Have you thought about how your book will be published? Wherever you are in the process, it is not too soon to consider your options. But first, you need to know what those options are so you can choose the one that is best for you, your book, and your budget.
If you are a new author, you may not know a lot about publishing. When you look at shelf full of books in a bookstore, all you see are their spines, all neatly lined up in alphabetical order. Publishers manage to squeeze quite a bit of information onto those spines, including the name of the book, the author, and the publisher. The Big 5 book publishers—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon and Schuster— are all based in New York City, the US hub of book publishing.
Getting published by one of the Big 5 is the dream of many authors, who view it as a way to gain credibility and prestige. Up until a couple of decades ago, this was the only way to get your book in print, other than something called “vanity press,” which would print any manuscript, no matter how bad, for a price. It’s hard to imagine how many manuscripts are rejected by major publishers every day, occasionally rating a form rejection letter but often not even that.
Then along came self-publishing, a way to get in print without the Big 5 or even the many smaller presses that popped up to give authors a few more opportunities. In its early days, self-publishing was pretty rough around the edges, but it has come a long way since then. A professionally produced self-published book is indistinguishable from a traditionally published book, but the key words here are professionally produced.
Self-publishing is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of choices, from having a book duplicated and stapled together at a quick copy store to having hundreds of hardcopies complete with wraparound glossy paper covers warehoused and distributed to major bookstore chains. In between are various levels of sophistication and cost. One of the most common misconceptions among new authors hoping to self-publish is being lured by the promises of so-called POD publishers that advertise all over the Internet.
Here is one important fact to keep in mind: a traditional publisher invests in both the author and the book. It does everything necessary to take a book from raw manuscript to an edited, designed, copyedited and proofread, sold, publicized, and marketed finished product. It does not charge authors or these services; rather, it provides an advance against future earnings, with no guarantee the book will earn back that advance.
On the other hand, a POD publisher does charge authors to create their books. POD stands for print on demand, which is a printing technology that can print anywhere from one to five hundred books as they are ordered. POD publishers, which offer the same publishing services as traditional publishers, are more accurately called author-services companies than publishers.
There is nothing wrong with using a POD company, as long as you do your research and are aware of what you are getting for your money. Not all POD companies are created equal, so it pays to ask other authors, check ratings on the Web, and even call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any unresolved complaints. If there are, keep looking.
But there are other ways to self-publish that put the author in control of creativity, quality, costs, and the experts they choose to work with. There are templates for do-it-yourself layouts, cover designs by inexpensive freelancers to experienced graphic designers, every level of editing, and varied pricing on printing. Authors call their own shots on every level of production, printing, and promoting their books. That is a more accurate view of self-publishing than POD.
The key takeaways here are there are two methods of publishing your book: traditional and self-publishing. Traditional publishers range from the Big 5 to small, independent houses. In this case, the publisher pays all expenses, as well as an advance on royalties. The author sacrifices creative autonomy and much of the decision-making with the traditional publishing house.
Self-publishing is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of options from POD to managing every creative and technical aspect of production and publishing. The author can be as hands-on or uninvolved as desired but pays the costs of all aspects of publishing. There are pros and cons to both methods, and it pays to do the necessary research on the front end, so there will be no surprises later.