You’ve finished your book and you’re ready for the world to see it – what is your next step? There are a few different options you can take, and they all have various pros and cons. Here, I’m going to cover the four main routes you will likely have heard about and discuss what each one means.
Traditional publishing involves working with a legitimate, often quite large, publishing house. They will be fully staffed with departments for editing, rights, sales, marketing etc. Your best chance of getting in with a traditional publisher is via an agent because most do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
You don’t pay a penny – except to your agent but even then not until your book makes money
The publishing house takes care of editing, cover design, marketing etc.
You benefit from their immense experience, knowledge and contacts
You will need to sign over the rights to your book
You lose some creative control – the title may change and they design the cover
It’s not a fast process – it can take two years from acceptance to publication day
Independent publishers are effectively the same as traditional publishers, but smaller. They don’t have the same clout that the big dogs have but they are still legitimate and should have well-trained staff. These folks are more likely to accept unsolicited manuscripts from authors, though you should always check their website before doing so.
The pros and cons are much the same as the traditional publishing option. You still don’t have to pay to be published and you benefit from their experience. Being a smaller press, they may not be able to get your book into the same stores for the same deals as a larger press, but you can bet they will still do everything they can to promote your work – after all, they don’t make money unless your book sells.
A vanity press walks and talks just like a traditional or indie press, but note how I used the word ‘legitimate’ in the other descriptions. Vanity presses are not legitimate. Or, let’s say they are not as legitimate. Some authors view them as scammers, while others have had positive experiences – it depends entirely on the press.
Ultimately, unlike a traditional or independent publisher, a vanity press requires you to pay to have your book published. They promise to take care of things like editing, cover design, printing, and marketing – but you have to pay upfront. It is pitched as a ‘full package’, and for some authors that is exactly what they want. Other authors, however, mistakenly believe that vanity presses are a form of self-publishing. This is not true. I’ll get on to self-publishing in more detail in a moment, but I want to stress that a vanity press is not a self-publishing service.
You get copy-editing, cover design and printing in one package – marketing isn’t always included
You are more likely to keep creative control
You have to pay before you make any money – with no guarantee that you will make sales
The in-house services (copy-editing, printing etc) may not be good quality
You may still have to give up your rights – even though you are also paying for services
As the name suggests, self-publishing is when you publish your book through your own channels and at your own expense. You are in charge of every step, from editing to cover design to printing (if you want hard copies) to marketing and sales.
You get to keep the rights to your work
You get to make all the creative decisions
It doesn’t have to take years to reach your publication day
You have to project manage every step yourself
You will incur expenses for copy-editors, cover designers, printers etc.
You don’t get an advance – every penny you earn comes from strong marketing efforts
What about hybrid publishing?
You may have heard this term doing the rounds in the industry and, honestly, it has a few definitions. In some cases, hybrid publishers are independent presses that pay royalties but no advance – they also do not charge the author any fees for copy-editing, cover design, printing etc.
In other cases, hybrid publishers are vanity presses in disguise. I know of one vanity press, as described by an author who felt scammed by them (I won’t name names), that calls themselves a hybrid publisher on their website. They charge the author significant fees for publishing services with no promise of sales.
Since it’s still a very new term with no established definition as yet, the best advice to offer here is to heavily research them all before you sign any contract.
How to determine whether you can trust a publisher
When you’re new to the publishing world, it can be incredibly hard to spot the scammers from the legitimates. Some vanity presses do a very good job of looking official and their business models are designed to prey on naïve authors.
Since traditional and independent publishers don’t make any money from an author unless their book sells, they are more picky about who they sign. That is why traditional publishing isn’t an easy route – you have to prove your worth.
For vanity presses, however, they make money from the author upfront regardless of whether the book sells or not. As such, they can take on as many authors as they like without the same level of risk. And how do you convince authors to sign the contract and pay the fees? You gush over their submission and make them feel like the most talented writer on the planet.
So how do you determine the good from the bad?
Do research. Seriously – do lots of it. Read every page on the publisher’s website, including the small print, and note any potential red flags. Get them to explain the process in layman terms, outlining where, if at all, you will have to pay for anything.
Get testimonials. Get in touch with some of the publisher’s current or previous authors so you can get their side of the story. Don’t just talk to the ones the publisher is happy to connect you with either – they won’t hook you up with a client who disliked them.
Ask the community. If you haven’t already found the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, then head there now. It is a treasure trove of advice, support and recommendations. Drop the name of a publisher and ask for opinions and you will undoubtedly find authors willing to share their experiences, good or bad.
Find your route
There is no correct path to take when choosing how to publish your book. Every option has its pros and cons. Even hybrid presses aren’t terrible so long as you know exactly what you are paying for and are not being conned into thinking it is a different kind of publisher.
There are people who think traditional publishing is superior, but there are also people who think Classic Rock is the only good type of music, and who think Literary Fiction is the only stuff worth reading. These are opinions and opinions are subjective. Anyone who thinks self-publishing is an easy route taken by those who couldn’t get traditionally published have absolutely no idea how much work a self-published author has to put in.
Find the route that works for you. If you want to be guided through the process by a team with experience and knowledge, then pursue traditional or independent publishers. If you know for a fact you don’t want to give up creative control, then self-publishing is going to be a good fit.
Only you will know what is right for your book. But always do your research and trust your gut.