Now that you have a well-written and clean manuscript, you need to decide which publishing route you would like to take. There are two main routes – either publish through a traditional publisher (the traditional route) or publish the book yourself (the self-publishing route). There are advantages and disadvantages to each.
In a nutshell, with traditional publishing you are likely to sell more books but make less money per book, whereas with self-publishing you will probably sell fewer books but make more money per book.
The traditional route:
Being published “traditionally” means being published by an established publishing house. It may be one of the big labels or it could be a small boutique label. The publisher likes your work and offers you a publishing contract, after which they do most of the work to get the book to market.
- Traditional publishers pay all costs associated with publishing the book – editing, cover design, typesetting, marketing, etc.
- They have direct access to large bookshops, so your book is guaranteed some shelf space.
- They have direct access to book critics and other relevant members of the media to ensure news of your book reaches as many people as possible.
- Having your book picked up by a publisher is a huge confidence boost, which may help with writing future books.
- Many traditional publishers will not accept submissions directly from authors so you may need to find an agent to reach your chosen publisher. Securing an agent can be difficult and time-consuming. Agents also take a large percentage of your earnings (typically 15%-20%).
- Author royalties per book are low – only about 10%-15% of the cover price goes to the author. You may be offered an “advance”, whereby you get a royalty lump-sum up-front, but these tend to be low for debut authors. You also need to earn this advance back (that is, sell enough books to earn the royalty advance) before you get any further money from the publisher. Many authors, particularly debut authors, never earn their advance back.
- You have little say in the editing process and generally no say in the cover design.
- The publisher owns your book for the period set out in the contract, so if your book doesn’t sell well, you can’t take it back and try to sell it yourself until the contract has expired.
- Many publishing contracts cover your existing book plus your next book, putting you under immediate pressure to start or complete your next book.
The self-publishing route:
With self-publishing, you have complete creative control and a larger royalty share, but you have to do all the work yourself (or pay someone to do it) and will have to work very hard to get your books onto shelves and in front of potential customers.
- You have complete editorial control over your book. While you might still engage a professional editor, the final decision about what changes are made lies with you.
- You have complete artistic control over your book, including the formats (paperback, hardback, etc.), book sizes, typesetting and cover.
- You earn a higher royalty per book than you would with traditional publishing, particularly if you sell books directly to customers, either on your own website or at book events. (The bulk of the revenue for each book still goes to the printer and the bookseller.)
- You can usually get your book to market quicker than a traditional publisher, who is working on many books at the same time.
- You have to do all the work yourself or pay someone to do it for you. This can amount to a considerable up-front investment on your part. (See later post on self-publishing).
- It is often difficult for independent authors to get their books into bricks-and-mortar bookshops.
- It is also difficult for indie authors to get their books reviewed by traditional media such as newspapers or radio stations.
- Once the book is printed and ready to sell, you have to do all the marketing yourself.
So, which should you choose?
This is a completely personal decision and you would be wise to investigate both routes in detail before making up your mind.
Many authors dream of having their book published by a big publisher and might start by trying to find an agent and/or publisher, but keep self-publishing as a back-up option if that doesn’t work out. Others just prefer the creative control and higher royalty share they get with self-publishing and go straight to that option.
If you feel at all inclined to go the traditional route, make sure you exhaust this option or make a well-informed decision to abandon it before choosing to self-publish as it is extremely unlikely that any traditional publisher will publish a book that has already been self-published.
For more about this post series, see here.
I have now amalgamated all the posts from my “5 Steps to Publishing a Book” series into a short ebook, which you can download for free here!