What are my Publishing Options

You’ve worked hard developing your manuscript or book proposal; now it’s time to decide how you will get your book out into the world. There are several different options; deciding which path is right for you will depend on your career goals, writing topic, potential market, and resources.  

Here we will break down each of the three primary publishing options, along with their pros and cons, to help you find the right approach for you.

Traditional Publishing

What is it?

When most people think of publishing, the traditional route is what comes to mind. With this option, the author sells publication rights to a publishing house, and receives an advance and possibly royalty payments in return.

Most traditional publishers don’t accept proposals directly from authors.  An author must first secure a literary agent to represent them by sending out query letters to agents who represent similar titles.  If the agent likes the project, they will offer the author representation in exchange for a portion of the author’s advance and royalties.

The agent then seeks a publishing house to buy the manuscript. There’s no guarantee they will find a buyer, but typically agents have strong relationships with several editors.

Pros

  • Credibility: Traditional publishing houses have a strong a track record of high-quality books, and authors benefit from that credibility.

  • Distribution Potential: Traditional publishers generally have strong relationships with retailers and wholesalers.

  • Quality: Traditional publishers are well-informed of new printing technologies and trends and produce books that  generally look polished and professional.

  • Low Upfront Cost to Author: Traditional publishing carries the least expensive upfront cost  for authors. In fact, traditional publishing deals usually start with an advance. This doesn’t mean that authors shouldn’t be investing in some marketing or publicity initiatives of their own, but the up-front costs are minimal.

Cons

  • Control: One of the biggest trade-offs for the low upfront cost of traditional publishing is the lack of creative control. Because authors sell their rights to the publisher, they typically have little say in design, editorial, or distribution choices made about their books.

  • Ownership: Going along with the idea of control, another trade-off for a traditional deal is giving up certain rights to your work. This could limit your ability to use the content of your book in other ways (presentations, online courses, etc.) during the term of your agreement.

  • Royalties: A common misconception about traditional publishing is that authors will start receiving royalties right away. In truth, royalties are only paid to an author when they have “earned out” their advance, which is rare. If an author does earn out their advance and starts to receive royalty payments, they can expect to receive anywhere from 5-7% for a paperback and 10-15% for a hardcover, not including the additional amount going to the agent.

  • Timeline: The process of finding an agent and then shopping the book to publishers takes time - sometimes years - so the traditional route can take quite a bit longer than some of the other publishing options.

Next Steps

If the traditional publishing route is for you, the next step is to find an agent to represent you. For more information about querying agents, check out our Learning Center.

Self-Publishing

What is it?

If you’ve been researching the publishing industry, you’ve probably heard a great deal about self-publishing. Once a highly stigmatized means of publishing a book, self-publishing has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years.

When authors self-publish, they take on the full burden of developing their book, from writing and editing to cover design and distribution. They may choose to seek help with some aspects of the process, but ultimately they are overseeing everything.

One of the most popular means of self-publishing involves working with Print-on-Demand (POD) publisher. POD is a manufacturing term used in many other industries. It simply means that when a product is ordered by a consumer, the product is printed (or created) and shipped at that time.

The two biggest POD book printers, Createspace and LightningSource, have taken up the mantle of publisher and offer editorial, design and distribution services, in addition to printing the books. In doing so, they have essentially created a one-stop shop for self-publishers, simplifying the process considerably.

For authors who speak regularly or have a strong online community to sell to, self-publishing can be a great option, since traditional retail distribution is likely less important.

Pros:

  • Ownership: Self-published authors retain all rights to their work and can use the content however they please.

  • Control: Authors who want to be a part of every creative decision have complete control over the editorial, design, and distribution choices.

  • Sales/Royalties: When self-published authors sell directly to readers, they retain the full cover price for the book, as opposed to a small royalty payment. They also earn more on each book sold through retail because they are not working with a middleman.

  • Risk: When utilizing POD printing technology, authors do not need to print thousands of copies to use as inventory, lowering their risk.

Cons:

  • Quality: The stigma surrounding self-published books has not gone away entirely, largely because of their general low production quality. Many self-published authors lack the industry knowledge needed to produce a high-quality book that can compete in the marketplace.

  • Cost: Because the author manages the entire process, they also foot the bill for any editorial, design, or printing work they outsource.

  • Effort: Because self-publishers usually outsource each element of publication to different sources, their books often lack the cooperation and consistency needed for a successful book launch. The author must put in extreme effort and time to ensure a cohesive product.

  • Distribution: Most self-publishers do not have brand recognition with booksellers or experience navigating the industry’s complicated supply chain. This can cause ripples in the distribution process, including lower sales as a result of weak relationships with national buys and vendors and higher costs due to expensive fulfillment or inefficient systems.

  • Printing Limitations: Specifically relating to POD printing, the printing technology used is lower quality than larger, offset print runs. Often it is cost-prohibitive to print hardcovers, so most POD books will be paperback.

Hybrid Publishing

What Is It?

Hybrid publishers are exactly as they sound — a blend of elements of other publishing models. This is the category that Greenleaf Book Group falls into.

Under this model, publishers combine benefits of self-publishing, like control and ownership, with the distribution power and quality of traditional houses. Most hybrids require authors to pay up-front costs for high-quality publishing services, but afford authors a more collaborative experience and a much higher royalty structure.

Pros:

  • Ownership: Under most hybrid publishing agreements, authors retain the rights to their content, as well as creative control over things like cover design and packaging.

  • Quality: Hybrid publishers do not accept all projects that come their way, meaning that they only take on books that make it through a rigorous submission process. They also offer professional editing, design, and production services to rival the quality of books produced by traditional houses.

  • Distribution: Independent and hybrid publishers have stronger relationships with retailers and distributors than self-publishers. They know the ins-and-outs of a very complicated supply chain and can manage that process on behalf of authors.

  • Royalties: Hybrids typically offer a higher royalty structure of anywhere from 20-35% of the cover price for books sold through retailers and 100% of the cover price for books sold directly by the author. This can be a great benefit to speakers who would like to take advantage of back-of-room sales without giving up the opportunity for traditional retail distribution.

  • Flexibility: Because hybrid publishers offer services to fit the needs of their authors, the experience is often highly customized. Some hybrids also offer marketing and branding services to support the author’s goals for the launch of the book.

Cons:

  • Stigma: To some publishing purists, anything that requires authors to pay up-front comes with a stigma. While hybrid publishers have filled an undeniable need within the industry, this approach may not be for everyone.

  • Up-Front Costs: In hybrid models, the author invests in the production of the book in exchange for higher royalties on the back end. This upfront investment requires capital and a return is not guaranteed, which introduces a level of risk for the author which may immediately rule out hybrid publishing as an option for some.

Next Steps:

If you decide that  hybrid publishing is the best path for you, begin pulling together your book proposal and budget. Research potential publishers to find one with a strong track record in your genre and whose terms are agreeable. Keep in mind that the pros and cons listed above are not always standard. Each hybrid publisher may slightly vary from this structure, so analyze their proposals closely.

As leaders in the hybrid publishing industry, we know that each book is unique and deserves a customized publishing strategy. We want all authors — even those who don’t work with us — to make an informed decision about which publishing route is right for them