Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing

Congratulations!  Your book is complete, edited, and ready for submission!  Now, all you want to do is get it out there.  Well, there are two ways to do this: traditional publishing and self-publishing.  In this post, I'm going to try to give you as much information as I can about both so you can make an informed decision about how you want to proceed from here.

The first thing you need to know (and I'm just going to put this right out there) is readers don't care who publishes your book.  For instance, do you know who published the Harry Potter series?  Davinci Code?  Eat Pray Love?  Do you care?  Sure, we all can ramble off a couple major publishers, but really, when a reader is in a book store or online hunting for new books to read, they're not asking themselves what new books Random House put out recently.  They are searching for subject/genre, maybe title, and authors.  That's it.  So really, the publishing choices are entirely up to you.

I decided to self-publish.  For me, that was just the better option.  That doesn't mean it's the best option for you.  So I'm going to give you the benefit of what I've learned and researched so you can make the best informed decision for you and your project.  Check out the video I've included from Dale Beaumont, arguably one of the foremost authorities on author publishing.

Traditional publishing does have its benefits.  For one, national (and sometimes even international) distribution is guaranteed.  When you traditionally publish, you'll know that your book will be on a shelf in major bookstores on your launch date.  You'll most likely be given a significant advance on sales, and there's no large capital (start-up costs) that you'll have to put out up front.  Plus, you get the benefit of knowing that your publisher knows how to market and sell your book, leaving you free from the headache of the business end (that's the part I loathe).  You get to sit back now, and enjoy the fruits of all your hard writing work.

Cons to traditional publishing: you lose creative control.  Your publisher can nix your idea for the cover, the title, even which chapters you've included.  They get complete say over your final product.  That advance money?  Depending on your contract, you may owe it back if your book doesn't sell.  You will need a literary agent to snag a major publisher, and one of those is pretty expensive.  They're also hard to obtain.  And even once you get one, there's no guarantee they'll be able to get you a deal right away.  It could still takes months, even years, to convince a publisher to take you and your book under their wing.  Now, here's the part that deterred me: with a traditional publisher, you no longer own the rights to your work.  It belongs to the publishing house.  So if your book ever becomes a hit movie, unless you've got a killer lawyer, you won't be reaping the benefits of any of that.

When you self-publish, you retain the rights to your work, and you have complete creative autonomy.  It's your work; it belongs to you.  No matter which self-publisher you use, and there are several, your work remains yours.  Another advantage to self-publishing is a larger profit margin.  Because the cost of printing in many cases is only a few dollars, you make almost 40% on every sale, and that percentage is even higher if you're selling it directly at say a book signing, book fair, or direct with libraries and bookstores.  Also, your book with a self-publisher is print-on-demand, which prevents having a stockpile of books you're trying to get rid of.  Finally, because all the decisions are being made by you, your book can be released in as little as a 3-4 months (versus the waiting game many publishers can play when there's no immediacy or current market for your work).

There are some major pitfalls to self-publishing though.  Because everything is up to you, all the start-up cost is your responsibility, too.  (As will be all your promotion; more on that in the marketing segment.)  Most of the major self-publishers offer online distribution with the major companies: Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.  Some even have marketing packages that include wider distribution, press kits, and press releases, but these options are usually extra.  They may even give you a web page on their site for readers to purchase from you, but again, they won't advertise for you.  It will be up to you to promote your book and direct people where they can purchase it.   As I said in my introduction to this series, without the funds to invest in your book and its promotion, your project is dead in the water.  Deciding to self-publish is a major investment, even after the physical publishing part is done.  The self-publisher you choose will simply get your book in bound form; the rest is really entirely up to you.

Regardless of which publisher you choose, traditional or self-, you're going to want to research your options in that field.  For example, publishing points in a contract with traditional publishers vary between companies, as do the prices of printing and individual publishing costs with self-publishers.  Know what you're getting from the company you're expecting to work with, and make sure what they are offering suits your needs.  At the end of the day, this is your baby, and no one is going to speak for it but you.

Happy hunting!


  1. It would be great if you could talk about some more in depth need to know points on self publishing. You touched on some publishing points at the end but didn't go into them. I'm interested in self publishing but don't know what to look for.

  2. That's a great idea, Jeannette! I'll plan to do another blog in this series with some more in depth tips about self-publishing contracts.