How To Publish a Book: An Overview of Traditional & Self-Publishing
For any writer who aspires to be an author, knowing how to publish a book is essential. It's a common scenario — you have an idea for a book but you have no way of knowing how to translate that idea from your computer screen into print or online.
Now, more than at any other time in history, there are more opportunities and possibilities to write, share, and publish a story — and interact with an audience. Whether you are after the traditional publishing experience, complete with an agent, editor, and publisher, or want to self publish your book, it's completely within your grasp. You decide what works best for you and your work.
We're going to guide you through the book publishing process and give you the resources to choose which publishing option fits your work best. But first, you should know about traditional and self-publishing.
Traditional book publishing is when a publisher offers the author a contract and, in turn, prints, publishes, and sells your book through booksellers and other retailers. The publisher essentially buys the right to publish your book and pays you royalties from the sales.
If you want to publish a book traditionally, most writers need to find an agent. In order to find one, you must identify the right category for your writing. If you are or want to be a non-fiction writer, you will need to submit a book proposal with three sample chapters, and a synopsis of each chapter. If you are writing fiction, you must have your manuscript complete.
Once these steps are accomplished, you're ready to write a query letter. This letter is what you will send to potential agents. It's important to mention the different parts that make up a query letter. You should be sure to mention the synopsis of your book, the chapter summary, the market or audience your book is meant for, and a description of yourself.
There are a variety of different publishing models, including print-on-demand, vanity, subsidy, and self-publishing.
Print-on-demand (POD) publishers accept all submissions &emdash; anyone who is willing to pay is published. POD publishing uses printing technology to produce books one at a time through a company at a cost-effective price. The books are printed individually as orders come in. Therefore, you can adjust the book's supply to meet the reader's demand.
POD cuts back on costs and eliminates the need for space to store unsold copies. Typically editing, proofreading, or marketing is offered at an additional cost and you make money off of royalties from sales. In terms of rights, some can go to the POD publisher for a set amount of time but this varies depending on the publisher.
A vanity publisher, also known as a book manufacturer, publishes any anyone's work provided they have the money to pay for their services. The manufacturer prints and binds a book on the author's dime and does not offer editing, marketing, or promotional assistance. However, the author owns the printed books and retains all profit from sales.
A subsidy publisher is similar to a vanity publisher in that the author has to pay for the printing and binding process of the book. However, this type of publisher contributes a portion of the cost to editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing. In this case, the publisher owns the books until they are sold and the author makes money from royalties.
Self-publishing requires the author to invest their own money to produce, market, distribute, and warehouse the book. While this can be a huge time commitment, the process can be more cost-effective than vanity or subsidy publishing.
What's the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing?
In traditional publishing, the publisher handles the marketing, distribution, and warehousing for your book. This is the traditional method to book publishing because there is no expense to the author—mainstream publishers make a profit from the book's sales.
Whereas in self-publishing, depending on which type of publisher or platform you choose, the majority of the work falls on your shoulders and you pay for all expenses. The main advantages of self-publishing are that you control when the book is published, you retain all rights to your book, and you receive 100 percent of the profits.
In both cases, you have the option to choose what format your book will be published in—printed book, e-book, audio book, cd, dvd, and many more. If you pick an e-book, which is essentially a book published in digital form and available on e-Readers and other electronic devices, it can be downloaded instantly, has the ability to be translated into different languages, and can never go out of print. However, the as e-book formats and file types develop and change over time, many may need to be converted to a new file or format.
How do I know which one is right for me?
If seeing your work in print is to fulfill a personal goal you have or you view yourself as a hobbyist, choose vanity publishing.
If you're writing a family history, memoir or book of poetry that has a limited audience, and don't want your book stocked at bookstores, using POD is probably to your advantage. They are often nonreturnable, not sold at a discount, and you won't have to store any unsold books.
Printing in bulk via self-publishing may be your best bet if you have a visible platform established to reach your audience, both online and offline (such as a website, Twitter handle, and Facebook fan page), have credibility with your readers in your genre/category and are prepared to dedicate your time to marketing and promoting your work.
Self-publishing is also a good option if you have a time-sensitive manuscript, as a commercial publishing company can take up to 18 months to get your book from manuscript to final production.
On the flip side, here are a few things to consider. If you don't know how to find or reach your readers, don't have an online presence, don't have the time to spend online or dislike social media, want to be in a brick-and-mortar type of bookstore and have a publisher handle the marketing for you, the traditional publishing route may be the best option.
Ultimately it is up to you to decide!
How do I publish my book, traditionally?
Once you a ready to find an agent, do your research. Check out websites such as WritersMarket.com and Writer's Digest magazine. Contact agents by sending them your query letter. The best case scenario is for one of them to accept your proposal and offer you a contract.