When it comes to publishing a book, there are so many options. It’s exciting…and also terrifying. There are so many publishing paths, but you can’t help but worry that one wrong choice is going to seal your book’s fate.
Let me reassure you: I believe there is a “just right” publishing path for every author.
It’s important to know what each path involves. But if you’re passionate about getting your book out there, you WILL find the right choice to serve your book and your ideal readers, armed with the proper knowledge to make your choice!
What are the different paths to publishing a book?
Let’s start with a basic overview of the current routes to publishing. (If you want to dig deeper, check out this episode of my podcast that digs into the differences and benefits of all three options. Listen right here, or wherever you get your podcasts!)
There are three primary models of publishing out there, and, in your own heart, you’ve probably already imagined how your book would look in at least one of them.
Here you’re working with a big (or small!) publisher that essentially buys your manuscript. You no longer retain the publishing rights to your manuscript, so if the publisher decides they aren’t printing a second edition, you’re left with no recourse except to try and buy your intellectual property back. The cost of producing the book (layout, printing costs, editing) and the big decisions about the book’s cover and illustrations are assumed by the publisher. Marketing is also something the publisher handles in some respects, though most modern authors need to show a lot of hustle themselves to make the book a success, too.
The publisher usually pays an advance, which is sort of like a loan on future sales. You do not have to pay it back if you fail to “earn out” that advance. When your book has been released, your percentage of the sale, known as royalties (typically between 8-15%), pays back the advance, after which you begin to directly receive additional royalties. This is the model many authors imagine they’ll take when they start out – who hasn’t dreamed of saying the phrase “the advance on my book”?
In this model, the author takes on the financial burden of all the book production and marketing. This can run a fair amount in terms of up-front cost. Good editors – and you do want a good editor, believe me – are expensive. There are so many costs that you might not anticipate initially, like ISBNs and formatting. But authors who self-publish retain all their intellectual property rights AND they make 100% of the money once the book begins selling.
It can be an extremely lucrative way to publish, especially for writers who want to publish multiple books. Self-publishing also is a great match for genre writers. A writer with the energy and time to hustle AND well produced books can quit their day jobs if they have a healthy back catalogue, smart self-publishing cost containment and marketing savvy.
This middle-ground option is sometimes called “hybrid,” “author-assisted” or any number of other terms, and they all mean something slightly different in the mind of the companies that partner with writers to make them successful. But what they have in common is the occupation of that liminal space where authors can recapture their intellectual property rights and get more of the financial rewards, but they don’t have to be in the wilderness on their own. They also pay for some – but not all – of the services the publisher offers, and have more control over some of the creative elements of book production. In this varied and broad category of publishing, the thread that connects is that the author and the publisher share the risk.
Even today, with self-publishing being more popular than ever, there are still a lot of obstacles to authors who go that route. Choosing a partner to publish can help avoid these roadblocks. Getting pre-publication reviews at the best places, getting your book into libraries and schools and more are all things that a publisher can access and a true self-published indie author can’t.
While partnership models offer you more creative control, every author who chooses this route should remember that the publisher has a lot of experience on what sells. If they’re doing their job, they’re conducting market research on every aspect of the book. So if your cover just has to be purple, but they’re encouraging you to look at aqua? Look at aqua! Try and bring an attitude of collaboration so that you can achieve your best success.
If you’d like to learn more about partnership publishing and its benefits, I sat down with Angela Engel of the Collective Book Studio on my podcast (click here) to get her take.
You can also check out my interview with Brooke Warner of She Writes Press on Why Go Hybrid?
How do I know which path is right for publishing my book?
Once you understand the benefits and pitfalls of each route, you can make a list of what your true book goals are. Spend time brainstorming the values and goals around launching your book, and be realistic. Do you want to have total creative control over your final book? How much control are you willing to give up? How much money can you spend today? How much time can you devote to growing your author platform?
You’ll make the right choice for your book when you know what your publishing options are, and when you have a clear headed assessment of what you want to achieve in the publishing process!