How to publish a book
Choosing between traditional publishing and self/shared-publishing
Up until fairly recently authors had very little choice when it came to publishing a book. There were two routes – either approach a publisher, or by a route that was seen as being very much a non-starter, which was to self-publish. The latter seemed to be the domain of people who had written their own autobiographies, or other obscure works that no publisher would be interested in. The very mention of self-publishing conjured up images of garages packed to the rafters with unwanted books.
Fortunately for writers the marketplace has changed and self-publishing has become very much a viable option for many authors. As a first time author the choice can be bewildering, but this article will explain the differences and help you to choose.
What is the difference between traditional and self/shared-publishing?
In traditional publishing, the author completes their manuscript, writes a query letter to a publisher or literary agent asking if they may submit the manuscript. After a period of time (I’m still waiting to hear from six publishers I approached in December 2011) the publisher or agent will deign to look at the manuscript. An editor will read it, considers whether it is right for the company or agency and decides either to reject it (leaving the author free to offer it to another publisher) or to publish it, or in the case of an agent they then try to sell the book to publishers.
When a publishing house decides to publish a book, the rights are bought from the writer who is paid an advance on future royalties. The publisher then puts up the money to edit, design and package the book, they prints as many copies of the book as they thinks will sell, they markets the book, and finally distribute it to retail outlets.
With traditional publishing, a manuscript can take years to become a book. An author may have to pitch the manuscript to several publishing houses before it is picked up, if ever. Publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts on a daily basis. Each publisher will go for different types of books, what may be a huge seller for one publisher will not even attract the attention of another. The original Harry Potter book was rejected by many, many publishers, before one finally saw something in the manuscript they liked.
When a publisher does decide to take your book, the actual process of producing it takes at least another year, although anything topical may be pushed through more quickly. Because the publishing house is buying the rights to your book they will edit it as they see fit and will also design the cover they feel will suit their budget and house style. All control of the book (unless you are a huge name) is taken out of the author’s hands.
The media love to perpetuate stories of authors being given huge, mouth-watering sums of money as advances for their books. The reality is slightly different – most authors earn way below a minimum wage for their labours. Advances are generally fairly small and are offset against future sales, of which the author earns 10% of the cover price. So if you are given say £1000 as an advance, you don’t get anything further until your 10% of the sales is more than the £1000 advance. Technically, if your book does not earn more than your advance, it would be within the publisher’s rights to ask for a portion of the advance back. Most authors, unless they have supportive spouses or lottery wins, will also work full time at a ‘proper’ job.
Print on demand options as well as online book sellers have dramatically changed the publishing world. There are numerous websites, both general and specialist to whom you can upload your book, customers can buy from the site and the entire book selling price goes into your pocket. Why give a publishing house your book and let them make all of the money out of it when you’ve put all of the hard work in? With self or shared publishing, the author has much greater control over the contents, design, and appearance of your book, the control is in your hands.
Sounds very simple, but all of the jobs the traditional publisher would do, such as editing, cover design and marketing are now done by the author, or contracted out to professionals. There are companies available (may I recommend Lavender and White Publishing!) who will help you through the publishing minefield. The book market is very competitive, which is why your book must be as good as it can possibly be. It is vitally important your book is properly edited to iron out any glaring errors of plot or comprehension in the text. You might sell your first book complete with editing and formatting errors, but customers are not likely to forget the book whose protagonist had blue eyes on page one and green eyes on page three and you will have put off your future reader base.
While there are independent publishing companies who will hold your hand through the publishing journey, think of your book as a product – you first have to perfect your product - outlay the cost of editing, formatting and cover design. However, if you are 100% behind your book and know your story or the facts you want to share, are worth reading, why not have the courage of your convictions and lay out what is a fairly minimal amount in order to publish your book. This is even more tempting when you remember that you own the rights to your book – and you are going to reap the rewards as once you have deducted your initial outlay – all the money from sales is all going to you.
With self-publishing, once you have finished the manuscript you can literally have a finished book, be it hardcover, paperback or e-book available for sale within days depending on the complexity of the project. Once the book is finished your sales are all down to promotion. A traditional publishing house will have its own publicity department, but with self, or shared publishing you are in the driving seat.
The choice is yours
Having looked at traditional publishing versus self or shared publishing, you are able to answer some tough questions about what is best for you and your manuscript. Are you willing to gamble and hope you will earn a large advance from a traditional publisher? Or is control of your manuscript and finances more important? There is no reason why you shouldn’t be one of the lucky authors who get a multimillion advance – but equally, there is no reason why you can’t become one of the authors who sell a million copies of their books and earning the whole of the cover price. Either way a manuscript free of plot flaws, grammatical and spelling errors is more likely to catch the eye of a publishing house or keep customers coming back for more.