In recent months I’ve had people ask me how book publishing works, especially when they’re getting started with their very first book. Here are the four major book publishing options to consider for first-time authors.
Traditional publishing includes a book contract with an advance on royalties to the author, ranging from a few thousand dollars to seven figures for a select few. This involves working with a book agent (which I have not done), sending query letters and manuscript proposals to publishers (and most of the time you get rejection letters until someone finally says “yes” to your book, this can take years). The publisher owns the copyright (this part I don’t like) and has full say on what can be changed of your content (I don’t like that, either). There is also (in many cases) an agreement in the contract that you have to purchase x number of copies of your book from the publisher.
Traditional publishing usually involves the “big five” publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), one of their subsidiaries, and university and academic presses (Cambridge and Oxford are among the largest). The capital of trade publishing today is New York City.
Print-on-Demand on Your Own
Services such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, Lulu, Blurb.com, etc. provide ways for you to “get on Amazon” by self-publishing with print-on-demand (POD). The disadvantages are: you have to pay for the cover design, layout, etc. all on your own (unless you spend the time to learn how to do it all on your own on your computer). You will need to pay for a sample copy to get shipped to your place so you can proofread it in print before you post it for availability on the Internet. You also may not be able to get into the full book distribution system of brick-and-mortar bookstores, wholesalers, and other retailers.
One advantage of POD is that you get to market very quickly and can test the waters of the entire process. You can also purchase your own ISBN and sell your books from your own company.
Beware these companies that claim to publish you, only to get your work in print and charge you a big amount up front only to put boxes and boxes of your book in your driveway and then don’t do anything to promote it for you or distribute it through the network of bookstores. They won’t even edit your text (besides, perhaps, a spell check).
They are called vanity presses because they print everyone who wants to print with them, regardless of content or how polished the content is. This is how, before the Internet, most self-publishing was done.
Hybrid Publishing: Combining the Best Book Publishing Options
Hybrid publishing, such as with Morgan James (my publisher), involves contracts. They do sort through the proposals and only select a few to go to print. You will have to spend some money on buying x number of your own books. Royalties are higher than traditional publishing options, and your book goes to wider distribution channels than self-publishing.
My recommendation: use a service such as Lulu, CreateSpace, or Blurb.com to get some copies in print and see how family and friends react to it. Test the market that way. You can always scale up production in the future if you want.
There are many book publishing options to consider when doing it all for the first time: royalties, distribution, sales, marketing, and the team you’ll work with. Compare publishing models here (this is a good chart to read).
You can spend as much or as little time as you want on promoting your book. Writing and publishing the book is the easy part; promoting/marketing it afterwards is where the real work and patience comes in.