“4 Options for Getting Your Book Published”
by Joe Walters
You’ve written a book. Maybe it’s a cozy mystery. A self-help or business book. A wickedly entertaining tome of literary fiction. Regardless, it’s amazing and you’re proud of it. So how do you go about getting your book published?
Lucky for you, you’re approaching this publication in a time when getting a book published is as accessible as ever. While there are four primary options for getting your book published, you’ll want to know the pros and cons of publishing your book in a specific way. So I put together this blog post so you can make the right decision.
As the founder of Independent Book Review, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to recognize firsthand which publishing options work best for specific books and why. So hang out with me for a while in this post and see how and why you should publish your book.
Without further ado, here’s “4 Options for Getting Your Book Published.”
Option 1: Traditionally publish with a major publishing house
You know those books that appear in nearly all of the bookstores around the country? How about the ones that get picked up by major book clubs like Reese Witherspoon’s and Emma Watson’s? If you want to get your book seen by the most amount of people, you may want to take the route of trying to traditionally publish your book with a major publishing house.
A major publishing house could be a press within the big five publishers (like Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster) or it could be a larger independent press like Graywolf Press. But you can’t just go knocking at Penguin’s door asking for a contract. You’ll need a literary agent first.
Major publishers and larger indie presses do not accept unsolicited submissions from the author, so you’ll need to send a query letter, synopsis, and a few sample pages to a literary agent. If an agent wants to represent you, they’ll submit your book to editors at one of the major publishing houses and hope the house will purchase the rights to your book.
If you want to take this route, you should be aware of a few things:
- It might not work. All you can do is write the best book you possibly can and start querying. So get back to revising–and good luck!
- For fiction, you’ll need to finish writing your book before you query.
- For nonfiction, you may be able to send a book proposal instead of finishing the project first. Just check out their submission guidelines.
- Do your research on literary agents before you query. Don’t send out large batches of queries to every agent you can find. Each agent specializes in certain types of books, so check out which genres they’re looking for and a few of the books they’ve already gotten published.
- Literary agents work on commission. When your book sells, your agent gets a portion of the sale. Do NOT pay an agent upfront to take on your manuscript.
- When a major publishing house decides to give you a contract, they may give you an advance. It could be pretty high or relatively low. But regardless of how much it is, don’t spend it all in one place. It could get you into some iffy financial situations.
- You’ll need to earn out your advance before you start earning royalties. This means that you won’t get paid per book sold until you make enough to cover how much the publisher gave you at the beginning of the process.
- There are tiers within traditional publishing. If your press believes a certain book could make more money than another, that certain book will receive a higher advance and marketing budget. Your agent will likely communicate this stuff with you as well as help you make the decision if being lower tier in a major house is actually better than being higher tier at a smaller house.
- If you have no money to expend on getting your book published, this is your best shot at having the best product.
- Major publishing houses often use bookstores as one of their primary marketing targets. If you have a dream of walking into a random bookstore and finding your book there, shooting for a major publishing house might be a good place to start.
- This is a terrifically lengthy process. You might wait years after querying your book to be published, so put on your comfy pants and get working on your next project.
- In 2019, even major publishing houses don’t use a lot of their marketing budget on book tours. It’s possible that some of them will, but if you’re looking for a book tour, just be aware that you might be footing some travel expenses.
Looking for new ways to improve your writing so a major house will love it? Check out these books about writing!
Option 2: Traditionally publish with a small press
If you’re looking through my window, you can see me jumping up and down while I type this, chanting, “SMALL. PRESSES. RULE. BABY!” A small press is a publishing house often made up of less than ten staff members who work their butts off to publish books they believe in.
Oftentimes, that means they’re taking on books that won’t be accepted by major publishers for any number of reasons. One of those reasons? Maybe a major house believes your book won’t sell well, so they don’t buy it. But a small press? They might not care. If they find a terrific book in their slush pile, they’ll get to work on making sure it reaches its audience. Small presses also accept submissions directly from the author, so you won’t need a literary agent for them.
A small press’s goal is often about putting an amazing book in front of its audience. They work on books regularly, giving them the expertise to understand how things sell and how they can utilize their personal connections to get you into bookstores, do author events, and get reviews. A small press might give your book more attention than a major publishing house would (especially if you’re published on a lower tier with a major), so it could give you immense joy to be able to work with them. The small press community is one of the kindest I’ve come in contact with, and I couldn’t be more grateful to work with them at IBR to spread the word about their great books.
If you decide to take this route, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You may not get a large advance or any advance at all. Small presses do not usually have large budgets, so you and the press might move directly into the earning-royalty phase.
- Much of the marketing work could fall on your shoulders. While these small presses can offer you increased validation when pitching for events, shelving queries, reviews, and more, you may still need to be the one pitching it. But the press will likely give you pointers and offer the help they can.
- Some small presses take different royalty percentages than others and publish in different formats than others. Just make sure you do your research and agree to their terms before you sign the contract. It’s okay to turn them down.
- If you’d prefer not to spend too much money on your book, this is your second best option. You’ll likely have to pay a few fees for optional marketing (like events, conferences, or maybe even contests), but you won’t be asked specifically by a small press to give them any money.
- While many major publishing houses are stuck in New York, small presses can be anywhere. That means if you’d like to shoot for a local press, you’ve got a great shot in finding one near you.
- Did you know that indie and small presses are often the recipients of major book awards? Well, you do now. Small and indie presses publish risky and non-commercial material that don’t always get picked up by major houses, and in return, judges recognize the uniqueness of the concepts, ideas, and writing with awards. If you think you’ve got a special book that might not fly off the shelves, you should check out the awards that you think it could win and research the recent winners. They might be from a small press, and that press might take author submissions. Woo!
- All in all, a small press is a team of publishing professionals who believe in your work and want to help readers find it. If you run into anyone running a small traditional press, give them a high-five for me. I’m sure they’re busy with their other jobs, but I’m also sure they’d love to hear that they appreciate the work they are doing. I know I do.
Don’t know much about small or indie presses? Check out these “10 Awesome Indie Presses You Should Know About.”
Option 3: Use a hybrid or vanity press
This publishing option is perhaps the most controversial. If you head onto your favorite social media group or publishing forum, you’ll get advice from people telling you that you should never pay to publish your book. While this advice is well-intentioned, it also spreads unnecessary hatred and anger toward companies who offer a valuable service to authors.
The terms “hybrid press” and “vanity press” have one major thing in common: the author pays a publishing company to provide the service of publishing a book. Each vanity press has a different model of how these payments work. Some presses accept only specific types of books, others accept anything they can get their hands on, and a few will only take on products they truly care about.
Regardless, vanity or hybrid publishing is a form of self-publishing where the author receives all of their author services in one place. As a self-published author, you will need to purchase author services anyway, so you might find the convenience of getting them all in one place is great for you.
However, you’ll also want to be picky when choosing your hybrid publisher. There are a few presses out there that have caused outrage when it comes to poor customer service, hidden fees, and an overall outlook that has a problematic goal of taking your money instead of helping you. These problematic businesses exist in every industry, but just because a few companies have backward goals does not mean that every one does.
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you are considering hybrid publishing:
- Weigh your options heavily. Do your research and discover the pros and cons of using a hybrid publisher instead of self-publishing.
- Understand your goal prior to hybrid publishing. If your goal is to have a book that you can love out in the world, this could be a good option. If your goal is to make money off of your fiction, it’s possible that a hybrid publisher could get you there—but it may be a bit more difficult.
- Some hybrid presses operate on a model that will not benefit you. Ask questions about how much things cost, why they cost the way they do, and if you would prefer to do it on your own or with someone else. It’s possible that a mean-spirited hybrid press feels pushy and/or makes promises that seem unlikely. It’s fine to say no.
- There are some truly wonderful hybrid publishing companies. They have kindhearted staff-members who want to see you succeed and do everything they can to help you get there. They may work in publishing full-time, and this may be your first time trying to sell a book. Utilize their expertise and experience.
- If you enjoy your experience with a hybrid press, make sure to share it with other authors. There is so much negativity surrounding this type of press, and I think publishing forums and social media groups would be a better place if we all approached these different types of publishing with respect.
Did you know that IBR offers all of the major author services you need to publish a book? Well, we do. So check ’em out, will ya?
Option 4: Self-publish your book
With the advent of new technology, the process of making a book available to the public has become easier than ever. But that doesn’t mean self-publishing a book successfully is that easy. And really, if you’re considering publishing a book, that should be the number one goal: doing it right.
If you self-publish with strategy, you can take advantage of the much-higher royalty rate and potentially pave your way toward making a living with your writing.
Before you go hitting the publish button though, you should consider a few things:
- When you self-publish, you are doing the job of multiple people at a traditional publishing house. Prepare yourself for a ton of work and not enough time in the day. And because of that, you’ll want to hire some experts for your production team.
- Just like a traditional publishing house, you’re going to need a realistic budget to work from. If you skimp on paying for essential services like cover design and copy editing, your product will suffer because of it. And once you put something out on the market, you won’t want to make the mistake of having to fix stuff afterwards. You only have a few shots to impress your first fans, and if you rush the process and skimp on a budget, you could lose those lifelong readers.
- At traditional publishing houses, the staff members have valuable experience and an expertise that could stop you from making a huge mistake. When you’re self-publishing, you are all on your own. There’s no one telling you that you cannot leave that problematic scene in your book. Your editor might suggest that you remove it, but it’s up to you to make the final decision. Just make sure you get plenty of input from outsiders before you publish.
- Do your research on trustworthy author services. It’s important to trust and believe in the people working on your book, so before you hire your developmental editor, make sure you believe they can do the best job for you. There are quite a few out there, so get sample edits and hire the one you believe in and can see yourself working with.
- Take. Your. Time. There are a million reasons why traditional publishing takes a long time, but perhaps the most important is that you need to do loads of preparation before a book is made available to the public. Don’t set a publishing date as a goal and force yourself to finish it if things get pushed back. It’s more important to do it right than to just do it in general.
- Treat your book like a business in self-publishing. This is a product. And you are the owner of that product. How can you make sure your production team is offering everything you need while also giving you the time to be the content creator (or writer) who can come out with the next product?
- You could be putting yourself in the position to make the most money off of a book sale as possible. Not too shabby! Only downfall? You’ll have to front the cost of the book’s production, which means if you don’t have much money when you begin your project, you may be better off trying to traditionally publish instead.
- It is a bit more difficult to get self-published books in bookstores. Due to returns and other bookstore policies, your dream of seeing your book at Barnes and Noble may be a bit harder to achieve. Not impossible though!
- Self-publishing can be extremely rewarding, so if you’re thinking about taking the plunge, I wish you the best of luck! Make sure to hang out with us on social media and our For Authors page to discover tips and new promotional opportunities.
Check out one of our favorite self-published books of 2019, Craig Gralley’s historical fiction Hall of Mirrors!
And that’s all I’ve got for you! There are your options for getting your book published. Have any additional questions or advice? Let us know in the comments below.
About the Author
Joe Walters is the founder of Independent Book Review. When he’s not doing editorial or reviewing work at IBR, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process.
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