Publishing Options for Authors

A dizzying array of publishing options is available to authors. Most authors find the terminology used in the industry, along with the overlap between the publishing service providers, to be very confusing. In this week’s blog post, I will eliminate some of that confusion for you by identifying the publishing alternatives authors will encounter, and by highlighting a few pitfalls to avoid.

In short, the following are the publishing routes available to authors: traditional or commercial publishers, independent publishing, and a catchall that I’m going to call “everything else.”

Traditional or Commercial Publishers: These are the well-known names in the book business. Authors must submit manuscripts for consideration. A literary agent is an author’s best friend in finding opportunities with commercial publishers. The vast majority of manuscripts submitted to commercial publishers are rejected. When these companies do accept a book, they may pay an advance on royalties (smaller presses may pay nothing upfront). The company provides all editing and design services, and to a certain extent, the marketing services as well (these days, authors are largely on their own for marketing). The key here is that commercial publishers do not ask for money from the author as a requirement for publishing the book.

Independent Publishing: The opposite end of the spectrum from Traditional Publishing is “Independent Publishing.” The author is the publisher and as such treats the publishing project as a business. The author seeks estimates from companies that provide the services needed to produce the book (editing, proofreading, cover design, interior layout, typesetting, etc.). Authors may choose different companies for different services, or may choose the same company for all services. The author is responsible for organizing printing and distribution, or can hire marketing and distribution services to assist in this process. By publishing independently, authors have more control over the end product. More than likely, they will end up with a better product than by choosing a company from the “Everything Else” category. Authors can choose service providers who will produce a book of equal or better quality to books produced by Traditional Publishers, and will not need to wait for the gatekeepers of the publishing industry to pick their books. However, independent publishing can be a lot of work.

Everything Else: Because the lines between Vanity, Subsidy and Self-Publishing companies have become so blurred, I have grouped these publishers under “Everything Else.” Here are some clues that you are dealing with an “Everything Else” company:

  • They require you to pay money to the company as a condition of having your book published. For example, some companies charge a high, nonrefundable fee to read your manuscript and “consider” it for publication. This is not a fee for services provided such as editing or layout, but a fee to simply be signed up.
  • By making it difficult to sign up—for your manuscript to be “accepted”—they make you feel as if your book is being considered by a “real publisher.” Although they disguise themselves as “real” publishers, authors who publish through these types of companies report that they have trouble with book retailers accepting their books.
  • An “Everything Else” publisher may require you to use one of their ISBN numbers, meaning you are not listed as the publisher; the company is the publisher.
  •  They package their services together, making it difficult for you to determine the costs of individual services. They may offer an unbelievably low price for a package, but leave out essential services such as cover design, editing and proofreading. Once you add these services onto the package, the total cost may not seem as appealing. Or you may not realize these services are not included and end up doing the work yourself.
  • If design services are offered, be sure that you are receiving an original unique cover and interior layout. These designs are often templates, and your book ends up looking unprofessional and common.
  • Watch out for companies advertise “it’s all so easy.” This sales pitch is a “bait and switch” tactic to reel you in. Once authors delve into the templates, one of two things usually happen: Either you wind up with a “plain vanilla” book, or you realize you can’t do it and request help, at which time the company swoops in and the initial, appealing low costs become a distant memory. The saddest thing of all is that you can end up spending just as much money for “template 2.0″—which is still plain vanilla—as you would have spent for a well-designed book that would be more likely to attract buyers.

If you would like to learn more about the steps involved in independently publishing a book, contact us!

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