Where the industry stands today and what you need to know to pick the path to publication that’s right for you!
If you want to establish yourself as an authority and have the opportunity to share your message with a wider audience, then publishing a book could be for you. The path to publication can often seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! As someone who has ghostwritten and published thousands of pieces in a variety of formats and via the different paths to publication, I’m going to walk you through the main differences between the 5 key types of publishing so that you can choose the path to publication that best serves your needs.
It used to be that if you wanted to see your book in the hands of readers, it was necessary to submit it through an agent to one of the big publishing houses (such as HarperCollins, MacMillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, or one of their imprints). If you're lucky enough to be one of the chosen few, you might secure a contract under which the publisher holds an exclusive right to decide whether to publish your manuscript. That’s right, just because they purchase the rights to your manuscript doesn’t guarantee it will go to print! If you are even luckier, the publisher will actually publish your book. But, the book they publish might not be exactly what you imagined when you sold your manuscript. The publisher controls the title, cover, and content of your book (ironic, isn’t it?). As for your cut, you’ll typically receive a small percentage of revenue from sales as royalties. If the publisher’s initial marketing campaign doesn’t send your book viral, then you, as the author, are often responsible for further marketing (if you can afford to do any).
When it’s all said and done, you might barely recognize the book attributed to you, and, after your agent’s cut, you would have little to show in the way of earnings. Although in some cases you might receive an advance on royalties, the amount advanced would have to be paid back through the royalties as they were earned, which might never exceed the amount of the advance. Publishing in this way is probably not nearly as glamorous or lucrative as you thought. So why would you want to go the traditional publishing route? Simple: prestige! Traditional publishing is the most selective, most prestigious way to publish your book, so it has the greatest effect on your credibility and position as an authority.
Over the past few years, however, traditional publishing houses have consolidated and become increasingly selective, which means that the traditional publishing route is now foreclosed on to many. The good news is that we live in a time where the internet provides constant evolving options for communication, and there are many new ways to tell your story! Consequently, the majority of new authors are now opting for “self-publishing,” “independent publishing,” or “hybrid publishing.”
In the past, traditional publishing houses were the only way to get your book to print. Today, as an author, you can now publish your book yourself. But how, you ask? Once you’ve written, edited, and formatted your book, you can use one of the self-publishing companies to upload your manuscript, create your book’s cover, and secure your book’s ISBN (the unique identifier for your book). You can do this through Amazon’s publishing wing and then sell it through Amazon as a paperback or Kindle e-book, in which case Amazon would pay you royalties off the sales of your book. You can also publish through another print on demand (POD) company like Ingram Spark, Book Baby, or Lulu. While it is possible to get POD books into bookstores through expanded distribution networks, the percentage of royalties you earn in expanded distribution is much lower.
A few things to note about self-publishing; however: while self-publishing is great because it is a publication avenue available to everyone, open-availability also reduces its effect on boosting your credibility. If you want to become a published author to boost your credibility and position yourself as an authority, self-publishing will not help you do that. Self-publication is best for those who simply want to publish because they have a story to tell, and they want that story out into the world.
It is also important to remember that even if you choose self-publication as your publishing path, you will still want to have your book edited by someone else. It’s important to carefully vet your chosen editor and ensure that they have the knowledge, skills, and experience to get your book in tip-top shape. Additionally, while you can absolutely design the cover yourself, design the interior of the book yourself, and format the book yourself, if you’re not design-savvy, you may find this process challenging and extremely time-consuming. If that’s the case, you may end up needing to hire a person to format and a cover designer. Once you’re finding yourself needing to do that, it may be time to consider the next path to publication: Independent Publishing.
An independent publishing house takes your manuscript and handles the editing, formatting, cover design, and interior book design for you. An independent publisher has relationships with vetted and trusted editors, cover designers, content formatters, illustrators, printers, and marketing channels, which takes all the guesswork out of the process for you. Independent publishing is a great path to publication for you when you want a quality book without the challenges and headaches of trying to do it yourself.
Another benefit of working with an independent publisher is that independent publishers have the freedom to structure their publishing contracts in innovative ways, which allows for the possibility of a much more collaborative relationship with you as the author. They can also structure royalty arrangements in any way they and authors doing business with them see fit. This means that you can end up with a much larger percentage of sale proceeds.
Although an independent publisher can produce the same book formats (print, e-book, and audiobook) and access the same distribution networks through the same POD services available to authors who choose to self-publish, the main benefits of selecting independent publication over self-publication are three-fold.
First, independent publishing is essentially a “done-for-you” service; it ensures that your dream of becoming a published author will occur quickly, easily, and with quality. Independent publishers save you the time, effort, and frustration of trying to navigate the sea of self-professed “editors,” “formatters,” “illustrators,” “cover designers,” etc., many of whom have little-to-no experience. You also don’t need an agent.
Second, a reputable independent publishing house will provide you with a detailed production cost breakdown upfront, which allows you to know what your production costs will be ahead of time to make an informed decision before you proceed down the path of publication. Production costs from editors, formatters, illustrators, cover designers, and marketers can spiral out of control quickly when you attempt to do it yourself in a piece-by-piece fashion. Working with an independent publisher prevents that!
Third, as mentioned above, self-publishing does not upbrand you, so it does nothing to boost your credibility and authority. Having your book published by an independent publisher, while not as prestigious as traditional publishing, allows you to have your book published by an outside source, which accomplishes the goal of boosting your credibility and positioning yourself as an authority.
As the name suggests, a hybrid publisher combines elements of traditional publishing, independent publishing, and self-publishing. The most important distinction between hybrid publishing and independent publishing or self-publishing is that a hybrid publisher does not accept every manuscript presented to them for publication. As is the case with traditional publishing houses, manuscripts must be submitted, reviewed, and accepted. While not quite as difficult to get your manuscript accepted by a hybrid publisher, hybrid publishers are, nevertheless, discerning. They have strict editorial standards about what they will publish.
Hybrid publishers work in a few primary ways. Hybrid presses that follow a partnership model buy manuscripts they believe in and shepherd them through every step of the publishing process, from editing to formatting to marketing, just like a traditional or independent publisher would do. As with independent publishing, you as the author will have to front your book’s production costs, and you won't receive an advance on book sales; instead, you’ll earn a greater share of the royalties when books are sold.
Hybrid presses that follow the crowdfunding model require you as the author to raise funds necessary to produce your book. This signals to the hybrid publisher that the book concept is solid, and once you reach a certain threshold in your funding, the hybrid publisher will jump in to craft a high-quality product. Since this model allows the publisher to gauge interest in the book before investing their time and efforts into it, if you, as the author, don’t manage to raise the minimum required amount, the book is subject to cancellation.
Some hybrid publishers also use an agent-assisted model. In this model, literary agents who get their hands on promising manuscripts that they know will be tough sells to the major commercial presses — they might be beautifully written, but just a touch too quirky for mainstream success — might approach a hybrid publisher to create an agent-assisted hybrid publishing deal. Under this approach, the publisher and the agent can work together to leverage their collective knowledge of the industry’s best publishing and marketing practices. Because a literary agent is involved, you will receive fewer royalties under this model than the other hybrid publisher models.
One thing to note is that, regardless of the hybrid publishing model utilized, hybrid publishing houses maintain high standards — not only with producing and marketing books, but editorially as well. If a publisher is willing to publish any author that is willing to pay them, then they’re not a hybrid publisher any more — they’re a vanity press.
So what exactly is a vanity press? Simply put, a vanity press is a “pay to play” publishing option that does not require advanced review and acceptance of your manuscript. In other words, a vanity publisher will publish any book, regardless of quality, provided that the author can pay the vanity press fees (which are typically quite high). They present themselves as publishers, and they will produce your book, but they are not actually publishing houses in the true sense.
They do not review and accept your manuscript. They do not oversee its editing, formatting, cover design, and production with experienced, quality, and vetted professionals. They do not market your book or share royalties with you as the author. Rather, a vanity publisher provides a paid book production service.
Because manuscripts are not accepted for “publication” on account of their merit but based on your ability to pay for all aspects of production and marketing, books published by vanity houses do not enhance your credibility or position you as an authority. In fact, although your book may be published, it will likely be produced with a subpar quality and can therefore harm your credibility. Beware of vanity publishers!
The first thing to ask yourself is: What is your goal? What do you want to achieve by being a published author? Do you simply want to tell your story? Has it always been a dream of yours to write a book? Do you want to leave a legacy and share your message with the world? Or do you want to use your book to gain credibility and position yourself as an authority? The answers to these questions will help you determine which path to publication is right for you. If you have questions or need help writing or publishing your book, reach out! Connect with me on social media or at AmplifyYourStoryNow.com. I’m always here to help you make your dream of becoming a published author a reality!