Different Ways to Publish your Book
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Before you begin planning and writing your book, one of the most important decisions to make is HOW you plan on publishing. Today, there are a variety of options for publishing depending on your goals for your book, and the resources available to you.
This is the method that most people understand as “publishing.” In traditional publishing, you write your manuscript on your own, then hire an editor to review it. Once you’ve had it edited, you write a proposal and submit it to literary agents for consideration. In traditional publishing, most large publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts directly from the author. Instead, they require you to work with an agent.
Finding an agent can, oftentimes, be the hardest part of this process. They do not advertise themselves so finding one to which to submit a proposal can be difficult. Once you do find an agent, it is very important that the proposal and manuscript be very specific and appropriate in terms of genre, word count, etc. If an agent receives a manuscript with the wrong word count for the genre, they won’t even read your proposal.
Once you’ve been picked up, the agent is responsible for pitching your book to publishers and then serving as your advocate during the contract negotiation phase. It is not guaranteed you will be picked up, but agents usually know people in the industry and have ways of getting things done.
When you are pitching your book to agents, and then, in turn, to publishers, the most important thing to convey in your proposal is how you plan to market your book to individual readers. Traditional big-box publishers are very good at selling books to bookstores, but they are not good at selling books to individual readers. It is up to you to determine how you, the author, will appeal to readers enough to make them want to go buy your book. This is why publishers are more likely to pick up celebrity authors, or authors who have large social media followings already established at the time of the pitch.
Once you are picked up by a publisher, they will buy the rights to you book by cutting YOU a check (you’ll also have to pay the agent 20% out of that rights check). By purchasing the rights to your book, they own the authority to change its content, control the design, cover, marketing strategy, etc. In almost all cases (unless you are a seasoned author who has already written books for them, or are an A-list celebrity), the publisher retains all of the final creative control over your book.
They will edit your book, do the design & layout and pay to print, distribute, and market your book (alongside your individual marketing efforts). Once the book is purchased by readers, you get a small royalty commission (on average, about 5% of the net revenues), your agent gets 20%, and the publisher gets the rest.
The process of traditional publication can take upwards of 10-15 years or more. It is VERY difficult to be picked up by an agent, and then again by a publisher, so authors will receive lots of rejection letters during the process.
The PROS of Traditional Publishing:
Some writers consider this method the more “esteemed” method. You might hear lots of authors say things like, “You aren’t really published unless you are traditionally published.”
It is cost effective. They pay you up front for the rights to your book and then you get a small royalty commission at the end
It is a lot less work for the author once the manuscript is picked up. Once you put all the effort into pitching, the publisher does the rest
The publisher takes on the risk and cost for printing, distributing and marketing your book
The CONS of Traditional Publishing:
The pitching process is time consuming and frustrating. It often takes years and years of rejections with no guidance before you are picked up
Most agents/publishers want you to have a large social media following before they sign you
You lose the rights to your book. You don’t get a say in creative over your book, and oftentimes editors change content quite a bit
You lose licensing rights to your book
You don’t make a lot on the back end. Unless you are Michelle Obama selling millions of copies of your book, you don’t make very much in royalties. For many first-time authors, the largest check they ever receive is from the rights check in the beginning
Self-publishing is the exact opposite of traditional publishing. With self-publishing you do absolutely everything on your own from writing the manuscript to finding & hiring an editor, finding & hiring someone to do your book’s cover design & interior layout (or, learning how to do it yourself), creating the marketing content & materials, legal work (copyrighting, ISBN assignment, etc.), and the actual publishing itself.
There are many tools and resources available online (both free and paid) for you to learn how to do all of these things. However, it takes a GREAT deal of time and trial and error to learn how to do them effectively and professionally.
Platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, IngramSpark, Whatpadd, Lulu, etc. are all great places to start! They allow any author to publish their book online for free or a small fee.
Google and YouTube can teach you almost everything you need to know about publishing on one of those platforms. Oftentimes, the platforms themselves also offer instructional information and communities for self-published authors to chat. It isn’t easy; but it absolutely can be done.
Once your book is self-published, it is YOUR responsibility to sell it. This means that you either need to hire someone to help you with the marketing or learn how to properly market it yourself. Above all, this is probably the most difficult part of being a self-published author.
IF you can figure out an effective way to market your book and sell lots of copies, there is a potential for a huge passive, residual income from the sale of your book! Since you are self-published, you get to keep all the royalties from the sale of your book (minus the cost to print & distribute).
Self-publishing, although challenging, is a very rewarding endeavor when you get it right!
The PROS of Self-Publishing:
You retain complete creative control over your work
You get to work at your own pace
You retain all the licensing rights to your book
You retain all the royalties from the sale of your book
You get to control the process from start to finish
The CONS of Self-Publishing:
It is VERY difficult and time consuming to learn how to self-publish your book successfully
It can take a very long time to complete from start to finish
It requires your up-front investment
You have to manage the project and find people you trust to do the work (editors, designers, illustrators, etc.) or learn how to do it yourself
If you don’t have a large social media following or large network of readers built prior to you book, marketing can oftentimes be quite challenging, time-consuming and costly
Hybrid Publishing combines aspects of traditional and self-publishing. The ability for publishing companies to work in this model, means that there are a number of hybrid publishing companies springing up all over the place. Since I cannot speak for them all, I am only speaking specifically for East 26th Publishing here.
The idea behind Hybrid Publishing is that it combines the best of both worlds in publishing. Hybrid publishers provide you resources (or do the work themselves) for editing, illustration, design & layout, and marketing. In other words, they will create for you a professional, perfect version of your book just as a traditional publisher would.
Hybrid Publishers are still selective (just as traditional publishers are) about what manuscripts they take on. However, they do not require you to work with an agent and they are much more likely to take a chance on an author if they believe in him/her and know they can work to make their book marketable. Hybrid Publishers are also more likely to take on incomplete manuscripts and work with authors to finish them OR provide them the resources they need to finish.
Some hybrid publishers do not provide resources for marketing your book. I, however, do. Because I understand that marketing is oftentimes one of the most difficult hurdles for authors to jump, I provide custom marketing resources & support to all of my authors.
In terms of actual publishing, books are published online with the option for retail distribution. Just like a traditional publisher, a hybrid publisher will place your book for sale via various outlets where books are commonly sold.
Here is the big difference: In order to provide you with all of the professional resources to complete your book, a hybrid publisher charges up front to complete your book. On the back end, however, a good hybrid publisher will let its authors retain all of the rights, licensing rights, and royalties from the sale of their books (SOME hybrid publishers will retain a small percentage of royalties. However, if they are not supporting marketing efforts, they should NOT be doing this).
In this relationship, Hybrid Publishers often allow their authors a great degree of creative control and freedom when it comes to the final production of their book. Hybrid Publishers serve as consultants to authors during every phase of the completion process, making sure they understand our professional insights and opinions while allowing them to create a book that is true to their vision.
The PROS of Hybrid Publishing:
You get a professionally polished book created by somebody who cares about the quality of your written & visual content
You get to retain all of the rights (or, shared rights) to the creative control of your book
You can make decisions based on a professional’s opinion and market research
You have someone helping make your vision a reality EVERY step of the way
You retain all the licensing rights to you book
You retain the royalties from the sale of your book
You do not have to purchase or stock “inventory” copies of your book
This is the FASTEST way to publish your book
The CONS of Hybrid Publishing:
It requires an up-front investment (which you should make back in royalties)
You share some of the marketing obligation (this is not necessarily a CON if you have someone helping you)
It is not always held in as high esteem as traditional publishing
NOTE: There is a very important note here. Hybrid publishers are sometimes confused with “Vanity Publishers” or “Vanity Press.” However, there are some key, very important distinctions between the two. Vanity presses do not sensor which projects they take on and which they don’t. They do not, generally, spend much time focused on the quality of the final outcome of your book (meaning they do not edit your book or do market research to determine cover choices, layout choices, etc.), they do not assist in any marketing efforts, and they require authors to purchase large quantities (or, inventory) of physical printed copies of their book. This is where vanity presses make their money – in the printing. This is NOT a legitimate form of publication and should be avoided, unless your goal is simply to print a large number of copies of your book in the exact condition in which you provided it.
When making your final decision about publishing, the most important factors should be your overall goals for your book and for your career as a writer, as well as how the individuals with whom you are working are helping you accomplish those goals.
If you desire to be a career author with a book in Oprah's Book Club, you probably want to publish traditionally. If you a blogger or entrepreneur who wants to use your book to brand yourself and create a passive income, Hybrid Publishing is probably best for you. If you want to simply try your hand at writing a book and don't really care if many people buy it, Self-Publishing is probably the route for you.
It always helps to have a back up plan as well! If your original plan for publishing does not flesh out, you always have options for an alternative method.