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 along with three questions 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.
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.
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.
In order to decide which is for you, it’s really a case of looking at your personal circumstances and asking yourself these three questions:
What is my purpose and objective?
If you’re writing non-fiction example, such as business book, which you want to use as a marketing tool at events , then you might consider self publishing or hybrid publishing. The book itself is an investment in growing your business as it raises your profile, there you might be happy to make a financial investment into the process. If you’re doing as a creative pursuit, it might be a slightly different scenario for you and traditional publishing and agent representation might be your dream. If so, check out the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook for a listing of agents and publishers. (There is also a separate one if you've written a children's book called Children's Writers' & Artists' Yearbook.)
What is my timeline and how important is it to me?
If you want a book out in the next few months, or you have a particular deadline, you won’t be able to be at the mercy of waiting for agents and traditional publishers to get back to you so this would narrow your options down.
What is my budget?
If you chose non-traditional publishing, do you have the financial investment required for self publishing? While self-publishing is the least expensive option, I recommend still investing in a professional editor and cover designer. You might also want to consider a budget for marketing such as online advertising as well.
Whichever you choose, remember your decision is not set in stone. I know authors who self-published and then went on to secure an agent and a traditional publishing deal. Every option will need some research though but I do hope this article has given you a good starting point.
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