Published Podcast Ep. 24 | Exploring Publishing Options with Jane Friedman

In today's episode we talk with publishing expert Jane Friedman about the most prominent publishing options in today's industry and how authors can determine which publishing path is a fit for them.

2:20 – Could you start by giving us an overview of the main publishing options that exist today?

  • I tend to divide things into two categories: publishers that pay you, and publishers that you pay.
  • On the traditional side publishers come in different sizes. They work by paying you an advance and royalties, and you have a contract that’s fairly restrictive because the publisher is taking a financial risk.
  • With the publishers that you pay, you have lots of different styles of services with lots of different amounts you might pay and lots of different types of contracts.
  • On a much smaller scale there are also publishers who don’t pay you an advance but also don’t ask you to pay them. They're usually digital-only offering print-on-demand or an ebook.

5:15 – How would you describe the impact self-publishing has had on our industry in the last decade?

  • It’s immeasurable. When I got into the publishing industry in the mid-90s, there was a fringe self-publishing movement and you had to be especially business-minded. When ebooks hit the market there was another dramatic shift, and then came Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing service. That made it possible for independent authors to make a living reaching their customers directly through Amazon.

7:10 – When you are talking with one of your clients, how do you walk them through the criteria they need to consider when choosing a publishing path?

  • I start by identifying their number one priority or goal in publishing the book. For some it’s money, others it’s building a career, getting media attention, or at the request of a family member. Once I understand what’s critical, that better allows me to recommend a certain path.
  • For people who are experienced in business and very entrepreneurial already, self-publishing can often be appealing. That said, they may have goals for an international launch or something that only a traditional publisher can achieve.

9:10 - How would you suggest that a new author differentiate the good, the bad, and the ugly options for publishing?

  • Whenever you’re dealing with a service that you’re paying, you have to have your eyes wide open. They can tell you things that make you feel good but don’t lead to the best outcome. Also, watch out for high-pressure sales tactics that try to pressure you into buying services rather than talking you through the process of publishing a successful book.
  • When you’re talking with a publisher about what you’re trying to accomplish, they should talk you through realistic goals for your book and how they might help you reach them. Reputable publishers are pretty transparent and don't try to hide how things work.
  • Good companies generally aren’t new companies, either. If you’re trying to make a significant splash, you need a publisher that understands the packaging required to catch the attention of media outlets.
  • There is a difference between companies who say they can make your book available to retailers (which puts your book in a database to wait to be found) and distributors who have sales representatives presenting books to book buyers.

13:00 – What are your thoughts on the importance of authors marketing their own books, regardless of what their publisher is doing?

  • No one finds a book by accident. This means that authors need to look at marketing as a long-term career process.
  • Platform is a bit of a nebulous term that represents an author’s visibility to their target readership. You’re going to better market your work when you understand where your platform assets are and where your strengths and weakness are in reaching your target audience.
  • Most successful books have a year of lead-up to the launch. You need to have a marketing plan that your publisher can take to their retail accounts six to nine months in advance, and explain what’s going to be done to promote the book.
  • You want a nice blend of online and traditional marketing efforts as well, and your audience will determine what amount of both you use.
  • The fact is that quality doesn’t automatically rise to the top, it has to be pushed. Authors need to be able to see their books as a business endeavor.

17:10 – What is the most common misconception about publishing a book that you hear from new authors, or one lesson you’d like them to know before starting this journey?

  • So many authors think that publishing a book is the point, but it’s just one step in a very long series of events that relate to getting your message out, building a platform, and reaching a higher goal.
  • It takes really small efforts day after day and after the publishing day in order to get the book to pop. It’s the body of work over a career that’s eventually going to give you what you want, not a single book and a single launch. I tell people who are disappointed with the sales or the results of one book to focus on the next project.
  • One of my pet peeves is a misconception authors hear that ebooks are declining and print is making a resurgence. We set print against ebooks, when in reality authors need to focus on what’s trending in their market or on making sure there are multiple versions of the book available to provide wide audience access. Try to avoid status anxiety related to formats.

About Jane

Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She's the co-founder of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for F+W Media and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

In addition to being a columnist with Publishers Weekly and a professor with The Great Courses, Jane maintains an award-winning blog for writers at Her expertise has been featured by NPR, PBS, CBS, The Washington Post, the National Press Club and many other outlets. Jane's newest book, The Business of Being a Writer, was released earlier this year.