Almost twenty years ago, I worked in a publishing house in London looking after the international rights of authors, never dreaming that one day, I too would see my work in print. Back then, the publishing world was fairly straightforward with just one route to publication. In today’s digital world, there are now a number of ways to fulfill your dream of becoming a published author and I often get asked the question about the best way forward. With that in mind, here are the three models of publishing to help you decide which route is best for you.
Self-publishing on platforms such as Amazon has created a huge amount of opportunity for new authors. The benefit of this route is that you retain control of the whole process but there is often a cost element for editing, cover design, and marketing. This type of publishing often gets a bad reputation due to the higher risk for error in editing and design so if you do decide to take this route, it’s worth paying professionals for these services to make sure you don’t lose readers. This option could work for you if you already have a large online following such as on social media or an engaged email database. It’s also one of the quickest routes to market and also one of the cheapest.
Top tip: Online writing tools such as Scrivener have the capability of formatting your manuscript into the file type required for your online publishing platform.
This is where a major publishing house such as Harper Collins or Penguin receive submissions through a literary agent. If an agent agrees to represent you, they will work on your behalf to sell your work to a publisher and will usually take a percentage of your royalties. As an author you may also receive an advance payment. The benefit of having an agent and a traditional publisher is that a lot of the work such as marketing, sales, editing, design, advertising and so on is done for you. The publisher will also have good relationships with bookstores and other retailers. The downside to this route is that it’s incredibly competitive with the odds of your manuscript being chosen quite low. Also, because the publisher owns your book you may not have as much control as you would like on elements such as editorial direction and book covers. Still, it’s considered the most desirable publishing option for several reasons; it’s a highly selective process, there’s no financial outlay from your side, and it’s usually the only way to get your books into major bookstores. I talk more about finding an agent and traditional publishing in week 8 of my online course, Kick Start Your Book With Karen.
Top tip: The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is a must-buy if you’re looking for an updated directory of agents and publishers.
Over the last few years, a number of publishing companies have set up where authors pay to have their books published. These companies are called vanity publishers or a subsidy publisher. Apart from the obvious disadvantage of having to make a financial investment, authors should make sure they get as much information as possible on what they will receive in return. Unlike traditional publishers, vanity publishers don’t have the same rigorous selection process when it comes to reviewing manuscripts. You may also hear the term hybrid publishing which is relatively new but reflects a business model that integrates vanity publishing and traditional publishing, in that there is still a financial investment from the author but manuscript standards have been put in place. Vanity or hybrid publishing, with careful research, could be a viable option for some people, especially business professionals who are looking to use their published work as a powerful marketing tool. However, I would urge you to research carefully as the financial investment can be significant.
Top tip: Research extensively before committing.
This post originally published in 2020 and has been updated.
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