Is traditional publishing still possible?
This is certainly an option, and many authors will start here before deciding to go another route, but I wouldn’t put all of my eggs into a single basket where this is concerned. You might spend years sending your book off to agents and publishers without getting more than generic feedback, and I’m sure you know of hundreds of stories of great books being turned down for years before finally getting picked up (like Harry Potter).
You might even be wondering what it is that these two groups offer you, and what you can expect from them if you do get selected for publication.
Let’s define and explain a couple of pieces of the publishing market:
A publisher is someone who does the legwork of creating your book as a final product and sending it out into the world. They aren’t quite the same thing as a distributor, they just serve as the company that the book belongs to.
In many cases, but certainly not all, they also promote your book and help drive sales. Even in these cases, though, it is expected that the author will participate in the selling of their own book.
Many authors are of the opinion that if they are picked by a major publisher they won’t have to self-promote the book, but in most cases, the exact opposite is true. In fact, for many smaller traditional publishers, the author is almost single-handedly responsible for promotion.
Doesn’t seem fair, but that’s why it is important to know what you’re getting into when you sign up with a publisher. In certain cases, the publisher will take a large cut of the royalties for the book and still offer very little in return. For handling this, it’s important to have a good agent.
This is basically your teammate in the world of book publishing. Your agent watches your back and helps to deliver your book to the world by getting it in front of the right people. They usually have strong market connections that they can leverage for your benefit, at least in an ideal world. The important thing to note is that even if you have an agent, your book might never actually get published because it isn’t a guarantee.
Another important detail is that not all agents are equal. Some have a lot of connections and will really be able to drive the process of getting your work in front of publishers, and others are newer to the market and might not have any strong connections in the industry. In certain cases, you might actually be better off trying to approach people on your own than a particular agent.
Even scarier, what if an agent doesn’t believe in your book? Imagine someone trying to sell your novel to a publisher who hasn’t read it or doesn’t think it’s that good? Is it likely that a publisher is going to be interested in your work if the agent isn’t?
When searching out an agent, make sure it is someone who knows the field, has good connections, and feels strongly about your work. You want an advocate who believes in you and wants to sell your content, because if not, you might end up signing with someone who only wants to take advantage of you. Remember, you are paying them, not the other way around.
You certainly don’t need an agent, even when dealing with a major publisher. Their advantage is that they know the industry, so they can usually spot a good deal and help the author make the right choices, but that doesn’t mean they know the legalese to protect you from bad contracts or always have your best interests in mind.
Make sure you trust the agent, you’ve vetted them and looked for positive testimonials, and they feel passionately about your project and you before you sign up with anyone. Remember, this is someone you are paying to help you on this journey, and even though they can do a lot for you, they are no guarantee of success.
A distributor is someone that actually prints your books and sends them to the different organizations, stores, and people who order them. There are a lot of different distributors out there to choose from, as well as styles for how this works.
The most common types of book printing are batch and print on demand. Batch printing is usually attached with a pretty hefty discount per copy so that the actual profit margin is a lot higher when you sell the books, whereas print on demand has no upfront cost associated with it, and you are only charged when a book is actually ordered.
Ingram is one of the largest distributors in the world, and they run multiple on-demand and bulk printing services for authors, as well as for larger publishers. One of the largest benefits of on-demand printing is that fixing mistakes and typos is as simple as uploading new documents onto their website, whereas if you print a bulk order of several thousand copies and later find mistakes, you won’t be able to nimbly correct them without printing a new batch.
That being said, there are pros and cons to both styles, and if you go the route of publishing your own book, you’ll have to decide what works best for you. Maybe you will want to print your books in decently sized batches and make more money per copy, or it might simply be easier to load your book up on a print-on-demand service and let them print copies as they are purchased.
For me, I go with the print-on-demand option exclusively. It is significantly easier to maintain, and I don’t have to handle any shipping or printing or storing copies. If, however, print became a much larger part of my selling strategy and I was able to move a lot more copies on a monthly basis, I would probably look into printing them on my own and saving money per copy.
But, what it usually means is you just bought a lot of bulk copies that will sit in your garage for years to come. You might, in fact, never even sell that entire first batch of books and make your money back. It isn’t ideal for most authors just starting out because you won’t sell enough copies to justify the up front costs.
I know this from personal experience…
Anyone can publish a book. You just load your manuscript on Amazon, add a cover (heck, they’ll even help you build one on their site) and then hit publish. Wait a few days, and voila, your book is going to be up on their system.
A lot of people have done this. For a while, it was a cash cow, and even poorly written and edited books could make a fortune simply because the market was so voracious for cheap content. Why buy a traditional book for twelve dollars when you can instead buy twelve (albeit worse) books for the same price? Some authors reported putting in no work and making hundreds of thousands of dollars annually with subpar content.
Those days are gone, and each year, the market gets harder and harder to enter and the quality of the books goes up. Readers have higher expectations for what they are purchasing, and markets have sprung up surrounding the writing industry to help authors streamline their entry into the world of self-publishing.
This type of publishing is where most modern writers will fall, but there are vastly different levels of self-publishing out there. For example, some indie authors make a few hundred dollars a month, others tens of thousands of dollars a week. There are several authors out there even making six figures easily and selling copies quite rapidly.
Performing that well takes a good amount of luck and a lot of hard work, and in most cases, those authors invested and reinvested in their careers over many years to become so well established. It usually requires a large catalog of books (though not always) and constant self-promotion to reach such heights.
For most people, being a hobbyist author is about as high as they will ever go or even want to go. Publish, promote a little bit, and then work on the next book. It’s still possible to do quite well month to month with this strategy, but it won’t be quite as devastating as when people spend a fortune trying to start a career and still fall flat.
This is fast becoming the new norm of the publishing industry as more and more authors fall into this category.
What hybrid publishing is: an author who publishes her/his own work as well as working with a traditional publisher. Maybe they sold a series to a small company and plan to continue their relationship, but they release extra material or other works on their own completely free of their original publishing contract.
Previously, publishing companies would work into their contracts that authors had to publish exclusively with them, and if they didn’t want a book you wrote, then too bad. You were forced to scrap it and start over with something they did want, and as a result, you could end up with entire catalogs and series that would never see the light of day.
But as market pressure is raised and authors are afforded more and (significantly) better opportunities and contracts, these clauses are the exception rather than the rule.
An example of hybrid publishing is Kindle Scout. This is a new program from Amazon for offering reader-powered publishing where readers get early access to the first few chapters of new books, nominate the ones they want to see published, and get a free copy of it to read and review if it is selected.
Many authors who participate in this program are published through Amazon’s imprint Kindle Press, but their contract is incredibly lenient. It only stipulates digital (ebook and audio) rights and has easy rights reversion should things not work out.
Many of these authors are also published through another company or self-published with other titles or series. The contract is only for a single work, and should an author want to work with Kindle Press again, they would need to resubmit.
In most cases, even if Amazon accepts one book for publication through this program, that does not mean they will accept a sequel or anything else from the same author, so in most cases, the authors are forced to look elsewhere to continue their careers and release the next title.
But, Kindle Scout isn’t the only way to become a hybrid author: the good news is that smaller publishers don’t have exclusivity contracts that forbid authors from publishing their content outside of their imprint, which means you won’t be restricted to just one avenue of publishing.
Considering how often such publishers close their doors or shuffle assets, it’s good not to have all of your eggs in one basket.
The main benefit of being a hybrid publisher are that you gain increased credibility as an author. In many cases, simply being established with a publishing house can help an author gain needed experience that they can utilize when publishing their own content.
When you go this route, you aren’t someone who just wrote a book and stuck it out on Amazon, but rather your content has been vetted. Sure, you probably won’t be listed with a major publishing house that has a huge market share, but you are more established than most of your competitors.
If you are serious about becoming a hybrid publisher, then you might want to look around for smaller presses that are accepting new authors, finding an agent who needs new clients, or submitting through Kindle Scout if you want to try and get on with the Amazon imprint.
I would recommend going through Kindle Scout because if nothing else it gets you vetted by readers and can teach you a lot about marketing and reaching out to people. It’s also free, easy to set up, and the benefits of being chosen are enormous. You won’t need an agent or lawyer because the terms are incredibly simple and straightforward.
Keep in mind they don’t accept everyone, and you’re competing right alongside thousands of other authors, but if you do get accepted and win a contract, it can make a huge difference in your career.
This is certainly an option that you can pursue, and it includes a lot of different things: you can pay a company to print your book in bulk and give you the copies, or you can pay to have your book receive a full-service design and publishing (sometimes with included marketing), or you can find a company that publishes under one of the newer marketing models and sign a contract with them as if they were a traditional publisher.
The first option just gets you a lot of copies of your book, which is fine for many people if you don’t plan on handling large volumes long term. The problem (and benefit) is that you are your own supplier, but the downside is that often it can be costly to print another batch, or you might end up not really selling a lot of copies.
If you go this route, you will need to list your book on Amazon on your own. You’ll supply them with ‘x’ number of copies to sell that Amazon will keep in there warehouse, just like if you self-published and chose to distribute on your own, and when they need more, they will reorder from you. It puts you in the hot seat of having to keep the copies flowing, but if it sells fairly well, you can make good money off of it.
Long term, however, you might look into pursuing it and branching out. Some bulk publishers can make some really nice copies of your book for cheap, and if you invest early on and manage to sell the copies, it can make a significant difference. However, this option isn’t really ‘publishing’ but falls under the distribution options I listed above. Most likely, if you found a vanity publisher, this would be a minimal package, but would end up being more costly than if you simply found a printer to create a batch order for you.
More likely, you would sign up with a company that handles everything for you for a ‘modest’ fee. You pay them and give them your manuscript, and they will take care of the editing, cover design, distribution, and more for you. It’s an incredibly hands-off method and has some substantial benefits to it if you aren’t ready/willing to put in the work yourself.
I’ve never done this because it simply never appealed to me. It is incredibly expensive, and often the end product might only be marginally better than something you created on your own anyway. The odds of you making your money back on something like this, especially if it’s one of your first books, aren’t very high. More likely, you’re going to end up in the hole monetarily.
That being said, it is a great hobbyist option. If all you want to do is write books and make this a long-term project for fun, then this is a great option. It takes a lot of the guesswork and maintenance of creating your book in various formats, and you just get to sit back and write. Just don’t expect to hit it big and make all of the money back. I know of several authors who go this route, and it limits their publishing capabilities because the services are so costly they can only release one book a year.
The third option I mentioned, however, deserves a special mention in the form of a story. That was the option wherein you sign on with a company and don’t pay an upfront cost. It is, essentially, a company masquerading as a publisher, oftentimes associated with an online magazine or subscription service.
The story: A friend of mine, let’s call him Kevin, wanted really badly to publish a book. He’d published a few short stories through an online magazine and was really excited about finishing up his first novel.
It had taken him months to write this book, and he’d poured his heart and soul into it. The magazine he was working for as a content creator had a submission-based service for novels that they would publish, and they masqueraded as a professional publishing company.
I had my reservations about their services from the get-go. They didn’t edit any of his submissions to the virtual magazine, and the pages where they were published were full of advertisements for any number of unrelated products.
It felt to me like their business model wasn’t quality, but was rather quantity, and anyone who submitted any project (articles, short stories, etc.) had their work turned into a permanent page on their website and overloaded with advertisements. They didn’t pay the authors, just promoted themselves as ‘somewhere for authors to be seen.’
Still, Kevin was happy to have his short stories published at all and wanted to submit his book to them. They promoted their book-publishing service like it was brilliant and would sell millions of copies. All the author had to do was sign a contract to turn over all of their rights to the book.
I warned him it wouldn’t be a very good idea, but he was persistent. After all, they would edit the book, build him a cover, turn it into a paperback, and distribute it for him. They would also market it, and none of it would cost him a penny.
And, since they also claimed to be ‘selective’ in who they worked with, he felt that getting a contract with them would really mean something and they could kick start his career.
So he submitted the book he had spent months working on. Naturally, after only a couple of days, they accepted it and agreed to create his book for him.