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Which Type of Publishing Is Right For You

Which Type of Publishing is Right for You

The publishing world is changing fast. Traditional publishing used to be the only game in town for authors who wanted a fair shake financially. Now indie publishing and small presses are additional options. Each option has its pros and cons. Authors must take the time to fully research these various avenues before deciding which one to pursue.


Publishing Options

Traditional Publishing

“Traditional publishing” means that you work with a publishing company that puts up all of the money to publish your book. They pay you some money upfront as an “advance against royalties” in exchange for the rights to publish your book for a certain length of time. They also pay for professional editing, proofreading, typesetting or formatting, printing, warehousing, sales, and distribution. They collect all the money earned and pay you a percentage as royalties.

In traditional publishing, you do all the writing, and the publisher does all the other work and takes all the financial risk. You get a percentage of the profits they receive, which go toward earning out your advance. If you earn out the advance, you receive payment for any additional royalties. Once you’ve delivered an acceptable manuscript to your publisher, you never have to pay back the advance, even if you don’t sell enough copies to earn out. This can be a great deal for authors.

In recent years, authors have been getting less investment from traditional publishers. For example:

  • Advances are smaller than they were in the heyday of Christian fiction.
  • Royalties on e-books are typically 25% of the wholesale price of the book. This is lower than the 35% to 70% earned by indie authors but may be offset by the wider distribution of the publisher.
  • Many publishers require option clauses that give the publisher first rights of refusal on the author’s next book.
  • Some publishers require non-compete clauses that prevent an author from working with another publisher (or from indie-publishing) during a certain window of time. The author needs to read the contract carefully and decide if this is a clause they wish to accept or whether the publisher might be willing to negotiate.
  • Traditional publishing takes a long time to move a book from concept to final published book—often a year or longer.
  • For a writer who writes several books a year, traditional publishers often can’t publish all the books in a timely matter, which can hurt the author’s ability to earn income from their writing if there are option clauses or non-compete clauses in place.
  • Traditional publishers decide what will be published and what won’t, so it is of-ten difficult to get a manuscript accepted. In addition, a traditional publisher can cancel a contract, leaving the author back at “square one.”
  • Traditional publishers hold the majority of cards in negotiating a book deal.

There are other considerations, but these are the most essential for you to under-stand. These are the reasons why some professional authors have chosen not to seek a traditional contract, and believe they are better off publishing independently. At the same time other authors choose to remain with traditional publishing, relying on the advance payment they receive for the book and the many other services (editing, cover design, marketing, distribution, etc.) that a publishing house provides as part of the contract.

NOTE: Some authors use the term “legacy publishing” to refer to traditional publishing.

Indie Publishing

“Indie publishing” means that you act as your own independent publisher. You write your book. Then you do all the tasks a publisher would typically do, or else you hire a specialist who can do the tasks you can’t. These are:

  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Cover design
  • Typesetting (for print books) or formatting (for e-books)
  • Marketing

Indie authors often do all of the above themselves. Then they upload their finished book files to the various online retailers—Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, etc. Or they may work with a distributor, such as Smashwords, who will deal with some or all of the retailers.

The key here is that the author gets a larger percentage of the money—typically between 35% and 70% of the retail price of the book. The indie author takes all the financial risk and gets most of the rewards, so she has a high incentive to keep costs down and do a good job.

Indie publishing can be a great deal for authors. The very best-paid indie authors are earning millions of dollars per year, and a surprising number are earning tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. However, other indie authors are not earning that much.

Never-published authors who jump straight into indie publishing have some hurdles to overcome. The biggest temptation is to publish too soon, before you have honed your writing craft. Like any worthwhile pursuit, learning the craft of writing takes time, and it’s to a writer’s detriment to publish before their writing is ready.  An-other challenge is building a readership from scratch. This can be done, and some have managed it well. But it takes a lot of work, constant writing so you have more product to sell, and constant vigilance in marketing. In addition, the focus in indie publishing is on ebooks, with paper selling far less, usually through online sales using print-on-demand. The paper copies are rarely on bookstore shelves. Many readers still prefer paper and shop in bookstores. These readers will be harder to reach through indie publishing.

Hybrid Authors

“Hybrid author” is a term coined by Bob Mayer. It means an author who chooses to publish some books with traditional publishers and some books as an indie author.

Hybrid authors are looking for the best of both worlds, and this can be a reasonable choice. A hybrid author may have some books still in print with traditional publishers, while also independently publishing some projects. It’s extremely important that a hybrid author communicate with their traditional publishing house about release dates and planned promotions to avoid competing with their own titles for sales. This is be-coming more and more common as publishers discover indie books can often enhance sales of all the author’s works.

Small Publishers/Presses

“Small publishers and small presses” are traditional publishers that are small—typically just a few employees. Small publishers often give better royalties on e-books. They may give more attention to new authors. Working with a small publish-er/small press can be an option, especially with new authors. However, authors need to be careful when choosing the small publisher option. Make sure the publisher understands your book, hires editors or has editors on staff to help polish your book, and has the ability to place books in stores. Otherwise, many authors have found that they become locked into a contract that can be extremely hard to escape but without the support and distribution they’d hoped for from a publisher. Book shelf space has dramatically decreased, and even large publishers have to fight for that space. So the question to ask any small publisher is: how can you get my book onto store shelves, and what has been your success in doing so with previous titles?

As with all contracts it is important to do your due diligence. Don’t simply be swept away in the excitement of a contract with a publisher. Make sure the company you are considering contracting with can help you accomplish the things you can’t or don’t wish to do on your own, such as editing, book cover design, marketing, distribution, etc.

It’s often wiser to simply publish your book independently rather than go with a small publisher. In today’s market a small publisher usually doesn’t have the clout to sell enough copies of the book to make this option profitable to the author.

Vanity Publishing

“Vanity publishing” means you pay somebody to publish your work. You typically pay them a flat fee, and with that money, they hire editors, proofreaders, typesetters, graphic designers, marketers, and whatever else is needed. They take care of the printing, warehousing, shipping, distribution, sales, etc. If there are any profits, they distribute them to you, usually taking a cut.

In vanity publishing, you do the writing and you take all the financial risk. The vanity publisher does all the other work and takes none of the risk. The profits can be divided up various ways.

Vanity publishing can be wide open to abuse. When you are fronting the money and taking all the financial risk, the vanity publisher has little incentive to keep costs down or do a good job or give you a fair shake.

Most professional authors, editors, and agents will tell you that vanity publishing is rarely a good deal for an author. Many authors have lost hundreds and even thou-sands of dollars from using a vanity publisher that did not live up to its promises.

When you’re considering the option that is best for you, here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Which pieces of the publication process do I personally want to manage? Re-member those pieces include writing, editing, copyediting, covers, marketing, distribution, etc.
2. Which pieces am I equipped to manage?
3. Which pieces would I like to have someone else manage?
4. How much time and money can I invest in making my books the best they can be?
5. Is print distribution in bookstores important to me?

Here are some questions to ask publishers of any size before choosing to work with them. This list is not exhaustive, but will help you begin the conversation:

1. If I work with you, when will the rights to my book revert back to me?
2. What costs, if any, will I bear?
3. What publicity and marketing will the publisher do? Which parts of publicity and marketing will I be expected to do?
4. Where and how will the book be distributed?
5. What is my cost of buying books from the publisher?

Another note: Pay special attention to clauses that give the publisher an out from the contract but not the author.