3 Paths to Publish

Even before you type “the end” writers tend to think – or at least daydream – about what they want to do next. The “now what?” answer has changed a lot the last decade. There is no longer any best, singular path to publish and get your books into readers’ hands.

Here are the top options:

  1. Submit queries to agents as a stepping stone to getting your book into the market via a traditional publisher.
  2. Self-publish your book by taking on the responsibility of having it edited, covered, formatted, distributed, and marketed.
  3. Choose a self-publishing-assist company who will likely have in-house packages for editing, covers, formatting, and options for distribution.

The fourth path – pay to have a company edit, cover, market, and publish your book – isn’t really an option. Paying a company to help you with things you can’t do yourself is an investment. A quote-unquote publisher who requires hundreds or thousands of dollars of your money, up front, is not a publisher you want to do business with. These vanity press companies make their money off of writers, not from selling books. They will never be a choice you want to make if you have dreams of being more than a hobby writer.

There is a lot to be said about the first three options, and you should weigh the pros and cons – as well as the type of career you want to have as an author – with a level of reasonable objectivity.

Option 1: Traditional publishing

Pros: This has been the tried and true method of publishing books for the last century. Although the companies themselves are unwieldy and take time to adapt to new trends, they are behemoths because of their overall success. If you can break into the establishment world, you can be certain that they believe your book is marketable to a large audience. First, you will go through an agent, and then the agent will sell your book to an editor employed by a publishing house. Your book will definitely end up in bookstores and for sale on major ebook retail sites with this method.

Cons: Big publishing’s success is not your success. They are a volume business, and if their investment in you doesn’t pay off, they can leave you hung out to dry. Contracts for new authors always are skewed in the publisher’s favor and negotiating changes can be difficult, if not impossible. You will have zero say over the retail price of your book and limited input on the cover and marketing decisions. Big publishers tend to pay very limited percentages of their sales to authors in the form of royalties. Money will be held by the publishers to offset potential returns (a.k.a. books to be pulped) that does not have to be reflective of the actual number of returns. Although they will have some kind of marketing budget, there is no promise of how large, or of how much they will expect you to do on your own. Changes to their final product, once it is available for sale, are essentially impossible.

Option 2: Self-publishing

Pros: All the money you ever earn from your book is yours. Freelance editors can help you polish it, cover artists often have premade covers you can customize or you can hire one to design something totally original, and marketing can be as simple as having a twitter account and Facebook page. All of this can be learned from blogs, self-publishing books, or other self-published authors. You can even change your covers, your titles, your price, re-edit, or start a new marketing push whenever you want.

Cons: Nothing is simple. Your book is not guaranteed an audience, and establishing a sales foothold can be difficult, if not impossible. There are still many self-published authors who sell less than 50 books a year. You might not be the best person to make decisions about covers, marketing copy, and formatting choices. Uploading a print-ready pdf can be a nightmare. True, you get to keep all the money, but everything of zero is still zero. Plus, every service you use will want something from you. Pay an editor. Pay the cover artist. Give up 30-70% to an ebook distributor. Have limited options to see your book in print and know it will likely never grace the shelves of a bookstore.

Option 3: Use a self-publishing-assist company

Pros: They will likely offer packages for purchase that will include things like editors, cover artists, formatters, and other incidentals. There are a few options, like BookBaby, GatekeepterPress or IngramSpark, that offer a plethora of services to help you get your book out to market. This is different from using a print on demand (POD) publisher to create print books. The quality of the final product is not guaranteed, but will likely be above average compared to a first attempt at doing everything yourself.

Cons: They are often more expensive – or at least as expensive – as full self-publishing. There will be more restricted options since you’ll be working with a curated list of editors and artists (true, sometimes having fewer choices makes decisions easier, but they are just as likely to be more difficult). All the real marketing work is still up to you, even if you use one of their packages. There might be delays between uploading new files and seeing those changes reflected in the version of the book being distributed. Submitting changes may incur fees.

Some Tools for Your Toolbox
Navigating the world of publishing and marketing can get easier with the right information. Two quick recommendations: Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook and  Successful Self-Publishing Yes, they both say Self-Publishing, but there is more than enough information in them to help you make an informed decision about what path is best for you. These are affiliate links.

So there we have it. The top three methods for getting a completed manuscript to market. Each path is an entirely valid choice and you should never let anyone tell you there is a “right” way or “wrong” way to publish.

Have you ever had trouble knowing when a book was “ready”? Did you consider how to find an audience to give you feedback before deciding if it could be offered for sale? Have you ever queried an agent? If you’ve ever worked with a cover artist, what would you recommend to someone considering it for the first time? Are any of these paths more attractive to you, and if so, why? The comments are always open.

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