Through the years, I have had a variety of methods to see my books turn into actual hard copies on my shelf. If you're just getting started and are curious as to the options available, I hope this information will be of help. It's not an exhaustive list of options or details by any means, but it may at least give you an idea of what can be accomplished.
Keep in mind that certain terms vary from person to person and from company to company. They also change over time.
The "Traditional" Route
Often, this term is used to describe the process of submitting a manuscript to a publisher of your choice and, in turn, having it accepted with the offer of a contract. Sometimes this means you are still very much involved with the manuscript and the editing/publishing process. Sometimes this means turning everything over to the publisher and having little say as to what kinds of changes might be made. In the end, a book is printed and marketed, and you are sent royalty checks as you earn a percentage of sales made. Contracts vary from publisher to publisher. Some companies require more out of authors (such as committing to book signings, etc.) than others. The amount of royalties varies as well. Some companies have small marketing plans, while others have much broader distribution capabilities.
If you are looking to have your book available in bookstores nationwide and produce financial income, then this is probably the route you’re aiming for. Just know that being accepted by the first or third publisher contacted is not the norm. A more typical story is one of query after query, submission after submission to a long list of publishers before landing on one that will notice you. Some have schedules too full to look at anyone’s manuscript. Some will only read submissions by names already established (go figure). You may end up wanting to find an agent who will pitch your book to publishers for you – which entails getting an agent’s attention as well, but many publishers will be more apt to listen to an agent rather than an unknown author.
Every company is different, which means it’s up to you to do your research. Be sure you submit your manuscript to publishers who accept your book’s genre. Follow their submission guidelines, even if that means starting with a query letter only. Don’t waste your time with too much formatting in your book either – most publishers will want a simple text document that they will format to fit their own system and printing process.
If and when you face rejections, don’t give up. You may just not have found the right publisher yet. Maybe you just need to readjust your strategy. Don’t rule out the idea of some editing if you think perhaps your manuscript needs more work. While you may love your book, remember everyone’s opinion is different. Just because your manuscript is turned down doesn’t mean it’s bad. And just because you love it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fantastic either!
Headed for the publisher hunt? You’ll probably start on the Internet with Google. Just beware of scams or publishers who make promises they don’t keep (sadly, there are many). Get in touch with other published authors. Look at your favorite books and see who has published them. Read all you can about a publisher before you decide to submit your manuscript. You want to be sure you’ll be happy with the company you choose and who, hopefully, wants your book.
More and more people are writing books. That means more and more manuscripts are being submitted to publishers every day.
That means more and more rejections are being sent because
there are just too many books (well-written or not) for publishers to handle. This is why other options have become available to writers and, in many cases, have become more attractive than the “traditional” route.
It sounds worse than it is. All this term means is that you wanted your book published badly enough that you paid money to make it happen. This is becoming a more and more popular publishing route as there are many companies who are not nearly as picky about what they publish, as long as they are paid for their services.
Many vanity publishers will charge a certain amount of money for a certain list of services – things like formatting, cover design, printing, marketing and distribution. Some will produce and make your book available but leave the marketing up to you. Some still care about the content of your book…others couldn’t care less. The cost? Anywhere from several hundred dollars to several thousand. It all depends on the publisher.
If you aim for this option, extensive research is recommended. There are many publishers out there who only want your money, and who have a lot of fine print that authors overlook before signing a contract. Many a naïve author has fallen into a trap that results in a pile of unsold books and a lot of disappointment. An enthusiastic but realistic outlook is very important. A publisher that makes a lot of promises about sales, marketing or royalties needs to be looked at very carefully. Their main targets are authors who have given up on the “traditional” route and are now just desperate to see their book in print. Some, though, have proven to be exactly what certain authors want/need, so if you are financially able, this may be an option for you. Just make sure you know what you are getting into.
Here's an even broader road, paved with a plethora of options. The term “self-publishing” can mean anything from doing all the work yourself and simply hiring a printing company to produce the finished product, to paying a publishing company to create your book for you. This is where it can sometimes overlap vanity publishing. Generally speaking though, if you self-publish, you retain all rights to your book and remain in complete control of everything that happens. You make all decisions and can change a lot of things midstream if so desired. The ball is left in your court.
Many self-publishing companies offer certain packages one may purchase that include different services. For example, the first (or cheapest) level may include cover design and inside formatting. The last (or most expensive) level may include those things plus an ISBN, editing services, promotion and distribution. Some companies will sell services that include having your book listed online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
One of the most important things to remember when self-publishing is that either you will pay for them to market your book for you, or you’ll do all the marketing yourself. There is no free promotion. Also (and maybe equally important) is the fact that your end product needs to look good to the public if you intend to sell it. This means making sure either you pay the publisher (or an outside source) to design your cover and format the interior, or you become educated in layout and design before attempting to create the book yourself.
Self-publishing can require lots of money and little work, or lots of work and little money. If you’re someone who loves self-promotion and marketing, and you want to sell a lot of books, this could work well. If you’re someone who just wants a few copies of your book for friends and family, this also might work well for you. But if you really want a publisher to want your book, you have a limited budget, and you won’t be working much on self-promotion, then this is probably a less appealing option than trying to snag a “traditional” publisher, even though that route may take a longer amount of time.
After It’s Published
If you have a good idea of what marketing entails, then you understand the promotion process. But if you’ve never been involved in marketing before, then it’s only fair that I tell you, whether a big name publisher wants your manuscript, or if you self-publish, if you want your book to sell, it will require work. I remember being at a local author event at a library once. I was a no-name author with just two books to offer at the time. Placed in a back corner, my beautiful display received no attention. Well, I may have had one visitor, but I certainly didn’t sell anything that day. But what I remember the most is that a few tables down from mine was another author whose book had been published by a very large, very well-known publisher. I was impressed, and even a little intimidated. Until I noticed they were receiving just as much attention as me. They were just as well-known as me (which wasn’t saying much). As far as I could tell, they didn’t sell one copy of their book. I realized then that just gaining a big, well-known publisher didn’t mean overnight success. It still takes work from the author.
I have to admit, I still have my eye on a certain well-known publisher. So far, I haven’t gotten my foot in their door. Maybe one day. But in the meantime, I just want to finish my projects. I just want my family and friends to have access to my books, and since I have a separate full-time job, I’m not concerned with a huge profit margin. Because of this, I’ve begun focusing more on self-publishing. My first few books were published by a so-called “traditional” publisher, but I found out too late that while not a scam, they do like taking advantage of their authors and only want their authors’ money after the “free” publishing takes place. But…that’s another story. I also have learned a lot about layout and design, and I’ve discovered I very much enjoy creating a piece from start to finish. I’ve found a company online that allows me to upload my finished product (cover design, inside formatting and all), free of charge. The only cost to me is for copies I want to purchase, and I’m in complete control of everything. The downside is all marketing is left up to me, and that can be an added expense. I have the option not to purchase an ISBN. This would mean no distribution through places like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. But if I did want that distribution, I could purchase the ISBN and create a barcode for the book cover. I’d still be in control, and then have more marketing opportunities. This company does also sell marketing services which I could purchase, should I ever feel the need.
For me, at this particular time, self-publishing has been the perfect option. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect for everyone. In the end, it’s your choice which route you want to pursue. And most routes are defined by what your goals are.