Publishing Your Book
By Linda Austin/Moonbridge Publications
updated July 2019
The publishing world has changing rapidly, especially with the advent of Amazon’s self-publishing services and the takeoff of e-books. Authors need to keep up with the news to make the best decisions for themselves and their books.
Traditional Large Publishers
(ex., Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Scholastic)
The big publishing houses have imprints (branch companies) handling different genres. They print large quantities of books via offset printing methods.
Pros: offer an advance, will handle all production aspects of the book, will do basic marketing (send out media releases, offer galleys or ARCs to major reviewers), will handle all distribution, will handle all finances and send royalty checks
Cons: an agent is required to approach them (may take years to get one), they are picky and prefer writers with platform and commercial appeal, will handle all production usually without much author input, it takes about two years to produce a book, marketing is basic unless the author is famous, if the book doesn’t sell well within the first few months it may go out of print, author royalties are small, the publisher owns the book (not the copyright)
Larger Independent Traditional Publishers:
(ex. Charlesbridge, Sourcebooks, Chelsea Green, Haymarket Books, some university presses)
These may use digital printing (print on demand) as well as offset. Some are specialized by genre or have imprints.
Pros: more willing to risk unknown authors, often no agent is required, offer an advance, handle all production and may allow author input, provide basic marketing, provide distribution, books are usually available for longer than three months even if sales are slow
Cons: advances are smaller, marketing budget is smaller, the publisher owns the book (but not the copyright)
Small Independent Traditional Publishers:
(many university presses, Zumaya, Akashic Books, and many micro-presses)
These use mostly digital printing and may be very specialized in genre and/or not accept many manuscripts per year
Pros: more willing to risk unknown authors, no agent is required, might offer a small advance, handle all production and may allow author input, should do basic marketing and provide distribution, books can usually be produced within a year and are usually available for a long time
Cons: may offer no advance, may provide little marketing, may not provide distribution, company owns the book (not the copyright), editing and formatting skills may be questionable or even nonexistent (Note: be sure to examine other books a company has produced to verify quality, especially with very small or newer presses)
See Poets & Writers for a list of small presses
Publishing Services Companies
(ex. Lulu, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, XLibris, Outskirts Press, BookBaby, and Westbow Press)
These companies will generally take any manuscript (no vetting) and charge authors to produce their books for them. Authors can choose which additional services they want (cover, editing, formatting, sometimes distribution channels). Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing for print and e-book is perhaps the most cost-efficient option (see my article Print Books With Amazon).
Pros: handle production and services with author input, production of the book is quick, usually a distribution system is provided or offered for a fee; author can set the book price, author is usually able to purchase copies of his own book at some discount
Cons: Services often cost more money than if the author had hired his own independent providers and may be of questionable quality, company usually keeps a high percentage of the book’s retail price, higher production costs and sales fees will mean books must be sold at above-market cost to make a profit for the author, distribution avenue may be at extra cost or not be cost-efficient or convenient for buyers, marketing is often nonexistent or at high price with little real value, the company usually owns the book produced (not the copyright) often including the cover and any illustrations created by company service providers, author should understand the publishing business and read the contract carefully to avoid making costly business errors, contract may be difficult to get out of if dissatisfied, author should know basic accounting and track income and expenses
See Preditors & Editors for reviews of publishers and other publishing service providers
The author takes charge of the entire process of creating a book by hiring professionals, arranging distribution and marketing
Pros: The author is in charge and makes all decisions, a book can be produced from a completed manuscript in only a few months, all profit belongs to the author, author owns his/her book and can keep it in production as long as he/she wants
Cons: The author is in charge and makes all decisions and so should understand all aspects of the publishing business to avoid costly errors, author is responsible for all costs, author must do all marketing, author must know basic accounting and track income and expenses. (Note: skimping on editing, cover design, etc., will result in a poor-quality book, and skimping on marketing will result in few book sales)
Larger publishers usually keep e-book publishing rights. The author may be able to negotiate rights with smaller companies, and should check whether they will even produce an e-book version.
Many companies or services exist to offer low-cost production of electronic books for various types of e-readers. Examples include Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Barnes & Noble Nook Press, Apple iBooks, Smashwords, and BookBaby.
Pros of independent e-publishing: Lower production cost than print books, most companies provide some form of distribution
Cons of independent publishing: Many authors find it difficult to format a manuscript themselves to upload to a self-directed e-publishing program (ex. Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords) and will need to pay to have it done, books with heavy formatting or many photos or illustrations are not good candidates for e-book creation, color interior may not be an option, authors must be aware of the distribution method to ensure convenience and cost-effectiveness for themselves and buyers, authors must do all marketing and do basic accounting of income and expenses.