You’ve written a book, or maybe you’re thinking about writing a book, and you’re wondering about how to publish it. Today, authors have more control over the publishing process than ever before. But choosing which way to publish your books can be confusing. That’s why I’ve put together this quick guide to the 3.5 types of publishing.
I’ll walk you through all three (and a half) ways to publish, and give you some advice on how to choose the best publishing option for you.
Pros: Prestige, maybe more support, fewer roles to juggle
Cons: Loss of creative control, timeline is out of your hands, lots of competition
Traditional publishing or trad-pub is probably what most people think of when they think about publishing a book. To get traditionally published you usually need an agent. In simplified form, the process looks like this:
How to Get an Agent
- Finish your manuscript
- Use a website like QueryTracker to find agents that specialize in your genre
- Write and send out query letters
- Wait for an agent to accept your book
- Wait for that agent to sell your book to a publisher
- Wait an average of 12-24 months until the book is finally published
You’ll notice there’s a lot of waiting on that list. That’s because once the agent accepts your book, much of what happens next is out of your hands. Agents, publishers, and everyone else in the industry have their work to do.
You can help by tackling requested edits as soon as possible and building an audience of people who are excited to read your book.
Some indie authors and publishers talk badly about the big five four publishing houses. They say these publishers are greedy or acting as gatekeepers for art.
Hard Truth: Publishing is a Business
The truth is that everyone is in business. This is true for authors, publishers, and everyone else who works in the book publishing industry. These big publishing houses are looking for the next bestseller. A book is a success in their eyes when it sells millions of copies. They have a huge operation with thousands of employees to support. Of course, they’re going to sign with better-known authors and follow the trends. That’s just good business.
Technically small presses can fall under the traditional publishing umbrella. They certainly face some of the same market pressures, just on a smaller scale. Publishing a book is expensive. That’s why most lean toward a hybrid model. We’ll talk a little more about that in the next section.
Independent Publishing or Self-Publishing
Pros: Creative control, Flexibility, Higher profit margins
Cons: Steep learning curve, requires some up-front investment
All the work and expense is on you. But that means the rewards are all yours as well. You might hire a cover designer, editor, or marketer to help you. You’ll almost certainly need to find a printer since most of us don’t have room for a printing press in our living room. Once the book is printed you’ll need to distribute it to major booksellers or find ways to connect directly with readers.
There are also different types of publishing within the indie category. You might decide to go Amazon exclusive, making your books available only on that platform. Or you can go wide, and distribute your book to traditional bookstores, libraries, and other online platforms.
Services like IngramSpark, Kindle Direct Publishing, and BookBaby can help you get your book printed and distributed to major retailers. While many of these services also offer ebook distribution, it’s often in your best interest to go directly to the distributor with ebooks (but that’s a topic for another blog post.)
Indie Publishing = Creative Control
Whatever services you use, you’ll be responsible for project-managing your book publication process and paying all expenses. But there’s less profit sharing and you maintain full creative control over your own work.
If you already know a little bit about marketing, have some digital savvy, or are willing to learn these things, indie publishing can be a rewarding experience.
Hybrid and Small Presses
Hybrid publishing is like indie publishing with support. A hybrid press (or small press) may help you with cover design, editing, layout, marketing, or all of these things. They will almost certainly help with distribution and should, at very least, include your book on their website and any other properties they manage.
On the Indie Book Talk podcast we’ve heard about some great hybrid presses like Burning Bulb and Dunn Books. We’ve also heard about some not so great ones. Those not-so-great ones may be vanity presses in disguise.
All Types of Publishing Are Not Created Equal
Do your research and ask other authors in that press about their experience. Small and hybrid presses can be an amazing resource, but there are some wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. Read contracts carefully and understand both the rights you’re conferring and the support you can expect.
What is a vanity press?
There is a difference between hybrid and vanity presses, but the lines between the two are sometimes blurry. Individual authors and publishers each draw the lines in a different place. That’s why I’ve combined them here. You can think of them as two ends of a continuum.
A vanity press will print any book that comes into their hands and charge the author for the privilege. They provide little to no marketing and often deliver a large number of copies up front. Then it’s up to the author to sell those copies and make up the investment of “publishing” the book.
Vanity presses get a bad rap, but there are some reasons to use them. If you’re creating a recipe or memoir to share with friends and family, a vanity press might be exactly what you’re looking for. Just remember that vanity presses are for personal projects, not books you plan to sell.
All Types of Publishing Take Work
There’s no single right way to publish. Each of these types of publishing may be useful to accomplish different goals or at different times in your writing journey. Just remember that all types of publishing take work. Whether you go indie, traditional, or hybrid, you get the best out when you put your best in.