share publishing, print on demand publishing, author services, and several other phrases.
- Different companies offer a wide range of publishing services. Some will offer the services in the form of a package deal, and some will allow you to select the services you want. Ask about cost early in your evaluation process. Cost alone might be the one criterion that shortens your list. Also, when considering cost, it helps to think in terms of the break-even point. How many books will you need to sell to break even?
- Determine the cost and royalty structure. It is possible to find a self-publisher that will partner with you for the long haul. They may publish your book for a very low fee in exchange for a cut of future royalties. The opposite of this is a company that gets paid in full upfront and the author receives all future royalties. One thing to consider is how the publisher makes his money. Does he make it from the author up front, or does he make it from royalties down the road?
- Remember you will need services like: editing, proof reading, cover design, interior lay-out, formatting for print and various e-book versions, distribution, marketing materials, author copies of your own book, web presence and a clearly defined contract that spells out the rights to publish and who owns what.
- You will see many strong opinions both for and against self-publishing. Just remember as you read them that your goals are different than the person who wrote the opinion. Always put the opinions through your filter so it has relevance to you.
- Several bestsellers in the past 10 years have been self-published. Also, many self-published books only sell 20 copies. The point is that no one can predict how many books you might sell.
- If you are considering purchasing marketing help from your self-publisher, ask specific questions about what you get for the fee. Ask for sales data from similar books before you spend money on marketing.
- What sales and distribution channels will be offered for your book? Some self-publishers hand over your book and you are responsible for distribution. Others handle distribution for you. Do you want your book across the Amazon network? How about Barnes and Noble? Do you want an e-book version? Some self-publishers also have on-line stores that sell your book.
- Find out how much it costs to buy copies of your own book. For a new author, the easiest way to get your book on a bookstore shelf is to work with an independent bookstore who will take your book on consignment. The book store will take a cut of the selling price, and you will get the balance. You need to buy copies of your own book (including tax and delivery) from your publisher at a price that lets this math work.
- Selling your book in major brick and mortar book stores is a touchy subject. Some self-publishers will make your book “available” to major chains. They may also have a “return” policy that goes hand in hand with that. This simply means that your book could go on the bookstore shelf and then be returned to you in 3 months if it doesn’t sell.
- Who sets the retail price of your book? Some self-publishers allow you to set the price and some don’t. The selling price will have an impact on sales. If you don’t have flexibility in your book’s selling price, you should know that upfront.
- A discussion on self-publishing would not be complete without mentioning DIY (do-it-yourself) self-publishing. This is the least expensive option (in dollars), but the most expensive option in time. If you are very comfortable with all things computer, DIY could be an option for you. It’s not extremely hard to do, but it is hard to do it well. Just remember that every hour spent learning all things DIY will be hours taken from your writing and platform building.
Some final thoughts:
Finding a publisher that suits your goals really comes down to spending the time to logically compare the services and costs of each company you consider. Take notes on each option you investigate and eventually a clear winner will emerge. That winner will be the one that meshes with your goals.
The most important point of all is that your book needs to get into the hands of readers. Publishing your first book will be a learning experience to say the least. Enjoy the ride as well as the destination.