Getting published has never been more accessible, but that means your options can feel overwhelming. Traditional publishing’s monopoly on readers is over, and today, more than 300 million self-published books are sold every year. And the volume of self-published books has quadrupled in the last five years.
All of that is to say that if you’re a new author, you’ve got options. But if you’re like my clients, you’re mystified by the publishing industry, and it’s unclear to you how to go from ideas to words, let alone words to books-on-shelves. You might be wondering. . .
- What’s the difference between traditional, hybrid, and independent publishing?
- What should a first (or second, or third)-time author know before contracting with a publisher?
- How can you know who to go to for publishing when the options on Google are overwhelming?
If you’ve got any of these questions, you’re in the right place. Let’s start off by getting clear on the basic differences between traditional, hybrid, and independent publishing houses.
Know Your Options: Traditional, Independent, Hybrid (And more?)
Here’s what you should know about the most common publishing routes, along with a simple table to help you compare them side-by-side.
- Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing has held all or nearly all of the market share historically because they were the only ones with enough funds to produce books. These firms remain a strong force in the industry, and they still hold prestige, because the process for getting your book selected is very competitive. Think: large publishing houses may look through hundreds of book proposals and manuscripts every year and only publish a dozen.
Traditional publishing firms also prefer authors who have an established audience, or who have even already authored a few successful books. This is how they ensure that investing in your book will yield a high ROI for them; they make money off of your book selling. This model differs from hybrid and independent publishing, and we’ll talk about that later.
For authors, the process for getting your book published with a traditional house is much longer than you might expect from a self-publisher or hybrid. Here’s what it looks like to get published with a traditional publishing house:
- Complete a book proposal (typically before writing your manuscript, or while you’re writing)
- Contract with a literary agent, who will pitch your proposal to publishers
- Wait for those publishers to get back to you (this will likely take several months)
- If your proposal gets accepted, you’ll sign a book deal which may include an advance (average advances are $3-5k)
- Write your manuscript and submit it to your publisher
- Send your manuscript through several rounds of edits through your publisher, these typically take a few months
- Your publisher will choose a cover design, jacket quotes, set you up with ISBNs, and other pre-publication tasks
- Your book gets published and you see books on shelves
- More book events, signings and marketing (usually at the author’s expense)
What I’d like you to notice about the traditional publishing process is how long it takes, and how much control your publisher has over your book’s content and presentation. On the other hand, you may like the prestige of being published this way, and you might not mind your publisher brandishing more power in the process.
Another thing about traditional publishing is that your publisher will collect a higher share of royalties from your book’s sales. Expect to receive only 10-15% of book royalties on the back end of publishing. Traditional contracts are also more stringent and may include first refusal on your next book. Depending on the publisher, you’ll likely still need to foot the bill on book marketing, travel for speaking engagements, and other PR expenses surrounding your book release.
Still, traditional publishing is a great option for authors who:
- Are interested in the prestige of traditional publishing
- Don’t mind that they won’t make as much money off of their book
- Have a longer timeline for publishing (think: 1-2 years)
- Dont mind giving up control over the content and presentation of their book
- Already have an audience established
- Can fund additional book marketing efforts
That’s the lowdown on traditional publishing. It’s not for everyone, and the vast majority of books today are not traditionally published. So let’s talk about the other end of the spectrum; self-publishing.
2. The Self-Publishing Route
Self-publishing has broadened access and helped give a voice to authors that aren’t represented in traditional firms. Authors who elect to self-publish retain full control over their content, cover design, and where their book is distributed. And self-publishing platforms mean that you don’t even have to go through a publishing house to distribute your book via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other e-book retailers.
On the other hand, authors who elect for complete control over their book run the risk of publishing a finished product that doesn’t elevate their brand. And that can mean that you’ll put a ton of work into self-publishing without seeing the brand elevation you want.
Self-publishing is a great option if you’re a DIY-er or you don’t want to spend much on getting your book published. At the same time, there’s a lot of tasks that you’ll need to get done (or have someone else do) before your book is ready. Here’s what the self-publishing process looks like:
- Write your manuscript, and go through rounds of line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. I recommend working with a professional editor
- Either design your own cover or hire a designer to create one for you
- Choose a self-publishing platform
- Format your design for the platform you chose, and create your metadata and book description
- Set your pricing and royalty options
- Upload your completed manuscript and book cover to your platform
- Market your book yourself, or hire a book marketing or PR firm for speaking engagements, TV segments, and social media promotions
Notice the range of tasks you’ll need to complete (or find someone else to complete) to get through the self-publishing process. The good news is that there are self-publishing firms that do all the hard stuff while making you look great. Self-publishing firms can get you set up with editors, book design, ISBNs, book reviews, and even book marketing.
Self-publishing firms typically don’t collect any royalties, and they give the author a majority of creative control. They’re also much faster than traditional publishers; some can get your book on shelves in a matter of weeks. And that’s even faster if you’re publishing an e-book.
Because they don’t collect royalties, self-publishing houses profit off of the authors who pay them to publish books. So unlike traditional publishing, you’ll pay the publishing house rather than them paying you.
Rates for self-publishing with a firm start around $5k, but if you go the independent route, you can cut costs down to less than $1000. But beware, a cheap-looking book may not contribute to your brand the way you want it to. Self-publishing is still a great option for authors who:
- Want to publish quickly
- Want to control their content and covers
- Have a budget they want to stick to
- Have an existing audience to sell or give their book to
- Are first-time authors experimenting with genre or writing
- Want to collect as much royalties as possible
Self-publishing offers authors flexibility and control over their book, while traditional publishing may seem rigid and exclusive. Hybrid publishers are the best of both worlds. Let’s talk about this fresh publishing option.
- Hybrid or Independent Publishers
With the best of both traditional and self-publishing, the more recent hybrid model gives authors more flexibility and control while keeping standards high. When you work with a hybrid firm, you get the expertise of editors, designers, and even marketers in-house, without waiting years to have your book reviewed and published.
Authors who use the hybrid route can expect a more collaborative process, and it’s sometimes called partnership or collaborative publishing for this reason. You’ll share the creative process, and the expenses of producing and distributing your book, with your publisher.
Hybrid publishers make their money from a combination of author fees and shared royalties. This means they have more investment in your book selling than a self-publishing firm. It also means that, depending on the contract, authors may be expected to order a minimum number of books after publishing so that the firm can make back their investment.
Here’s what the process may look like if you choose a hybrid publishing firm:
- Submit your edited manuscript. Some hybrid firms select only a small percentage of the manuscripts sent to them every year, so you’ll want to have a polished product before submitting.
- If your manuscript is selected, you’ll enter into an Author-Publisher Agreement. Read this contract carefully; it’ll include details about financial contributions, distribution rights, marketing, and other obligations.
- The firm will professionally edit your manuscript, provide formatting, and create a cover design. The scope of these services will depend on the package and pricepoint you choose in your Agreement.
- The hybrid publisher will handle production, distribution, and marketing to give your book the best launch possible
- After publication, you’ll split royalties with your hybrid publisher, and authors typically get 50-70%.
Authors appreciate the professional support that hybrid publishing allows, and it’s a great way to get industry networks going in your favor. Hybrid publishing also creates a level of prestige and slectability, since publishers are more professional and don’t accept every manuscript. Hybrid publishers can also often help you with marketing, which is essential for a successful book launch.
On the other hand, you may take on more financial responsibility with hybrid than in self-publishing. Before committing to a firm, do you due diligence to be sure they have a good reputation and transparent pricing. Carefully review your publishing agreement, and be sure you’re ready to take on the financial terms. And you’ll still need to do some of your own marketing for your book.
Hybrid publishing may be right for you if. . .
- You want a book that looks and reads professionally
- You want to leverage industry expertise while editing, designing, and marketing
- You’re interested in sharing control and costs with a publisher
- You want to retain higher royalty rates, but you don’t mine some splitting
- You can collaborate on marketing and promoting your book
Now that we’ve gone over the ins-and-outs of each approach, let’s look at one of my favorite things: a chart!
Which Publishing Path is Right for Me? Check Out This Chart
The path you choose will depend on your goals, vision, and budget. The folks I work with are best fit for self-publishing and hybrid, because they’ve got specific business goals in mind that they don’t want to wait years to accomplish. At the same time, they’ve got the budget to put professionals on the case, and create a book that impresses.
If you’re still foggy on the differences between traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing, check out this chart:
|Acquisition Process||Difficult; very few manuscripts are accepted. Requires a book proposal and agents||Easy; anyone can be published||Varies; some publishing houses select a small percentage of submissions|
|Timeframe||1-2 years||Weeks or months||Weeks or months|
|Cost||None||As little as $200||$6000+|
|Editing||Included in contract; typically several rounds of in-house editing before approval.||You contract with an editor||In-house editors|
|Control||Control editing, formatting, design, book cover||You control editing, formatting, design, and book cover||Shared control over editing, formatting, design, and cover|
|Production & Distribution||Publisher controls and covers costs||You control and cover costs||Shared control & costs|
|Marketing Costs & Responsibility||Publisher may help with marketing and book events||Author has control and takes on all costs||Publisher may support marketing efforts|
|Royalties||Author gets 10-15%||Author gets up to 100% of royalties depending on distribution choice||Author gets 50-70% of royalties|
Traditional, self-publishing and hybrid publishing give authors more ways to get work out there than ever before. No matter your budget, timeframe, or platform, you can have your own book, and that’s pretty cool.
But there is a difference between a book that is published and a book that is published and read. The influx of self-published books in the last decade have broadened access for writers, but that doesn’t mean those books are being read. The average book today only sells 200 copies.
Even though publishing is easier than ever, rushing the process can still lead to a product that flops. We’ve all seen book covers with unprofessional designs, or started a book that we immediately trashed because the writing was bad. You don’t want to spend months of your life working on a book that doesn’t make you look amazing.
Before starting on a book, get really clear on your goals. Who do you want to speak to? What opportunities do you want to have after publishing? What do you want life to look like in 3-5 years? A professionally written and distributed book can help you get there, but a rushed one probably won’t.
For many of my clients, booking more speaking engagements, consulting, and patient referrals are the key drivers behind starting a book. Keeping those targets in mind will help you make the right choice between traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing.
If you’ve got more questions about the publishing process, or you just want more consultation about which route is right for you, reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.