When I started working at the bookstore, I knew of only two ways that an author gets their book on our store’s bookshelf. One, a publisher sold it to us. And two, the author brought in copies personally and asked us to sell it on a consignment basis.
That was about eight years ago.
Since then, we’ve gone through a major recession, Amazon has become the dominant player for book sales, and e-books have entered the scene. Technology has advanced, publishers have tightened their belts or disappeared altogether. And whatever happened to Borders bookstore?
The point is that times change. Technology advances. Publishers have had to get smarter on the books they put out and the process they use to get them into people’s hands. The shift has left space for start-ups to come in and introduce new avenues to publishing.
Today, I’m going to spell out 4 ways that books can get published. I’m sure there are more, but I think these are a good place to start.
So, if you have a book that you want published, here are your options:
1. Pure Self-Publishing – You write a book by yourself. You pay someone to print it. Pure and simple. You don’t need anyone messing with your vision. You don’t need any help with things like editing or marketing. But… if you do, you can pay for that too. Many self-publishing companies offer a buffet-style approach to the publishing process by offering marking, book design, and editing as price-per-service items, but instead of making money from those books selling in bookstores, they finance themselves by charging you, the author. Once they are delivered to your garage, they are your responsibility.(Here’s an example.)
What’s the upside? You get a great profit margin on the books that you are able to sell by yourself. You get complete control over the whole process.
Who is this right for? This approach is perfect for rich, confident, and excellent writers who don’t need editors. Preferably, they should either be creative or have creative friends who are willing to do things like book design for them.
2. Smart (Low-Risk) Self-Publishing – You write the book. You edit the book. You list the book among a digital library of thousands of other books waiting for someone, anyone, to come along who want to read it. Once you get 1,000 people who want to read your book badly enough to buy it (based on a synopsis and roughly 10 pages of your writing), this company will publish your books. If not enough people sign up for your book in a given time, everyone gets their money back. This is the Kickstarter approach to self-publishing. (Here’s an example.)
What’s the upside? No investment other than your time. The people paying for your book are the people who want to actually read it.
Who is this right for? This approach is perfect for timid people who know 1,000 people who like them enough to pay for their book. This is also good for people who are jaded to traditional publishing rejection letters and would rather convince thousands of ordinary people than one more mean acquisitions editor.
3. Publisher Assisted E-book Publishing – You write the book. You submit the book directly to the publisher (no agent needed). The book is treated just like any other book submission. If the publisher likes it, they offer you a publishing deal, but for e-book format only. The books still gets touched (an improved) by editors, marketing teams, and graphics design professionals, but without all the nasty costs of physically producing the book. The book is shipped out to the digital marketplace and the author makes a percentage of the profits from the book sales. (Here’s an example.)
What’s the upside? Getting in front of a publisher is a tricky business, especially without a good agent. This is a way to get your material read by people who know what they are doing. If they like you enough, maybe your next book will get published in a physical format.
Who is this right for? This format is perfect for people who are convinced that print is dead and that digital is the only format that matters anymore. This is also good for people who have given up on the prospect of actually seeing their book on a physical bookshelf in a brick-and-mortar store, but still want people to have some kind of access to the book that they have sunk so much of their life and time into.
4. Traditional Publishing – You write the book. You either approach a smaller publishing house or a writing agency. Miracles happen. Your book is chosen for publication. They publisher treats it to editing, graphic design, marketing. The publisher pays to have the book printed (and probably put into e-book format too). The printed book is pitched to bookstores and chains. The book is advertised (if you are lucky) to potential readers. Advanced reader copies (or ARCs) are given to key influencers for review and to start the word of mouth advertising. The book is released. You do a book tour, speaking and signing and generally getting more famous by the second (or possibly not). If the book is successful, you’ll probably be asked to write some more. If the book is not successful, you give up on the dream entirely and take up something like underwater basket weaving or Canasta or something. (Here’s an example.)
What is the upside? This is the average writer’s dream. To be accepted by a publisher is to be validated by a credible source for the hours of your life that you spent in writing this book. Publishers have a better chance of promoting your book than you do on your own.
Who is this right for? This approach is perfect for writers who trust the publishing process and still want to see their work in bookstores across the country. Sure, you get a smaller cut of the profits, and sure, there is no guarantee that your book will sell if published by a reputable publisher (something like 90% of them don’t), but that doesn’t matter to you, because this is what you always dreamed about.
Do none of these options seem right to you? Maybe you don’t want to be a published author after all. In the words of Herman Baker, founder of Baker Book House and Baker Publishing Group:
If you have given up already as a result of this article, nothing is lost. You would have fallen by the wayside anyway. You can thank me for saving you time and effort.