When it comes to publishing your book, you have several options, depending on your budget, timeline, and the marketability of your book.
Before deciding on a publishing option, it is important to understand the different types of publishers, as well as your ability to reach an audience with your book and sell copies.
First, let’s look at the three primary methods for publishing your book.
Types of Publishing
Self-publishing, as the name indicates, is basically do-it-yourself publishing. You’ll need to find and pay for an editor, a proofreader (yes, in addition to an editor), a typesetter, a formatter, an indexer, an illustrator, and a cover designer, then submit the book yourself through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing or a similar book publishing facilitator.
When you self-publish, it’s your responsibility to get your book in front of readers. Any publicity or media attention will require “knocking on doors” and peddling the book yourself.
If you take physical inventory, there’s the added complications of order fulfillment and storage.
Depending on which publisher and distributor you use, it’s likely that your book will be available on Amazon and the Barnes & Noble website. Almost always, though, bookstores and other brick-and-mortar retailers will not buy the book or put it on their shelves.
We’ll just put it out there upfront: we do not recommend self-publishing. Simply put, for the time and money you’ll put into self-publishing your book, you’re better off hiring a small hybrid publisher (see below) to facilitate the publishing process for you.
Advantages of Self-Publishing
- You’ll earn a higher percentage of profit from each book sold.
- You’ll have 100% creative control.
Disadvantages of Self-Publishing
- Costs for various services will likely outweigh similar costs for a professional hybrid publisher.
- Authors must micromanage various contractors needed to produce a professional product.
- Self-publishing is a major time investment for the author.
- Your book has almost no chance of becoming a bestseller.
- The chance of your book being in bookstores is slim to none.
- Frankly, you’ll probably mess things up and cost yourself time, money, reputation, and peace of mind.
Self-Publishing Is a Good Option for…
- Authors who will only be selling books to readers directly (such as at speaking events or through their website).
- Authors who know the publishing industry well and want a do-it-yourself approach
- Authors who want to be involved in each and every aspect of the book publishing process.
Hybrid publishing is similar to self-publishing, as you typically retain all the rights to your materials and have creative control; however, instead of paying several different contractors to produce and publish your book, you pay a single entity to handle all aspects of the publishing process. Proofreading, typesetting, book cover design, etc., are typically all handled by the hybrid publisher.
A good hybrid publisher also knows what they’re doing and will typically do a much better job of every aspect of the process than you or freelancers will. There is no need for you to micromanage the process.
Also, many of the top hybrids will go through a traditional sales cycle and can get your book into bookstores and other retail outlets. Most include some sort of marketing plan, and most help get your book reviewed and listed.
Hybrid publishing is a great option for most authors as even the least expensive “low-end” options are typically cheaper and of better quality than if you were to self-publish.
Advantages of Hybrid Publishing
- Hybrid publishing offers better royalties than traditional publishing. (Note: this varies widely, depending on how many additional services the hybrid publisher offers. The royalty range can be anywhere from 80% to 20% in the author’s favor, with a small minority of hybrids dipping as low as 10%.)
- The author retains rights to the creative assets.
- Hybrids can often publish within a short time frame. The time between signing the deal and the pub date can be as little as 2 months.
- You’re hiring a professional team that knows the book industry.
- It’s more prestigious than self-publishing, especially if you are working with a higher-end hybrid publisher.
- High-end hybrids can get your book into physical retailers and sometimes even target bestseller lists.
- Some hybrids include in-house marketing, website development, and other promotional services.
Disadvantages of Hybrid Publishing
- Cost: a low-end yet reputable hybrid costs as low as $4,500, but a high-end hybrid that can sell to retailers will typically be at least $25,000, with $50,000+ being common, and some costing $100,000+ if you opt for a heavy marketing and sales strategy. In general, you get what you pay for.
- Hybrids are less prestigious than traditional publishers.
- Your book is less likely to get picked up by retailers than it will be if you go with a traditional publisher.
Hybrid Publishing Is a Good Option for…
- Authors whose book is part of a business or self-promotion strategy.
- Authors who want to get their book to market quickly.
- Authors who are unfamiliar with the publishing industry.
- Authors who don’t want to relinquish any, or very little, editorial control of their content.
When you walk into a bookstore, you’re surrounded by traditionally published books. A majority of the books on the bestseller lists and 99% of the books you’ve ever heard of or read are traditionally published. You probably recognize names like HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—these are all traditional publishers.
Traditional publishers pay an author an advance to buy the rights to publish, sell, and distribute their book. Most traditional publishers will not accept any direct submissions or contact from authors. An industry insider or literary agent is required in order to engage with the publisher and secure a book deal.
Traditional publishers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Let’s take a very general look at the players here.
The “Big-5” Publishers
The Big-5 publishers are HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette, and Macmillan. They are the five largest publishers in the United States and account for the majority of books you see on bookshelves.
Keep in mind that each of these publishers has many imprints (a smaller publishing unit with its own name), though any book published by an imprint of these publishers is still considered a Big-5 title.
The Big-5 houses are generally the most desirable and sought after options as they have the largest resources in terms of (a) how much they’re able to spend on an advance, (b) how much they’re willing and able to spend on publicity and marketing, (c) their ability to sell books into the retail marketplace, and (d) the quality of editorial talent and support.
Other Major Book Publishers
In addition to the Big-5, there are several big publishers that are major players and can typically offer equally large advances and provide authors with similar exposure and resources to a Big-5 publisher. These include publishers like Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, W.W. Norton, Disney, and several others.
These publishers are often considered as reputable and prestigious as the Big-5.
Mid-Level Book Publishers
There is a wide range of mid-level publishers, some of whom are leaders in their category. Mid-level publishers will occasionally place major bids on titles and even outbid Big-5 publishers. In general, though, these publishers offer much smaller advances and typically land niche projects, or books that aren’t as likely to be big sellers.
Publishers in this category include McGraw-Hill, Wiley, Sterling, Hay House, Grove Atlantic, Skyhorse, and many others.
Although these publishers are smaller players in the market, you’ll find no shortage of notable titles in their catalogues.
Small Independent Book Publishers
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of small independent publishers in the marketplace. These publishers rarely bid more than a few thousand dollars (if anything at all) on a book, and are often “passion” publishers.
These publishers have a limited ability to sell your book into the marketplace, though they will try and will sometimes succeed. The editorial support offered by these houses can also be limited.
Compared to self-publishing and a low-end hybrid, even a small independent press offers the author a much better chance of getting their book reviewed, garnering media attention, and, in general, having a successful publishing experience.
Advantages of Traditional Publishing
- Traditional publishers pay an advance rather than requiring the author to pay the publisher.
- It’s more prestigious than hybrid or self-publishing.
- You’re much more likely to get press and secure various media spots when your book is published by a traditional publisher.
- Traditional publishers have the ability to sell to bookstores and other retailers.
- You increase your chances of hitting bestseller lists.
- You’ll receive support and direction from top industry talent (more so with major players than others).
- Being traditionally published opens more opportunities for endorsements from and collaborations with notable authors.
- Some imprints will provide marketing and publicity for authors—especially with larger deals..
- You will most likely sell many more books than you would with any other publishing option.
Disadvantages of Traditional Publishing
- You’ll have less creative control—e.g. the publisher will ultimately decide on the book cover, book title, etc. However, the horror stories of publishers taking control of a book and going against the author’s wishes are rare and way overblown. Almost always, all editorial decisions are submitted to the author for approval.
- The typical timeline from deal to publication date is 12–18 months.
- Low royalties (typically starting at 8% of the retail price, and topping out around 20%, and substantially more for ebooks, though this can vary widely and some smaller houses even offer profit-sharing deals).
- It is very difficult to attract a reputable traditional publisher, especially without a platform.
- Most authors are disappointed in the marketing and publicity efforts delivered by a publisher (we recommend investing in your own marketing to leverage the power of a traditional publisher, even with Big-5 imprints).
Traditional Publishing Is a Good Option for…
- Authors who have a big platform or an otherwise notable book concept or story.
- Authors who want national (and/or international) media exposure and visibility.
- Authors who want to hit bestseller lists.
Important Things to Consider When Deciding on a Book Publisher
Now that you have a general sense of the publishing options and what each of them offers, let’s consider some factors in determining which is the best option for you.
Because self-publishing is as expensive (while offering fewer benefits) than a low-end hybrid, we’re going to eliminate that option from discussion. (We’re happy to discuss that further with you, but we really discourage self-publishing for any author without a strong publishing background.)
Here are a few important factors to consider that may influence your decision.
If you want to publish your book within the next year, you’ll need to choose a hybrid option, or a small or independent traditional publisher. Even getting an agent can take months, if you’re lucky enough to secure one at all, and then preparing for pitching to publishers can take additional months.
Some small hybrids can publish a manuscript in 2-3 months. This is, of course, assuming that the manuscript is complete and ready to go to press.
If you want a traditional publisher on a tight deadline (anything less than 10 months), you’ll likely need to do a buyback to mitigate the publisher’s risk. This will likely cost between $30,000–$100,000, though some smaller, less desirable publishers can go as low as $10,000.
See more information on the buyback below.
For most authors, it will be almost impossible to secure a deal with a traditional publisher without a strong platform.
“Author platform” essentially refers to an author’s demonstrable ability to sell books without the added help of a publisher. It’s the combination of their general public profile, social media following, access to speaking events, access to media (TV, podcasts, radio, print media, online media), email lists, a personal network of influencers, and existing marketing or publicity.
As our good friend and frequent collaborator, literary agent Jim Levine, often says, “Don’t ask what your publisher can do for you, but what you can do for your publisher.” Like it or not, publishers seek out authors who are “turnkey” and are able to sell books through their existing platform and/or are willing to invest in marketing and other efforts to ensure the book sells.
If you have a strong author platform, or if you are willing to invest the resources and/or time to build one, you are much more likely to secure a traditional publishing deal. If not, you should strongly consider whether it’s worth the time and effort.
Almost everyone has a “great idea,” or an “incredible story,” and all their friends say they should write a book, but the reality is that 99.9% of those people’s stories, their storytelling, or their platform limit them from being attractive to a publisher.
How big of a platform should I have to be eligible for a traditional publisher?
That’s a tricky question, though we’re happy to offer some general guidance.
We’re also happy to have you fill out our Platform Questionnaire to determine if yours is strong enough to secure a publisher within your genre. Please contact us directly if you’d like us to send you the questionnaire.
If you’re a nonfiction author, if you can’t reach at least 40,000 qualified readers through your platform within a year’s time, you should probably consider hybrid publishing.
If you’re a fiction author, your story and writing ability need to be exceptional to have any chance of traditional publishing. And even then it’s really difficult to attract a traditional publisher. Even Harry Potter, the bestselling series of all time, failed to land a publisher after multiple attempts until an editor finally took a chance on it. Many, many great books never get published.
If you have a strong platform, or are willing to invest in one, that changes everything.
A buyback means that you’re buying books directly from a traditional publisher. Buybacks are attractive to publishers as they ensure that the publisher will be paid for their print run, thus greatly reducing their financial risk.
We often recommend a buyback to clients seeking a traditional publisher (even if they have a big platform) as it will entice more and possibly better publishers into bidding on the book.
With less risk of financial loss, publishers can focus on the content and make a decision based on their connection with the book.
Buybacks have become very common, especially in recent years.
Like it or not, a massive buyback—20,000 copies or more (which, at minimum, will cost about $250,000)—will all but guarantee a deal with a traditional publisher (not any publisher, but many). You will still need to develop a good book, but if you have the resources to buy 20,000 books, you have the resources to hire a ghostwriter or editor to help you write a great book.
There are multiple ways to structure a buyback, as well as multiple strategies for optimizing its facilitation. We’re happy to hop on a call to discuss this in further detail should you have the resources to purchase $25,000 or more worth of books. Keep in mind that, with most buybacks, you’ll receive the books and can sell them on your own, often for 50% profit.
Many authors, especially professionals, consider the buyback a strategic investment in optimizing their publishing strategy.
If you can afford a $25,000 or more, please let us help you decide on your best publishing options.
Author’s Financial Resources
Simply put, if you have the money and determination to get your book published through a traditional publisher, you can make it happen. Hybrids cost a bit less, but can be a better option for some authors (especially given their quick production schedules).
You will still need to create a great book with an original concept—few, if any, traditional publishers are willing to put their reputation at risk by publishing a bad book. But if you’re willing to pay a professional editor to elevate your writing or book concept, and if you’re able to invest in marketing, publicity, and/or a generous buyback, you can absolutely secure a traditional publisher. It may not seem fair, but we’re not here to blow smoke. Our job is to give you facts, and it won’t take you long to identify plenty of authors who have used their resources in a strategic way to secure a traditional publishing deal.
What Does a Book Marketer or Publicist Cost?
A good book marketer will cost between $3,000 and $15,000 per month, with most reputable options being around $7,000 per month. These services may include web development, online marketing, print marketing, and a variety of other options. Yes, it’s quite a range, but, in general, the more you spend, the more you get.
A good book publicist will similarly cost between $3,000 and $15,000 per month, with most reputable options costing around $8,000/month.
If you have the budget for marketing and/or publicity, please let us know and we can direct you to the best options within your price range. Matchmaking is a very important part of selecting a marketer or publicist, as many typically specialize in a specific type of author.
Confused About What Publishing Option Is Best for You? Call Us!
We’re happy to discuss all your options and determine the best strategy for you.