Three ways to publish your first book

So you’ve finished your book and want to publish it. Now you must decide which publishing route you are going to take: traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing. In today’s uncertain publishing landscape, there is no “right way” to put your book out there. There are challenges and benefits to each, including costs, royalty rates, time considerations, and what matters to you with regards to your rights to your content as an author. How you decide to publish will also depend on the financial investment you are able to put upfront, your view of your role as the author in your book’s publication, and your willingness and ability to spend time and money on marketing and promotion after publication.

Traditional Publishing

If you find a traditional publisher, they will offer you a contract and will print, sell, and distribute your book to other companies. A traditional publisher buys the rights to publish your book and then pays you royalties from the sales and sometimes a signing bonus upfront.

The most cited benefit to using a traditional publisher is their ability to get you into bookstores. This can be challenging to do if you are self-publishing, as many bookstores will not stock self-published titles. Traditional publishers have established relationships with book distributors and bookstores, which increases the likelihood of getting your book into a major retailer like Barnes and Noble.

Most of the time, if you want to publish your book with a traditional publisher, you will want to find an agent to represent your book. You will need to develop a synopsis of your book and have the manuscript completed before you contact an agent. You should also have a few sample chapters picked out. When you contact an agent, you will send him/her a query letter, which is essentially a sales pitch for your book. In your query letter you will give the synopsis of your book, describe your intended audience, and detail your experience and background as an author. There is some variation in what a particular agent will require, but these are the basics materials you will need to get started. NYBookEditors.com provides tips and guidelines for what to put in your query letter.

When you find representation, your agent will pitch the book to publishing companies. Acquisitions editors for those companies will decide whether or not the publishing house wants to take on the project. Sometimes instead of having an agent you will send your query letter and your manuscript or manuscript sample directly to the publishing house, depending on the publishing company you are querying.

If you are accepted by the publishing company or agent, you will choose whether or not to sign a book deal, detailing the payment agreement you will receive for your book. If you have not contracted with a trusted agent and are handling the book deal on your own, you will need to seek the advice of an attorney to help you with questions. (You don't want to jump into a contract unless you are absolutely sure what your rights will be with your work!)

Accessibility

Finding an agent to represent your book in front of a traditional publisher can be extremely difficult; 96% of manuscripts are rejected by literary agents. Rejection letters, which can take months to arrive, can be particularly discouraging and aren’t necessarily a reflection of your talent or skill level.

Costs

Costs associated with traditional publishing are very low; the cost of sending your manuscript to an agent is free if done via email and only costs a few dollars if a physical copy or sample is sent. Publishing companies do not, however, take care of all the costs of marketing your book. Marketing budgets for publishing houses are typically reserved for celebrity authors, where returns on their investment are virtually guaranteed.

Royalties

Traditional publishers offer small, per-book royalties to authors, around 15% of the purchase price. If you have an agent, they also typically make a 15% commission off of your total sales.

While the royalty rates for traditional publishers are low, publishing houses make money off of your book; thus, they want to sell your book. The resources backing large publishing houses are, for most, impossible to come by independently.

TIme

It can be extremely time-consuming to go the traditional publishing route. Waiting to hear back from an agent or acquisitions editor can take months. If you are publishing content that is immediately relevant or will lose relevance with time, such as a book about the 2016 presidential election, you may want to consider another publishing route.

Autonomy

A traditional publishing company will have the final say in your book. They will be in control of your book’s editing, layout, and cover design. While this can be an asset in terms of quality, marketing, and sales, if these are things that you have very stringent specifications for, it may be in your interest to self-publish or work with a hybrid publisher.

Despite lack of control over your work, if you publish your book traditionally, your work is seen as more legitimate than if you self-publish or work with a hybrid publishing company, which is why many people try the traditional publishing route first. The most successful traditional publishers have long-standing reputations for a reason. There are other ways of publishing, though, if you have tried to find an agent and have been unsuccessful, if you do not want to lose any of your creative rights, or if you want to publish immediately.

Self-Publishing

If you decide to self-publish, you are in control of the design, editing, printing, and sale of your book and you are responsible for all costs associated with your book. Self-publishing gives the author more autonomy than any other publishing method, but it is the most difficult method in terms of being successful in selling your book. Self-publishing is also very time consuming. I recommend educating yourself about the process of self-publishing if you are considering this option.

Accessibility

With self-publishing, anyone who wants to publish can. If you have the time, resources, and dedication to self-publish, it is a completely realistic option.

Costs

Self-publishing costs are higher than costs associated with finding a traditional publisher. Self-publishing expenses can add up very quickly and vary depending on what aspects you want to undertake yourself versus hiring someone. The cost of marketing your own book after publication can also be very expensive.

Editing

Editing costs can be fairly high, even if you are sourcing your editor from a freelance platform. The Editorial Freelancers Association provides price guidelines on different types of editing. For example, if you have a 40,000 word manuscript and require basic copyediting, you will be paying anywhere between $480 and $1280 for this service. You can potentially find a freelancer with a good resume and testimonials for cheaper, but don’t count on it when you’re preparing your budget! You will also need to factor in costs for beta readers and a proofreader. Getting feedback from readers and professionals is essential when you are self-publishing. 

Layout

Typesetting and designing the layout your book can range from $0 to about $350, depending on if you do it yourself or have professional do this for you. The costs can be even more if you want a highly complex design with many images.

Cover Design

If you are self-publishing, you will either need to design your own book cover or hire someone to create one for you. If you are confident that you can design your own book cover, this will not be a substantial cost. Adobe Creative Cloud offers month-to-month subscriptions for single apps, so you can download and use a program like Photoshop to design your cover for $29.99 per month. Stock images are also relatively inexpensive (typically about $10).

If you are looking for a more complex cover design, created by a professional, costs can range anywhere from $100 (basic graphic design/image manipulation) to more than a thousand dollars (hand-drawn or painted book cover by a professional artist or highly experienced graphic designer). Just remember: people do judge a book by its cover.

Printing

Most people who are self-publishing use the print-on-demand model of self-publishing. If you decide to go with print-on-demand, there aren’t any costs associated with printing your book, aside from a small setup fee (around $50), depending on which company you decide to print with.

CreateSpace and other self-publishing platforms do a great job producing mass-market paperbacks at a low price, but certain variables can make the cost of production impractical. For example, if you have a large-sized book with color, glossy photos, the print-on-demand model may make producing a book like this impractical. In order for books like this to be successful, large print runs, which drive the individual cost per book down, are necessary. In this case, traditional publishing is the way to go. Authors also have the option of approaching a printer to do one of these print runs, but the initial investment can be thousands of dollars upfront and storing and shipping copies of your book also becomes a concern.

Royalties

All profits that you make from selling your book, you keep. Distributor discounts (to platforms like Amazon and iTunes) still apply, but your royalty rate is still much higher than if you were to go with a traditional publisher. The royalties that you will receive from your self-published book is the amount deducted from the list price (you set this) after the print cost (depends on the binding, trim size, ink used, and page count) and discounts to distributors (Amazon.com, bookstores and expanded distribution channels, etc.) have been accounted for. Author Friendly breaks down the royalty rates of print-on-demand companies IngramSpark and CreateSpace.

Your royalty rate compared to your list price for e-books can be even higher, since you do not have to deduct the cost of printing. Publishers Weekly compares thirteen e-book platforms based on the services that they provide and the royalties that you will receive from each of these companies.

Time

While you can probably have your book self-published faster than a traditional publishing house might be able to bring your book to market (accounting for the time that it takes to hear back from an editor or agent and depending on if you make your publishing project your number one priority!), self-publishing is still very time-consuming. The good thing is, you can work on your own deadline and set deadlines for your contractors. Just make sure to hire people who have a reputation for meeting deadlines. Some freelancers, due to the nature of remote work, juggle many projects at a time and could push yours to the back burner if your expectations for deadlines aren’t clearly defined.

Autonomy

If you are self-publishing your book, you are the publisher, meaning that every decision about your book is in your hands. For some, this is ideal, but for others, who may want the insight and direction of other professionals, this can be a setback. It can be helpful to have experts validate or refute your choices when it comes to publishing your book.

Hybrid Publishing

Hybrid publishing blends aspects of self-publishing and traditional publishing. When self-publishing started to gain popularity and acceptability, hybrid publishers began to emerge to fill the gap in the market. Essentially, authors did not want to wait for a traditional publisher to take on their project, but they also did not have the publishing knowledge to do all aspects themselves.

Typically, authors will pay for some or all aspects of the publishing process (editing, cover design, formatting, and printing if applicable) when they decide to use a hybrid publisher. Authors will also receive a royalty payment from the hybrid publisher, typically much more than they would receive from a traditional publisher. What makes this different from self-publishing is that hybrid publishers often have established resources for the author to utilize, such as an editing team, designers, artists, and a marketing team and hybrid publishers will also take care of the printing and distribution of your book.

There are a lot of hybrid publishing companies to choose from. Publishizer has a list of publishing companies that can be sorted by category, but there are definitely more hybrid publishing companies than those listed here. I recommend doing a browser search of “your genre” + “hybrid publishing” to source the most relevant results to choose from.

Accessibility

Hybrid publishers are much more accessible than traditional publishers. Most of the time, you can contact the publisher directly, rather than spend your time looking for an agent. The likelihood that a publisher will accept your manuscript depends on the company. Some hybrid publishing companies will accept nearly all manuscripts that they receive, and some will only accept manuscripts that they think that they can sell or those that fit their catalogue; for example, a hybrid publishing company that focuses on science fiction books may not publish your memoir, since their marketing connections will be based on sci-fi readership. More successful hybrid publishing companies will have higher expectations for manuscripts in terms of content and readiness of the manuscript for publication.

Resources

Hybrid publishing companies can have as many resources (marketing, talented editors, designers, etc.) as traditional publishing companies, but some hybrid publishing companies’ resources are limited. Publisher’s Weekly also provides insight into how to evaluate a hybrid publishing company.

Costs

In terms of an initial investment, hybrid publishing can be the most expensive of all publishing models, or it can be very inexpensive. Some hybrid publishing companies require an author contribution to fund the book; others pay for the development of the book and take a higher royalty rate once the book is published.

Royalties

Hybrid publishing companies pay out more royalties than a traditional publishing company. Generally royalties are split about 50/50 between the hybrid publisher and the author, after distribution deductions, but this is dependent on the contract, the company, and whether or not the author is funding the publishing process.

Time

Typically, your book will be published much more quickly with a hybrid publisher than with a traditional publisher, especially if the contract that you sign with the publisher is based on an author contribution, as these companies want to get paid! Your book will also likely be marketed for a longer period of time by these companies than it would be by a traditional publishing company.

Autonomy

Authors have a great deal of autonomy in the hybrid publishing process. Authors still retain the rights to their work. A hybrid publisher will often act as a partner, rather than as a publisher, in many aspects of the process. The author typically has much more say in the editorial process than he or she would with a traditional publisher.

How you decide to publish depends entirely on what you want out of your book. You will have more creative freedom when self-publishing or using a hybrid publisher, but the quality and merit of your final product may suffer without the expertise of tried-and-true professionals. If getting your work out there now is important to you, consider self-publishing or hybrid publishing. If you are confident that you can navigate all aspects of the publishing process (and have an established marketing), you can potentially make the most money in royalties by self-publishing your book. No matter what you choose, by publishing your book you will be getting your story out there to your readers.

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