I love to discuss publishing with writers (with anyone who’ll listen, in fact!) and something that I’ve seen over and over is the idea that there are two main routes to getting a book published:
1. Acquiring an agent and getting a traditional publishing deal with one of the ‘Big 5’ publishers (and their many imprints):
• Harper Collins
• Hachette Books
• Penguin Random House
• Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (Owns Macmillan Publishing Group)
• Simon and Schuster
2. Self-publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace.
Now, this sometimes makes me cross because I feel that this completely disregards all the other routes to getting a book published. I want to tell them – often I do! – that, actually, they have far more options than they realize.
Because, nowadays, if you’re a writer looking to get published, ‘choice’ is the key word. With the advent of the internet and low cost digital printing, along with a growing range of self-publishing platforms, there’s a hell of a lot of publishing options out there.
Broadly speaking there are three main routes to getting your book out there. They are:
1. Traditional publishing
3. Mixed publishing
But within each of the above, there is yet more choice. Let’s take a closer look:
1. Traditional publishing
With this option, you continue to be “the writer” and so the majority of your time will be spent on writing, some on promoting. The publishing house will take care of all the rest. The publisher will cover the costs of publishing. Your earnings will be an advance against royalties, which approximately equate to 10% of a book’s RRP. So if your book is priced at £10 you will be credited with £1 for each book sold (subject to lots of contentious shenanigans around who bears the cost of discounts), until you have “earned out” your advance. After that, you will be paid royalties for as long as your book continues to sell. Your books have the best chance of being sold through all the major retail channels such as Waterstones, independent book shops, supermarkets, Amazon etc. and there is also the possibility of selling other rights e.g. TV, film, audio etc. One key feature of traditional publishers is that they are very selective about which books to publish.
1a. Representation by an agent
This option has two stages. Quite apart from the writing of a good book, which has the potential to sell lots of copies, this entails finding the right agent, writing a good cover letter and synopsis and then “bagging the agent”. No mean feat when the majority of writers aim for this option. Competition is fierce and luck plays a part. (What the Big 5 publishers want at the moment you submit to an agent is part of the “luck” aspect.) After you acquire an agent comes the next stage: them persuading a big publisher to take on your book. A nail biting process! It will, at least, cost you nothing to submit to an agent.
1b. Getting a book deal with a Big 5 publisher by yourself.
From time to time big publishers will open up submissions to unagented authors. That’s when they (inevitably) receive hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts. Again, competition is fierce, but if your book is well-written and the story just what they’re looking for at the moment you submit, you do have an outside chance – if you can catch the interest of one of their readers (often an army of interns taken on by the publisher to sift through the “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts). Submission will be free.
1c. Winning a writing competition where the prize is a book deal with a traditional publisher/meeting with agents.
These kind of competitions usually come with a steep fee (in the range of £20 –£50) so if money is an issue it’s not a great option. Only when your book is highly polished should you submit to a competition such as this. Selection is on a similar basis to 1b, but money is being made from the submitting authors. Again, competition is fierce.
1d. Getting your book published by a small/indie press.
Competition is less fierce when it comes to the indie press scene, but… any highly-regarded small press will still receive a large number of submissions and be highly selective about the books they publish. So you need to do your homework by making sure you know what the press publishes and if your book would be a good fit for them. Small presses are the lifeblood of poetry, short fiction and literary fiction. Because small presses don’t have the kind of financial backing the Big 5 have, they sometimes charge for submissions or competitions, to help keep them afloat. However, many small presses have a ‘buy a book’ submission policy, which means the submitting writer gets something for their money, and the press and the author of the book bought also benefit.
With this option, you are both publisher and writer, and as such the majority of your time will be spent on publishing, a little on writing. You will have to cover the upfront costs of publishing. This can be in the range of £0 – £1000s. Experienced, professional self-publishers spend what they need to on editing and production costs, to deliver a high quality book. Your earnings can be up to 70% of the book’s RRP. So, for a £10 book, you can potentially receive £7 per book, however, with this option your books will only ever really be sold via the online self-publishing platform/online retailer of your choice, or by you, by hand. One key feature of self-publishing is that there is no selectivity. Anyone can self-publish their book.
2a. DIY self-publishing on one of the ‘big platforms’ – Amazon’s CreateSpace, Lulu, Smashwords.
With this option you have complete artistic control over your book. But, as such you will have to do exactly what a traditional publisher does i.e. editing, proofreading, typesetting, cover design, marketing, publicity. If you have the skills to do this all yourself then you can keep your upfront costs low. However, if you don’t have those skills (and it’s a rare individual who does) you will have to seek out and pay professionals to do those jobs for you. DIY self-publishing is all about project management.
2b. Using a “complete package” self-publishing service provider – Matador, Troubadour
If you’re not a fan of project management and you have the funds to pay a one-stop-shop “complete service provider” then this could be the option for you.
2c. Becoming part of a self-publishing collective (e.g. Big White Shed) or authors’ collective (e.g. Triskele Books).
If being part of a “tribe”, with the accompanying benefits of support from other writers, is something that’s important to you, then this may be the right option. With this publishing model writers group together to share expertise, skills and contacts for book production professionals. The “tribe” also provides support and encouragement for each member’s individual book publishing journey. Generally, the collective has some kind of unifying brand or image, so that, from the outside, the outfit looks professional (and rather like an independent press).
2d. Set up a “micropress”
This is where you are author, publisher, distributor and retailer, but you have more choice of print format/quality, and also, slightly more options of where to sell your books. That’s because you can liaise with a printing firm (either in your locality or elsewhere) and decide on how many books to print upfront. You can then sell them by hand, via your website, or any of the other big online retailers. You’re not just limited to the one or two publishing platforms. This option is particularly good if you’re publishing something niche/bijou e.g. a pamphlet with coloured endpapers, a literary magazine with a particular print size/paper colour and you have some local stockists interested in selling your book.
2e. Online-only publishing – Wattpad, MacGuffin, social media, personal blogs, vlogs etc.
If you’re not bothered about seeing your words, poems, short stories or novel printed on paper (or receiving earnings directly from selling them) then sharing your writing online via social media, your blog or vlog is a way to go. If you’re looking for a more targeted audience, and to be part of a writing and reading community, then you may like to look into Wattpad, where you can potentially gain a large following of readers interested in the kind of genre you’re writing in. MacGuffin is a similar site – a self-publishing platform for poetry and fiction, founded and managed by the UK-based indie publisher, Comma Press.
3. Mixed Publishing
This kind of publishing borrows from both the traditional and self-publishing models to provide a more tailored set of options for the writer. Your earnings, whether you spend more time as writer or publisher (or self-promoter), and where your books will ultimately be sold, will depend on which of the options you go for. There is some selectivity about which books get published.
3a. Crowdfunded publishing (Unbound is a leading example)
Here, the author must both attract the interest of the publisher, and jointly raise the upfront production costs through crowdfunding. With the clout and good reputation of Unbound, you, as the writer, would receive virtually all the benefits of a traditional publisher. However, you do have to heavily expend time and energy on promoting your crowdfunder to ensure the funding target is met. Even well-known authors can struggle to keep momentum going on their crowdfunder. Make no mistake, crowdfunding takes a lot of effort. But once you’ve met your target you can breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to seeing your book a reality (and potentially available in all good retailers).
Equally, there’s nothing to stop an author setting up a GoFundMe page, or a Kickstarter, to generate funds to cover the production costs of publishing their book independently. If/when you do get all the money you need, then it’s up to you to decide which method of self-publishing (or hybrid publishing) to go for.
3b. Hybrid publishing (a sort of cross between self-publishing and traditional publishing). See Red Door for an example of this.
Red Door is a traditional publisher in that they are selective about what they publish, but they don’t cover the costs of book production. You have to do that. But once you’ve got a deal with them, and you’ve paid the costs, you then have the backing of a traditional publisher (with its associated distributor and marketing/publicity team) behind you. Your books have the potential to be sold in most book shops.
3c. Collaborative publishing (another cross between self-publishing and traditional publishing). See Womancraft Publishing for an example of this.
Womancraft, like Red Door, are selective and specific about what they publish (they focus on “Life-changing, paradigm-shifting books by women, for women.”). Unlike Red Door, there are no upfront costs and publisher and writer split the profits 50:50 and 60:40 on ebooks (in favour of the author) which is a great deal. However, their main sales channel is Amazon rather than bricks and mortar book shops, and they expect authors to already have a following and to commit to growing that following.
3d. Book in a Box
If the first hurdle you’re facing is actually writing the book, then Book in a Box have you covered. Through a series of phone calls (approximately 50) they will capture your words, write them while preserving your own “voice”, and deliver a complete manuscript to you. They then go on to publish it and sell it through major retail channels. Of course it’s pricey, but definitely something to consider if you have the funds but writing is not your forte.
Finally, I will add a last option – vanity publishing – but it’s the only one TO BE AVOIDED. This is where you pay the vanity publishers a lot of money upfront to publish your manuscript and they deliver to you a small number of your books. They don’t do any editing, proofreading (book cover design can also be seriously iffy) and they certainly don’t do any promotion, distribution or book selling. It’s a seriously bad option.
That’s a lot of choice! So in the next post I’ll be exploring exactly how you can determine which choice is right for you.