Let’s face it. Breaking into the book industry is harder than ever. And there are more and more companies out there promising you are going to be the next best-selling author. It can be so hard to know who to trust, which avenue to go with your publishing, and how to go about it.
I know what it is like… You pour hours and hours into a manuscript. It becomes your baby. You nurture it, pouring over it line by line, revising and proofing. It takes on its own personality and becomes so much of you. You can’t imagine ever putting it in the hands of someone who won’t see its value too. But who is that? How can you know?
So many authors struggle with this. There are so many options out there and it is hard to know which is the best avenue to take. So, let’s break it down and help you guide the sometimes chaotic and messy waters of book publishing.
There are many different avenues you can take as an author to get your material out there. Not all avenues are for everyone. You, as an author, must ask yourself what you want, how much you are willing to invest (both time and money), and how you want to distribute your book later. So, let’s look at the pros and cons of each different type of publishing.
1. Traditional Publishing
Most authors dream of having their books featured on the endcaps and display tables of every major book distributor in the country. But to get there, it takes a lot of work, connections, and money. So, many people turn to traditional publishers with hopes of rising to the top. Traditional publishing is simply this: You sign with a publisher who offers you their services (usually editing, design, publication, marketing and so forth). In return, they take a decent chunk of your royalties (moneys earned from the sale of your book). Typically speaking, the publisher will purchase the rights to your manuscript.
Pros: This is a great way to get your book to print with little or no money out of your pocket. The publisher typically had well established contacts and experience in the field, where you as a new author may not. Some publishers will pay you a set amount of royalties up front and then an additional amount after your book sells so many copies. Publishers often have sales reps to market your book to bookstores. Many publishers have years of experience and are well established, lending a sense of security that your work will be represented well.
Cons: The Publisher now owns rights to your book. Many times, they have the final say on all decisions made. It is very hard to get signed with a traditional publisher. Your chances increase if you hire an agent, but they come with their own set of pros and cons as well (as listed below). It is estimated that as little as 1% of authors who seek traditional publishing will be signed. The process can often be slow and time consuming as well. Often your royalties with this type of publishing are lower due to the need to pay the publisher as well as the agent and possibly a publicist.
TIP: If you decide to go this route and you do get an offer from a publisher, be sure to read through your contract very carefully. It is not a bad idea to seek out the trained eye of a legal professional to make sure that the contract says everything you expect it to say. Also, be sure to ask what sort of marketing help they are planning to offer. If you are asked for money up front, it is not a traditional publisher but really a vanity publisher instead (more about vanity publishing later). Don’t just stick to the big publishers, but also keep an eye on smaller traditional publishers that offer less stringent screening processes and are more willing to take a risk on a new author.
2. Literary Agent
A literary agent is not a necessity to getting a book published. However, they can help speed the process and help to streamline the details. Often, they have years of experience and can help to answer questions, give advice, and help guide and author through the publishing process. They negotiate deals and contracts for the author.
Pros: Many traditional publishing houses will not even look at a manuscript that isn’t submitted through a literary agent. Agents have contacts in the world of traditional publishers and can help you get noticed much faster and with much greater success than if you went it alone. A good agent knows what to look for in a contract to help you navigate all the legal jargon and they can often negotiate better royalties on your behalf. They are a wealth of knowledge and can advise and guide you through the whole process.
Cons: An agent will take up to 15% of your royalties as a payment for their services. It can be difficult to find and secure an agent. Agents can be picky about what books they are willing to represent. Some agents will only represent books from certain genre or style. There is often a decent amount of research and work that goes into getting an agent.
TIP: If you would like to pursue the help of a literary agent, do your research! Know what makes up a good query letter. Learn as much as you can about the agents you are submitting your manuscript to. Submit to more than one agent to increase your odds of finding someone to represent you. Have patience… it can take a while to find a good agent. But when you do, they can be a great asset.
3. Vanity Publishing
Vanity publishing is best described as a blend between self-publishing and traditional publishing where the author is responsible for the entire, or a large portion of the cost of publication through an established publisher.
Pros: It is much easier to sign with a vanity publisher. Typically, as long as an author can afford the established fees, they can publish their book. Some vanity publishers will absorb some of the initial costs of publishing, sharing the financial burden with the author. Vanity publishers often offer more freedom to the author to make decisions about content, design, and such. The process of getting a manuscript to print can often be much quicker than with a traditional publisher.
Cons: Unfortunately there are many vanity publishers who do not have the best interests of the author in mind. There tends to be a negative association with vanity publishers amongst those in the industry. Many distributors, fulfillment houses, bookstores, etc. will not carry titles published through vanity publishers. Much, if not all, of the marketing falls on the shoulders of the author.
TIP: Be sure to do your research before trusting a vanity publisher. Make sure your royalties reflect the investment that you are being asked to take. Know which services (such as editing, design, layout, etc.) you are paying for and which services you would have to pay extra for. Be your own advocate and make sure you are getting what you are paying for.
4. Self Publishing
Self-publishing is simply that- publishing a book yourself without the aid of a publisher. This can be done through a variety of different companies and programs.
Pros: Self-publishing has the potential to be the fastest way to get your manuscript to print. Many authors choose this route because they retain full rights to their book with no interference from outside sources. There are affordable options that allow an author to see their book published into e-book as well as print formats. Authors retain control over design, book cover art, and title. Authors set prices for books and retain much higher royalties. Anyone can publish a book this way. If a self- published book does well enough, it has the potential to catch the attention of literary agents and traditional publishers.
Cons: No professional editing is offered through self- publishing. Authors will need to either design their own artwork or hire a graphic artist to create book covers and any additional art for the book. Less than 10% of the books in the current market are published this way. Author is responsible for all marketing of their book. Authors must work really hard to grow sales, get discovered, and build a following. It is often a challenge to gain credibility with this type of publishing.
TIP: If you choose to go the way of self-publishing, make sure your expectations are realistic. Do your research into other books in your genre that are self-published to gain a realistic expectation of how your book could do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help- get others to review, edit and critique your book honestly before you self-publish. Hire a graphic artist to design a stunning book cover if you do not have master skills in graphic design. Learn as much as you can about marketing your book via social media. The more exposure you get and the better networking you do, the more likely your book will be a success.