So you think you want to publish a book, huh? If you’re just starting down the path of being an author, you’ve probably got a ton of questions about writing, publishing, and book marketing. The publishing industry may seem baffling and mysterious if you’ve never been a part of it before. And for new authors, the barriers to publishing can make you wonder if writing a book is even a worthwhile project (hint: it is!).
There are some big benefits to publishing a book, from building a legacy and sharing your story to marketing your brand as an industry leader. And even if you just want to write a book for yourself, you’ll learn a lot through the writing process. But it may not be clear what route you should take to achieve your unique book goals. So I put together this ultimate guide to publishing for physician-authors.
Hiya, I’m Marie!
I’m a ghostwriter for clinician entrepreneurs and physician leaders. I help clients put together memoirs, medical education books, and branding books. And I love to see how this one big project can impact lives and businesses.
My clients come to me with a range of goals, like. . .
🗣 Reaching their ideal consulting clients
🩺 Generating more referrals for their clinic
✨ Telling their unique stories to help others
🎙 Getting noticed with a big idea in their industry
📣 Creating a jumping-off point for speaking engagements
📚 Building book funnels that bring people to their business
🤝 Creating relationships with big names and decision-makers
💉 Offering patients a tangible, personalized medical resource
A professional nonfiction book can help you achieve a range of career goals. No matter your industry, a book is an impressive project to have under your belt. If you’re a physician thinking about writing a nonfiction book, whether it’s a memoir, medical book, business book, or something else entirely – here’s your guide on choosing a publishing path.
The Publishing Models, Explained
If you’ve seen my quick-and-dirty publishing path guide, read on for a more in-depth view of what each publishing option is. Or skip to the end of this section for a handy-dandy chart.
If you work with a traditional publisher, they invest 100% of the expense of editing, designing, producing, and distributing your manuscript. Traditional publishers work on an advanced-based model (except when they don’t which I’ll talk about in a second). That means that you’ll submit a book proposal, and if you decide to work together, you’ll get a payout of your projected book sales. Big 5 publishing houses are:
- Simon & Schuster,
- Penguin Random House,
These are some of the largest and oldest firms in the world. But there are traditional publishers who aren’t members of the Big 5. These smaller houses may contract with larger firms to get a book produced. Some smaller traditional publishers include:
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
There’s another option that falls under traditional publishing: small presses. Authors under small presses typically don’t get advances, and they’re friendly to more creative concepts. Popular small press publishers include:
- Two Dollar Radio
- Coffee House Press
- The Feminist Press
- Graywolf Press
- Bellevue Literary Press
Traditional publishing is a well-established process that’s produced beautiful books for decades. But the downside for authors is that it can take years to have your book published with a traditional house. And because they’re investing in your manuscript, your publishing house controls the content of your book. They can even control your next book. More on this later.
Aside from these drawbacks, traditional publishing is an excellent option for writers who have a following or are writing books that are marketable to the general population. The greatest benefits of working with a traditional publisher are:
- Professional editorial and production support
- The prestige of a firm investing in your manuscript
- Widespread distribution (some smaller traditional firms don’t offer this)
In the last several years, the options for authors have expanded well past traditional houses. Today, self-publishing & DIY authors make up a majority of new books. Let’s talk about hybrid and assisted self-publishing.
Hybrid & Assisted Self-Publishing
While traditional publishing houses invest in 100% of the cost of your book, hybrid houses go in on these costs alongside authors. You’ll pay part of the cost of the publisher editing, producing, and distributing your work. You’ll also get a larger percentage of royalties on the back end. Hybrid publishers include:
- Morgan James
- Amplify Publishing
- Ingenium Books
- Page Two Publishing
- Warren Publishing
Assisted self-publishing is much the same, in that authors pay to have their books produced. Under this model, the author pays 100% of the costs to get their manuscript to print. Authors get complete control over their projects, along with support from industry experts. Assisted self-publishers include:
- The Grammar Factory
- Girl Friday Productions
- The Cadence Group
- Friesen Press
- Dudley Court Press
With both of these options, you’ll get professional guidance on your manuscript. The downside is that you’ll be paying for that guidance – hybrid publishers’ fees per manuscript start around $6,000. Another thing to be aware of is that your book likely won’t be distributed to major bookstores unless you pay extra for it, or you go out and pitch to those stores yourself.
Hybrid and assisted publishing create opportunities for authors who don’t have the following that a traditional house requires. Some of these firms offer marketing support, but it’ll also be up to you to market your book so it actually gets bought after publishing. Now let’s talk about the third and most independent option: self-publishing.
Self-Publishing & DIY Publishing
Complete self-publishing is when an author does (or outsources) all of the publishing steps themselves. Editing, layout, cover design, ISBNs, printing, and distributing, are all up to the author. If you choose to self-publish, you’ll probably go through a retailer like:
- Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing)
- Nook Press
- Apple Books
The greatest benefit of self-publishing is that it’s cheapest for authors who don’t have enough following for a traditional firm. Print-On-Demand services cost next to nothing, and you can avoid printing altogether by going straight to ebook.
The downside of this method is that you can end up with a poorly edited, unprofessional product. If you’re working with freelancers to produce your book, you might not be happy with the results they produce. You’ll need to do all your marketing yourself, and most individual self-published books don’t sell many copies.
If you want more info about the pros and cons of each method, check out this chart by the publishing expert Jane Friedman:
The publishing industry is more accessible (and more confusing) than ever before. But how can you know which option is best for you and your goals? Here’s a step-by-step guide for choosing the right option for you.
How to Choose a Publisher Based on Your Goals
Now that you know the pros and cons of each option, let’s break down the process of choosing the best one for your project. Answer these questions to get closer to your answer.
1. Where Do You Want Your Book to Take You?
Think 2 years in the future. You’ve published your book, and now you’re celebrating the rewards. Get clear on the moments you’d break out the champagne for. Are you wanting to. . .
- Book out your schedule and waiting list with referral patients?
- Speak at a TEDx event or other prestigious engagement?
- Sign that high-ticket client you’ve been eyeing for years?
Whatever your goals are, it’s also worth thinking about the timeline for when you want to achieve them. With a traditional firm, you won’t be publishing our manuscript for a year and a half to two years after signing a contract. With a hybrid or assisted self-publisher, that timeline gets condensed to a few months. And in self-publishing, the timeline is up to you.
While traditional publishing can get your book into bookstore shelves, some clients’ goals don’t necessitate that widespread distribution. For example, if you want to write a book to sign on consulting clients, you might work with a small press or print-on-demand. You can send copies of your book to a limited audience without the long timeline and investment of thousands of copies.
Traditional publishing has a certain prestige that many authors want. But I don’t advise pursuing it unless you have a good chance of signing a contract, especially if you have business goals tied to your book. Let’s talk about author platforms and your book’s marketability.
2. Do You Have An Author Platform?
To be marketable to a traditional publishing house, you’ll need to have an established following of readers who would be excited to buy from you. If you don’t have a following established, you’ll be limited to considering hybrid, assisted self-publishing, and self-publishing. Additionally, if a publisher doesn’t like your book concept, you’ll be rejected whether you have a following or not (unless you’re Stephen King).
If you’re like most first-time authors, the answer to this question is ‘no’. Most established authors have built their following by publishing over and over (think: James Patterson, Colleen Hoover, etc.). But an author platform can take many shapes, such as:
- Readers from your past books
- Subscribers to your newsletter
- Followers on social media
- Audiences at previous speaking engagements
- People who follow you because of past awards
- Followers you’ve gained through business success or thought leadership
Some authors who do have a platform still elect to publish through hybrid or independent publishing houses, because they’ll maintain more creative control and receive a higher percentage of their royalties. Additionally, traditional publishers own the content of your book, and may require you to commit to another book as well.
Whether your answer to this question is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, let’s talk about creative control in your book.
3. How Much Creative Control do You Want?
Do you want the final say in the content, design, and title of your book? Some authors do, and some want to leave these decisions to the professionals. Traditional publishing houses control these aspects of your book, and you might not like the decisions they make.
On the other hand, self-publishing gives you complete control; you’ll be making every decision yourself. Hybrid and assisted publishing is a middle-ground, you and your team will make creative choices together, but the core content of your book won’t change.
This last question is a determining factor for most authors who aren’t candidates for traditional publishing: money.
4. What’s Your Budget?
If you’re investing in a book for your established business, you might be able to afford to spend $10k to publish. My clients are willing to invest in professional help because they’ll make money on the back end through speaking, consulting, and referrals. But not everyone has the cash to spend on a professional publisher, and not everyone will make money from their book.
If you’ve got the cash to invest in hybrid or assisted self-publishing, great! You’ll get a professional book you can be proud of for decades to come. But if not, that doesn’t have to stop you from publishing. Print-On-Demand and ebook publishing are great avenues for getting your book out there without shelling out thousands.
Now that you’ve gone through these questions, I’ve got some helpful tips and strategies for having the best experience, no matter what publishing route you choose.
Practical Tips for Each Publishing Path
Let’s get clear on how to go about pursuing each option, and what to look out for along the way to getting your book to print.
Traditional Publishing Steps
If you’re wanting to publish a nonfiction book traditionally, you’ll need to:
- Find and contract with a literary agent. Most agents only get paid when they sell your work, averaging 15% of your advances and royalties.
- Draft a compelling book proposal. This is a brief summary and your first few chapters, usually about 50 pages long.
- Send in your proposal, and get rejected a few times (or a lot of times). Rejection is normal in the traditional publishing world. Don’t let a few rejection letters get you down.
- Get a contracted offer and review it carefully. Your agent should advise you on this. Watch out for your royalty rates, which will likely be between 5-15%. Non-Compete clauses might limit you from working with other publishers. Make sure you understand their share of the marketing. In addition, your contract may contain first-refusal rights, which says that you’ll need to offer your next book to this same publisher.
- Make contract revisions, sign, and (maybe) collect your first advance. This depends on your firm, but some pay a percentage when you sign, another percentage when you deliver your manuscript, and another when it’s completed.
- Write the damn thing. Depending on the firm, your publisher might want to view drafts of your work as you go. There are several rounds of editing once you finish a manuscript; developmental editing, copyediting, line editing, and proofreading.
Traditionally publishing is a lengthy process that typically takes a year or more. But all that time and work yields and beautiful, professional book that you’ll be proud of for the rest of your life.
Now let’s talk about a much faster option: self-publishing.
If DIY is more your style, self-publishing is the route for you. Let’s talk about how to do it:
- Write and polish your manuscript. Before getting published, your manuscript should be well-edited, proofread, and professionally formatted. Quality matters.
- Create a cover. A captivating cover can make a huge difference in attracting readers. Invest in a professional cover design that fits your book’s genre and theme.
- Buy an ISBN and copyright. International Standard Book Numbers are unique identifiers that are essential for book distribution. You should also register your copyright to protect your intellectual property.
- Choose a self-publishing platform. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, IngramSpark, and Smashwords are the most widely-used platforms.
- Format your manuscript for e-book and print. Each platform will have different requirements for formatting and layout.
- Publish your ebook/Print-On-Demand book. Remember to plug in a relevant description that includes keywords your readers are searching for.
Self-publishing can help you get your ideas to print faster than any other option. But just because it’s in print doesn’t mean people will flock to your book. If you’re self-publishing, you’ll need to do all the book marketing yourself. Check out my clinician’s guide to book marketing to learn about this essential part of the publishing process.
Now that we know the steps to traditional and self-publishing, let’s talk about the process for working with hybrid and assisted self-publishing firms.
Hybrid and Assisted Self-Publishing Steps
To work with a hybrid or assisted self-publisher, you’ll need to:
- Write your manuscript. Some hybrid publishers offer book coaching and ghostwriting along with publishing. You can also reach out to me for help with your manuscript.
- Research and speak to a few different publishing houses to find the right fit. Many houses specialize in certain manuscripts, or they don’t accept others. Check out the past books they’ve published, do you like their work? Do your timelines match up?
- Submit your manuscript. Every publisher has different submission guidelines. Your publisher will likely have in-house editors to look over your manuscript, but this will come at a fee.
- Choose a publishing package. Your publisher might have a selection of packages to choose from, or they’ll develop a bespoke package for your project. Read your contract carefully, some publishers require authors to purchase a certain number of books so that the publisher can make back their investment, whether you sell any books or not.
- Collaborate on editing, cover design, and layout. Your team will guide you through this process to arrive at a product you’re proud to put your name on.
- Distribution and Publication. Your firm will buy an ISBN and copyright for you. Depending on the package you chose, they’ll distribute your book for physical and online distribution. They should also plug in metadata and descriptions of your work so that readers can find you.
- Marketing. Some firms offer a marketing package alongside your book deal, and this is an essential element on any book launch. If your publisher does not offer marketing, you’ll want to have a strategy in place for getting it to readers.
Now you have steps to getting your book into reader’s hands, no matter what publishing route you choose.
Traditional publishing offers a sense of recognition and wide distribution, though you might have to give up some creative freedom. On the flip side, self-publishing lets you stay in control, but it means handling all aspects of book creation and marketing. Hybrid and assisted self-publishing options strike a balance by giving you professional help while still keeping your say in the process.
To make the right call, consider what matters most to you. Do you want the prestige of traditional publishing or the creative power of self-publishing? Think about how involved you want to be in every step, from cover design to getting the word out. Your choice should be based on your goals and what resonates with your unique story as a physician-author.
The world of publishing is evolving, and I love that we have a chance to heart from more authors than ever. If you’ve got questions about how to become a physician author, whether you’re in the writing process or just starting out, feel free to reach out to me or book a call on my homepage.