Publishing Options

Publishing options: Which one is right for you?

Today’s publishing options have changed since you first dreamed about getting your book into print. Most authors arrive on my editorial doorstep declaring their intentions of finding literary representation, with the caveat that “I’m open to self-publishing, I guess, if nothing else comes along.”

Please don’t handicap yourself with such an indecisive start. Waffling over publishing options is a disservice to your book. The way you approach editing should be driven by where your book is headed next.

Even if you don’t follow all the links I’m about to share, I’ll sleep better tonight knowing I’ve made my case for why you should decide how you want to publish before you get to editing.

What do you want out of publishing?

The single most important thing you can do to ensure your success as an author is knowing what that success means to you. If writing or publishing means nothing to you unless there’s a New York City publishing house logo on the book cover,  get ready to embrace the long, hard road of querying a manuscript. Likewise, if you’ve spent years pouring out this story and you want full control over the way it’s written, edited, designed, and marketed, the time to stake your claim on that is also now.

They say most so-called debut authors actually debut with their fourth manuscripts, not their first. … Completing your first manuscript is a huge creative milestone for many aspiring authors, but the book itself is unlikely to be a publishable success without the experience you’ll gain writing your next manuscripts. If you’ve pinned all your hopes on your freshman effort, what next? Do you abandon your dream because you couldn’t accelerate from 0 to 60 in five seconds or less your first time out of the garage?—The Author’s Guide to Setting Publishing Goals

Read more: The Author’s Guide to Setting Publishing Goals

Today’s publishing options

Traditional publishing represents the dream of legitimacy for many writers. Traditional publishing means signing over your work to a publishing company that will oversee completing the book’s development and then packaging, producing, distributing, and marketing it. The publisher bears the up-front financial costs of publishing and pays authors an advance on royalties; today’s median advance is about $10,000 paid out over time. Traditional publishers include the Big Five companies (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) as well as smaller publishers many people somewhat oddly refer to as indie publishers (that aren’t independent of anything other than the mega-corporate structure).

Self-publishing is more accessible than ever, allowing writers to publish amateur efforts right alongside professional-quality works. Self-published authors bear the complete responsibility for financing and overseeing all the work and processes handled by publishing companies, including editing, cover design, production, distribution, and marketing. The degree to which an author executes, hires out, or skips those processes affects the quality and success of the book. Many self-publishers release their books under their own publishing house label and refer to themselves as indie authors or indie publishers.

Hybrid publishing allows self-publishing authors to hire a publishing company to handle most or all of the publishing process, with the author rather than the publisher bearing the cost. This lets authors retain creative, intellectual property, and financial control of their books while getting professional development and service for the aspects they don’t want to handle or manage themselves. It’s one-stop contracting for publishing services. Reputable hybrid publishers accept only manuscripts that meet their quality criteria and fit their publishing brand. Because hybrid services include editing, design, production, distribution, and promotion, the cost of partnering with a hybrid publisher pushes deep into the five-figure range.

Don’t confuse hybrid publishing with vanity publishing, in which authors pay a company to produce a set number of books for a limited readership including friends, family, or often clients of their business. Vanity publishing is “pay to play” publishing that accepts most or all books submitted and paid. These books are not intended to reach mainstream distribution and audiences.

Here’s a more thorough investigation of the major publishing options.

Should you self-publish or traditionally publish? A high-level view of the differences.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing Versus Self-Publishing All the details you wondered about, plus a few hard realities that may help you seal your decision.

Everything you’ve always wanted to know: Hybrid publishing Between traditional publishing and doing it all yourself, there lies a third path: hybrid publishing.

Key book publishing paths A visual summary of the options.

What’s a six-figure book deal really worth? The bottom line may shock you.

Writer Beware An industry-vetted list of publishing schemes, scams, and pitfalls.

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Master Plan? Choose your publishing method based on your personal goals and measures for success.

How does editing fit in?

Publishing options drive editing strategy. Unless your editing budget is unlimited and money is no object, the editing plan I’ll recommend for your book depends on whether it’s destined for querying to literary agents, moving on to a hybrid publisher, or being readied for self-publishing.

If you’ll be submitting your manuscript to an agent, it’s vital that your story be compelling. Don’t worry about copyediting it to perfection. Build a story that grabs readers and doesn’t let go. If you’ll be self-publishing, you need both developmental and line editing. A substantive edit might do the job, especially if this isn’t your first rodeo with publishing and you’re assiduous at revision. Don’t compromise too far. Publishing is a business. If you release a substandard product, expect substandard reviews and sales.—Developmental editing vs. copyediting: Which do you need most?

Sometimes authors approach editing as though it’s a gatekeeping test for a manuscript’s commercial viability. Gatekeeping is not what editors do. An editor’s job is to help you make your manuscript the best you’re currently capable of. Green-lighting books for publishing is a job for agents and publishers. The only way to know if your work is commercially publishable is to try to get it published. Query it.

Read More: How long should you keep querying agents?

If your queries fail to strike any hits, it could be time to trunk the manuscript or switch tracks to self-publishing. Don’t neglect to loop back and complete any editing steps such as copyediting that you didn’t already complete.

Read More: Publishing tasks and decisions Queries & submissions, self-publishing basics, marketing & promotion

Read More: Types of editing: A practical guide

Revised November 2021

Lisa Poisso, Editor and Book Coach

Understanding how stories work changes everything. I’ll show you how to back up your creative instincts so your ideas hit home. It’s time to accelerate your journey from aspiring writer to emerging author. 

Ready to get serious about your book? Apply to work with me.

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