While there are some people who write with the intention of keeping their words and stories to themselves, there are others who aspire to be published. After writing, obtaining feedback, and editing, a writer’s next logical step would be to publish their book in some way for others to be able to read.
Published generally means bound and printed in some way—paperback, softcover, hardback, or even an ebook, which isn’t printed. But how does one go about publishing their book and making it available for purchase? Well, the answer is that there are multiple paths that can be taken. In this post, let’s explore all the different options to publish your book.
If there are questions beyond the content laid out here, feel free to email me or leave a comment below.
There's a lot more to publishing a book than writing it and slapping a cover on it. - Vince Flynn
Before considering publishing your book, make sure you’re ready. Ensure that your book is written with the best intentions, edited, peer-reviewed, and that you have a potential or current audience ready and willing to read what you have to say (your author platform). Not being ready means the book isn’t finished, you have no audience or people who will be interested in purchasing your book, and an editor has not edited the book. Consider all aspects of your journey before even beginning the search for publishing options.
With anything that you do, always do your research. Go online and do a Google search about the publishing industry, pick up some books from your local bookstore, and talk to any published authors if you know any. The publishing industry is constantly in flux, with changes happening very quickly. It would be most helpful to aim your research at publishers that publish books like yours.
Lastly, you could go to conferences. Writing and publishing conferences occur throughout the year and they’re available to writers who want to learn about the business and craft of writing. Generally, you can meet editors from publishing houses and literary agents who know the industry and can advise you on what steps you need to take to get your book published. They’ll read query letters and manuscript samples sometimes as well. Go to a conference if you’re serious about selling your work. Be serious because these events aren’t free and oftentimes can be expensive. So, don’t waste any time when you’re there.
One of the key pieces of information you’ll need before reading further is learning about literary agents. Your warm-up for this post is to read this post. It will explain the pros and cons of literary agents and how they affect the business of traditional publishing.
Publishing a book is like stuffing a note in a bottle and hurling it into sea. - Margaret Atwood
The Various Publishing Methods
For all intents and purposes, traditional publishing is the “hard way” to publish a book. Not to deter you, but traditional publishing takes not only a well-written book, but also an ample amount of persistence and tenacity.
The traditional publishing method can take on several different paths, but the most common path is writing a stellar book, creating a query letter that will entice a literary agent (who’s accepting queries) to read your sample submission or manuscript, and obtaining representation from that agent. Agents are the champions of your book and they use their expertise to sell your book to a publishing house. Once that agent lands the sell, they’ll help with contract negotiations and ultimately work with the publisher so that your book comes to fruition.
Most publishing houses don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, or manuscripts they didn’t request from an agent or other editor. So, the agent is the one person who can get around that barrier by reaching out to their friends at publishing houses and convincing them that your book is the one to read. The acquiring/acquisitions editor will then champion your book at their publishing house.
Without an agent, your options are limited in the traditional publishing sphere. However, some publishing houses accept unsolicited manuscripts. Write your “cover letter,” submit your full manuscript or sample, and wait… for a long time sometimes. From then on you’ll work directly with the publishing house. And maybe after that, look for an agent.
When working with a hybrid publisher, be sure to understand that these publishing houses bring in revenue not just from book sales, but also fees that are charged to you, similarly to a book packager. The nonprofit organization, Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) gives eleven criteria for a publisher to be a hybrid publisher. From their website:
Defines a mission and purpose for its publishing program
Commits to truth and transparency in business practices
Provides a negotiable, easy-to-understand contract for each book published
Publishes under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs
Publishes to industry standard
Ensures editorial, design, and production quality
Pursues and manages a range of publishing rights (audiobook, film, TV, etc.)
Provides distribution services
Demonstrates respectable sales
Pays authors a higher-than-standard royalty
Hybrid publishing is somewhat controversial right now, however it has risen in popularity as a form of publishing. The publishing house generally shares in the profit with you, so many find the options not so unreasonable. Rest assured, however, that many traditional publishers have made similar arrangements with authors in the past. Other arrangements that have come out of this method include partnership publishing models and agent-assisted publishing models (agents help publish the books they were unable to sell).
Self-Publishing and Book Packagers
When self-publishing is used as a term, it generally refers to an author making the maximum effort to publish their book (covering printing costs, advertising, marketing, creating their cover, formatting the document, etc.) The author is pretty much in charge of everything and will be responsible for any errors that may come about during the process.
Self-publishing can also involve book packagers or distributors such as Book Baby, Lulu, or Kindle Direct (Amazon). While you can essentially do everything on your own with these packagers and distributors, you may also purchase services from the company directly so that you have less of a burden. Self-publishing isn’t for everyone, especially someone who lacks the time and money to put into it. Nevertheless, it guarantees complete control of your book, allows you to set your own profit margins (set the list price), and enables you to make changes to the document and cover quite easily if needed.
Lastly, if you want your book in stores, you’ll need to apply with the bookstore or chain in order to get it a spot on the shelves. Sometimes this can work out and sometimes it can’t.
Vanity Presses – A Warning to Authors
Vanity presses typically don’t care about the quality of the books they publish and bank on their profits from the author, not from the actual copies sold, and assume little to no financial risks. Traditional publishers do assume financial risks in publishing authors’ books.
There’s a warning here for authors because a vanity press can sometimes act like a traditional publisher—offering advances, editing, marketing, cover design—which don’t match the caliber of a traditional publisher.
Oftentimes, the author becomes the customer to the vanity press, shelling out hundreds and thousands of dollars for subpar services, more financial risk than the publisher, and sometimes subjected to deceptive practices. Unlike with self-publishing, the author has no control over the list price of the book, which is sometimes much higher than comparable books, making it difficult to compete and sell online and through other means. Your book will likely not be in stores as well.
Keep a keen eye during your research of these publishers. Some vanity presses masquerade as hybrid publishers, so keep that in mind. Look to the Writer Beware site for more details.
Publishing is the final step in making a book; if I was afraid to publish one, I wouldn't write it in the first place. - Charles Stross
In the end, the best form of publishing is what you find most representative of your needs. While long and arduous, the traditional publishing route can bear many fruits. But if you’re looking for a quicker route and more control over your work, look to self-publishing. Hybrid publishers and vanity presses can create some risks if you don’t thoroughly research the companies.
My advice is to weigh all the options at once and go for the traditional route first before deciding on the others. However, writers who have little time and more resources (financial and otherwise), could find self-publishing quite fulfilling as well. The point I want to drive hard is that there are many options out there, so don’t constrain yourself by just looking at one or two. Pursue every opportunity that’s in your best interest. And keep writing! Publish as many books as you can.
How to Publish a Book in 2022: 10 Steps to Success - The Reedsy Team outline a step by step process with steps for success for how to publish your book.
Tips for Getting Your Book Published - The MasterClass Staff outline tips for new writers on how to get their book published.
How to Become a Published Author: 8 Steps for Getting Published - The MasterClass Staff offer steps for writers of all expertise on how to get published.
How to Self-Publish a Book in 2022 - The Reedsy Team offers insight and tips on how to self publish a book.
How to Get a Book Published - Tiffany Hawk offers six steps to writers on how to publish their books traditionally.