Publishing options

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Which way to go?



Twenty years there was only one way to get published; you found a literary agent to take on your book or went direct to publisher. Tens of thousands of books written every year and only a very small handful published.

Then along came the first self-publishing companies, like Author House who, since 1997, have published more than 60,000 books. This opened up a whole new world for people who dreamt of being a published author.

The companies offering this service grew and then came the ebook and Kindle; now there really was a publishing revolution. This coincided with, or maybe was even a result of, the growth in ecommerce and books were one of the key products to benefit from this way to buy. Amazon developed their own publishing subsidiary, CreateSpace and Barnes & Noble developed Nook Books to name just two companies who rushed to meet the growing demand from authors.

So all this sounds great, but the new plethora of publishing suppliers caused new problems for would be authors, which one to choose? This is a really important question since it’s becoming an increasingly confusing and complicated market. With evolving models and varying contracts, there are now so many different self-publishing companies.

For someone like us at Books from Start to Finish, trying to clarify the pros and cons of the different publishing paths, with the growing number of services available to authors, gets increasingly difficult as well. There is no one path or service that’s right for everyone and there’s a need to understand and the changing landscape. But’s that why we’re here to help.

Your choice may be based on your long-term aspirations as a writer and balancing the idea of the kudos of a traditional publisher’s advance with the bigger royalties from self-publishing. If you don’t have any publishing goals beyond a single book, a memoir or non-fiction book perhaps, then budget is probably going to be one of your main drivers for the choice, but there are still big decisions to be made about which way to.


So what we’ve done here is to talk about the five main publishing options and their value to authors, looking at the potential pitfalls and some examples of each.

Traditional Publishing

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This is where you send a book proposal or submission to literary agents and editors, we can help you prepare this to industry standards, in an effort to land a contract that pays an advance and subsequent royalties, but these can take up to one year to be paid.

If you attempt to send your manuscript direct to a publisher they will often say and agent is required.  These publishers are highly selective and will demand a manuscript of the highest quality that they see as exceptionally marketable; it’s got to be very different to the mainstream.

Land a contract though and the publisher is going shoulder the financial and creative risk and managing the physical bookstore distribution is often a given. This route offers the best chance of mainstream media coverage and reviews to hopefully boost sales.

These companies offer years of expertise in book editing, design, and production and are working for you in regards to marketing and publicity, industry insight and offering general advice and assistance.

Successful authors who have previously followed the self-publishing route who transfer to a traditional publisher can sometimes negotiate better deals and keep their e-book rights.

Examples of these publishers would be:  ‘The Big Six’ (Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins, Random House, Macmillan, The Penguin Group and Hachette) plus small, independent presses, such as Graywolf, Tin House, and Algonquin. Mid-size publishers are such as Sourcebooks and F+W Media

Partnership publishing

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This is probably the least well known of the publishing routes and it could be considered as an evolution of traditional publishing. In this model, authors are positioned more as partners and receive higher royalties.

This means that the author partners with agent and the publisher, or an author collective, for the sharing the risk and the revenue.

The author does not pay a fee to publish, but an advance is highly unlikely. Whilst nowhere near as stringent as the reviews by literary agents and traditional publishers, there will still be a selection process; the partnership does not accept all interested authors.

Partnership publishing provides experience and knowledge of the book publishing industry and related marketing expertise.  When compared to paying out money for a DIY self-publishing package there is less risk and, as mentioned previously, better royalties than traditional publishing.

The word of warning here is that ‘not all partners are created equal’ and some may offer little more than digital distribution and administration. Changing landscape means contracts may vary widely from partner to partner; consider hiring an agent to review the contract before signing.

Partnership publishing companies are predominantly ebook only companies; not too many offer printed books as well. Make sure your partner is doing something meaningful to earn their share of revenue. 

Examples of these publishers would be: Rogue Reader, Diversion Books and Cool Gus Publishing

Fully-assisted self-publishing

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This is the original self-publishing model developed by a few small companies, but first made successful by Author House. Here you pay an amount of money for varying packages, with higher prices giving you more marketing, a higher number of books initially printed and so on. After you hand over your manuscript in its original format you can get your book published without lifting a finger, although most authors will naturally want to continue to have some input where possible.

Because of the costs involved, easily running from a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand, in volume terms it’s less popular now than the DIY solutions. However, it’s still a very significant part of the self-publishing market, where demand continues to grow for companies operating in this area. There is certainly a much wider of choice of companies for the author who wishes to go down this route.

Here there are generally no barriers to getting published and most work is accepted. A few companies will want to vet manuscripts to ensure that they meet are commercially viable, meet a minimum standard and that they are suitable for the company’s brand. The most common acceptance criteria is that author can pay the upfront fee! Once the book is published the author receives better royalties than a traditional contract, but receives less than with the DIY options

Because there are is no review of manuscripts by the publisher, this means that you get only what you pay for and may end up with a book without commercial viability. Amazon and similar places are full of books with bad grammar and spelling, not to mention very poor writing. If you publish your book this way and want to have any chance of it selling, the least you need is an independent edit before you hand your manuscript over.

You also need to understand about distribution here and the fact that whilst your book may be available for order through bookstores, it is rarely physically distributed to them or stocked by them. There are a few companies though who fair better in getting sales through bookstores; these companies offer less of a ‘production line’ operation and more of a relationship management approach for the author. These are companies who apply traditional publishing practices to self-publishing.

Because we know the market and the fact that we will only ever advise you independently, you can benefit greatly from our advice. We are very aware that if you go to a company offering three levels of service and you choose the lowest, they are going to try and sell you an ‘upgrade’. Because we will have been through all the options with you first then you will be in a much more knowledgeable and therefore stronger position.

With this publishing option, the market is dominated by Author Solutions, which includes a number of companies such as Archway, Xlibris and AuthorHouse. Other companies are Wheatmark, Bookstand Publishing, First Choice Books, Virtualbookworm and Aventine Press. The one with the broadest sales reach, options for remaining in control of elements of your book’s publishing, and a 100% satisfaction guarantee is BookBaby.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) publishing with a distributor

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While this applies to either print or e-books, today this usually involves only e-publishing your work initially. This reduces financial risk and investment involved with going to print as well. Most of the major companies operating this area offer a print-on-demand service for a traditional version of the book at very reasonable prices.

As well as the physical publishing, most companies are also a service provider or distributor allowing you to reach all possible online retailers.  Again depending on the company or the package you choose, they will also provide you with some level of assistance.

The big difference here to assisted self-publishing is that author does all or most of the work on his or her own. We’ve already mentioned about hiring  an editor before handing over your manuscript for publishing but the author also needs to do all the formatting of their manuscript before handing it over to the distributor.

That said, for people who are moderately PC literate, this is not an onerous task and most companies provide a template and easy to follow instructions. If you are really not happy about such a task we can easily arrange for someone to do the file conversion for you.

How this works financially is that the distribution service may charge an upfront fee and/ or take a cut of sales. The ‘or’ is important to note here in that, with some companies, once you’ve paid for your edit and the development of your cover,  you can get your manuscript out there ‘for nothing’.  The distributor is responsible for paying you the royalties.

Whilst ‘for nothing’ may sound a great option, don’t forget that doing it this way will mean that you are of course going to be getting lower royalties. In the grand scheme of things, if you make decent sales, the amount of money it ‘costs’ you could be same as if you paid an upfront fee and then got bigger royalties. What it usually comes down to is budget and whether you have the spare cash for the initial fee.

As well as being potentially the best cost option, using these companies you are not bound to the distributor or giving up your rights.  What this means is that should your book be successful through a DIY approach you can take it to a literary agent or traditional publisher for reissue and take advantage of all that route offers. Also, having proven success already, you will be in a strong position when it comes to your contract and agreeing royalties and rights.

But when you’re setting out on the road to becoming a published author you still need help and for e-book publishing, using one of these providers removes admin headache of managing accounts at multiple online retailers. Also, for print-on-demand distribution, a service partner is mandatory since your book will not be stocked in stores, merely available for order.

The example companies here are Smashwords (e-books), BookBaby (e-books),, CreateSpace (owned by Amazon, POD service), CompletelyNovel, Lulu (e-books and POD service), Lightning Source (POD), Blurb (full-color books), BookCountry (e-books) and Vook (enhanced e-books).

Some distributors are also book retailers, such as Smashwords, Lulu, Blurb and CompletelyNovel. This latter company offers a different pricing model, whereby the author pays a low monthly fee as opposed to the up-front service charge.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) direct publishing

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Essentially, this is when an author doesn’t put any middlemen between themselves and the retailer selling his books. Often, this option is combined with one above; for example, someone might sell direct through Amazon KDP and complement it with distribution to all other retailers through Smashwords. This is possible because most distributors and online retailers of e-books work on a nonexclusive basis.

So here, the author does all the work on his or her own, hiring outside assistance as needed, and provides retailers with finished, ready-to-go files or books. The retailer takes a cut of the sales, which may vary based on the price you set. This approach does, of course, demand the most skill and effort from the author to get the best quality book and they have to manage the development of their own cover.

No rights are given away here and the author deals with each retailer, or as many retailers, as they wish to. This way the author can maximize their earnings, getting the highest possible percentage of sales. They retain complete control over the product, its pricing, marketing and so on.

Example companies are Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), Nook Press, Kobo Writing Life, Apple iBookstore and Scribd.

Enough information?

We hope you now have a better understanding of the options for publishing your book but we also recognise that you might now have even more questions! That’s what we’re here for, to help smooth the process and make sure you get what you want for your book so contact us today.


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