A Quick Guide to Publishing Options
Getting published has never been an easy endeavor, and in fact it’s become the closest thing that the non-gambling world has to a crapshoot. As of today (and this will change in the very near future as more and more options open up), here are your options:
POD: this stands for print-on-demand. It is not a kind of publishing, it’s a publishing technology. Subsidy presses, self-publishers, and traditional publishers alike all may use POD technology. It’s used most extensively in the subsidy press arena, causing many to confuse the terms. Resist that temptation. It’s a printing technology that developed after the advent of digital printing, enabling a company or individual to print a copy of a book when it is ordered, as opposed to accumulating expensive inventory. As Wikipedia says: “Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD service providers. Many academic publishers, including university presses, use POD services to maintain a large backlist; some even use POD for all of their publications. Larger publishers may use POD in special circumstances, such as reprinting older titles that had been out of print or doing test marketing.”
Subsidy presses: they used to be called vanity presses; they take your money and in return publish your book for you. Anything can and is published (few require editing; some offer it at additional expense), meaning that the books published by subsidy presses vary wildly in quality. Leading subsidy presses include America Star Books (used to be PublishAmerica), CreateSpace, Harbor House, iUniverse, Authorhouse, and XLibris. Contracts also vary: some provide all necessary services for a set fee, others are more à la carte in their offerings; some copyright your book in their name, others allow the author to retain copyright. A subsidy publisher also distributes books under its own imprint. However, it does not purchase manuscripts; instead, it asks authors to pay for the cost of publication. With the exception of certain types of publishers (such as university or scholarly presses), any publisher that requests a fee from the author is a subsidy publisher. As with commercial publishers, the books remain in the publisher’s possession; authors receive royalties and can sometimes order copies of their books at a discounted price.
Self-publishing: Here you set up your own publishing company, and contract with printers, distributors, editors, graphics and design folks, cover artists, marketing professionals, and so on, to perform the tasks associated with publishing, including buying your own ISBNs. Many self-publishers only publish their own books; others go on to take on other authors and eventually may become small independent presses.
The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use by April Hamilton.
Self-Publishing for Dummies by Jason Rich.
Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book by Dan Poynter.
APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur): How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch.
Traditional publishing: And then of course there’s the traditional publishing route, the one with which most people are familiar. In this model, a writer—or a literary agent representing the writer—sells a book to a publishing house. There may or may not be an advance offered against royalties. The publisher takes the risks associated with the book — i.e., editing, layout costs, cover art, working with distribution channels, printing, and some possibly limited marketing.
Traditional publishing resources:
The Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published by the Editors of Writers Digest.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Published by Sheree Bykofsky
The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It Successfully by David Henry Sterry.
Ebook publishing: Everything that I said about the technology of print-on-demand goes the same with electronic or ebooks. Again, here you can have traditional publishers producing them, or self-publishers producing them. Ebooks are exciting for a number of different reasons, the major one being the low cost involved. Since there are no production costs (printing, distribution, etc.), traditional publishers are more liable to accept first-time writers, or midlist authors, than they would be if they had to carry all associated costs.The distribution giant, Amazon, is making it even easier for you to get your work out. Anyone can publish an ebook on the Kindle platform for free. Depending on the pricing you set for your book, the author may reap as much as 70% of the book’s price. Compare that to a meager 10-15% you’ll get from a traditional publisher, and you’ll see why this is such a big deal.
So there are a lot of opportunities out there. How do you decide which one is for you?
Here again you want to select the proper tool for the proper application. If you’re a public speaker who goes around the country making personal appearances, you probably don’t want to go the ebook route: you want to have something that is physically “there” with you, so that you can make the famous back-of-the-room sales.
If on the other hand you have a website that is part of marketing yourself, you may want to offer the ebook there, either as an incentive to come hear you speak or a followup after a lecture… or, indeed, just to show visitors that you know what you’re talking about!
If you choose to stick with a paper book, then there’s no question in my mind that you should first try to be published the traditional way. Names like Wiley and St. Martin's and HarperCollins are likely to impress your audience—people look for things they recognize in order to validate what they’re hearing or reading. And distribution will be easier: the big names still open doors.
To get your foot in the door if you don’t have a literary agent (and even if you do), you’ll need to write a book proposal. Have someone work with you on your proposal—as they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression!
And in any case, it may not be possible. There are fewer and fewer editors buying fewer and fewer books at traditional legacy publishing houses, and rejections do not necessarily reflect on the quality of your work.
I do want to caution you about the subsidy presses. Look at how they make their money: from you. They don’t care whether or not your book sells; they make their money by selling you things. And, as we’ve seen before, they will publish anything, which leaves readers in general with very little respect for them.
If you're unable to find a traditional publisher for your book, consider true self-publishing. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, and you will be the one making the money from your book. There are a number of self-publishing information and discussion lists on the internet, and all you really have to do is join them and listen at first.
If you want someone to help you through the process of self-publishing, there are experienced guides available: the one I recommend the most often and the most heartily is Dick Margulis Creative Services.