THE ONLY WAY TO SUCCESSFULLY PUBLISH YOUR BOOK
My operations officer is a broad, stocky man with a squared chin and a permanently pursed lip. If his eyes didn’t twinkle, I might have been afraid of him. He looks like he should be grumpier than he is. As a mustang lieutenant commander, he has every right to be.
Every day, he comes into my office (Well, technically, it’s The Commodore’s office, but let’s not get too far into semantics.) with the same look on his face: Haggard. Tried. Fumed. A few years ago, he might have been angry, but he’s far past that, now.
“134 days, Kates,” he says.
“Until what, Sir?”
“Until I retire.”
Everything makes sense. He sets his coffee cup on my desk, and I make a mental note because I know he’s going to forget it before he leaves.
“Congratulations, Sir,” I say. And, trust me, I mean it. “What are you going to do when you get out?”
I expect him to say something like, “Retire to a beach in Zanzibar,” or “Teach goat yoga on my Carolinian family farm,” but he turns to me and says, “I’m going to work for my wife.”
“That’s nice,” I say. “What does your wife do?”
A grin splits his face, and it looks a bit like the crag of a canyon. He obviously can’t help it. “My wife is an author.”
Now, it’s me who wears the memorable expression. I lean over my desk, my ears itching, trying not to seem too eager. “Oh, really? Now that’s fascinating! How did she get her agent?”
The senior officer scoffs and looks down on me like the child who says the black jelly beans are her favorite. “Why in the world would she have an agent?” he says. “She self-publishes. Runs the whole enterprise.”
He must see the look on my face, because he seems to take pity. He makes quick, furtive glances—left, and then right—as if sharing a dangerous secret. His eyes are blazing now. He leans in.
“Listen, Kates,” he says. “Self-publishing is the way to go. My wife writes romance novels. After a year of research, she started running her own brand and now has a multinational enterprise…
“She quit her job as a doctor because she makes more money as a self-published author.”
If he would have been holding a mike, that’s where he would have dropped it.
My operations officer then proceeded to tell me the story of how his wife left her job, applied her “doctor’s brain” to her publishing enterprise, and now makes hundreds of thousands of dollars selling books all over the world.
This is not a post about self-publishing. This is a post about self-publishing, traditional publishing, and indie publishing. This is a post about skinning cats, and by the end of this spiel, you will know the best method for publishing your book.
I included the anecdote above because it completely rocked my perspective. When I first started querying, I thought that the only way to be successful was to be picked up by Agent X and sold to Random House for a gazillion dollars. I was naive, completely unaware that there are authors all around the world who are capitalizing on technology and globalization to brand themselves in the cutting-edge evolution of the writing industry.
The writing world may seem cut and dry, but it’s beginning to look more like Silicon Valley than a dusky council of gatekeepers. In this post, we’re going to take a deeper dive into the three categories of publishers and host a little discussion about the pros and cons of each method.
Here are some things you need to keep in mind when considering your method of publication:
- Market: Who is your audience?
- Advertising: How does your audience decide what to buy?
- Distribution: How do you get the product into your audience’s hands?
- Timeline: How patient are you willing to be? (Months? Years?) Is this a long-term enterprise? A joyride, or a career?
- Effort: Are you willing to put in the time to learn the business? To puzzle your way through a contract to ensure your interests are guarded? Do you trust someone else to do that for you?
- Money: Do you have a couple grand saved in case you need to front a bit of the bill?
- Personal satisfaction. What is going to make you happy? To see your book in print? Or to see it on the NYT Best Sellers List?
And, most importantly:
Efficiency: What will this publisher do for you that you cannot do for yourself?
Now, you must also realize that you really don’t have to “decide” on anything. There are many “hybrid” authors who do a bit of this, a bit of that, and make out like bandits publishing through various methods. “Hybrids” are a shrewd lot; they know what to do with each book and carefully consider how it can best be marketed, whether that be through traditional or avant-garde tactics.
Understand, the “pros/cons” lists that follow are GROSS GENERALIZATIONS of oversimplified categories. By putting down these attributes, I’m not trying to say that ALL traditional publishers will brush you off because you’re a new author or that ALL indie publishers will let you put whatever you want on your cover. I’m not even saying that MOST of these houses hold true to the bullets that follow. These are not labels, but lists of pragmatic, real-time attributes for your consideration.
My friends, this is an overview at 37,000 feet. These lists should spark your brain to the questions you should be asking. It is not meant to stereotype, but to start a conversation about what kind of publisher will work best for you.
Caveat covered. Let’s dive in, shall we?
- The biggest boon about traditional publishing is that you have the clout of the publisher behind you. You’re walking in the ranks of big-name writers, hand-in-hand with publishing companies that are household names. You know these people know the business because they’ve been doing it forever. What’s more, if you want to go about selling additional books, being able to say that you were published by a major company certainly doesn’t hurt.
- You will have security and experience in an agent. The agent, who (let’s hope) knows this business like the back of his/her hand, will be able to go to bat for you between multiple houses and ensure that your book ends up in right place, according to your own interests. A good agent will have the connections and the experience necessary to navigate between publishers and represent you on a much higher level than you would be able to represent yourself.
- Bigger publishers usually have much broader and solidified distribution channels. You see them in bookstores, libraries, book fairs, etc. much more than you will indie publishers.
- Bigger publishing houses have more money for marketing.
- You can rest easy that you have the big publisher’s experience behind you. They are the masters of formatting, editing, and getting your book out into the world because they’ve done it for thousands of others.
- Publishing with a traditional house can be a time-saver. Bigger houses usually handle things like marketing, editing, and formatting so you don’t have to.
- You can be sure that these houses have connections in the business. If your book takes off into another medium—audio book, movie, foreign edition, etc.—the big publishers will know how to manage its expansion.
- Agent security. What happens if you agent leaves their company? Or quits altogether? Or is suddenly hit by a bus? (I hope that doesn’t happen!) Or can’t sell your book?
- Newer authors run the risk of getting lost in a big house. Unless your name happens to be “Patterson,” “Rowling,” or “King,” don’t expect to be the Top Priority of Random House. These bigger houses are publishing thousands of books every year, and their goal is to break even with their investment in YOU.
- Just because the house has a lot of money doesn’t mean that they’re going to spend millions advertising your book. Let’s say you don’t think your publisher is doing enough to market you or that you want additional rights to do your own marketing.
Tough Skittles, Leslie.
Publishing is a business, and you are a widget on the assembly line. If you flop, you flop, no matter how much or how little you think the publisher had to do with it.
- When you sign your rights over to a larger publisher, don’t get ruffled when they start making changes. Ultimately, they have the final say in edits (Books can lose entire chapters or take a complete shift in genre—whatever the publisher thinks will sell.), the cover art, and the marketing strategy.
- You are going to pay a gracious chunk of your earnings to both the agent and the publisher.
- Traditional publishing takes a lot of time and a lot of patience. The process is rife with rejection, and you’re going to take a few personal hits along the way.
- There are indie publishers you can approach without an agent. That not only streamlines the process, but cuts out the middleman.
- Since indie publishers tend to be smaller, they can usually afford to give more time and attention to marketing new authors.
- The publisher may be small, but it is a publisher. You still have the security of a brand—just make sure it’s a solid brand.
- A good indie publisher will have experience in the market and will be able to navigate the publishing process as dexterously as any big name. As an author, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. You have a team of experienced professionals helping you every step of the way.
- An indie publisher should take care of formatting, editing, and illustrations. Normally, those costs don’t come out of pocket.
- The publisher should be able to help you transpose into other mediums like ebooks and audio books.
- The publisher will take the charge in marketing. That is, they will function like a big publisher and help you craft a marketing strategy, set up appearances, coordinate a blog tour, etc.
- Smaller publishers tend to me more accessible. If you have any concerns or special requests during the publication process, they may be easier to reach and more likely to listen.
- Even in a small house, you still have a network of authors who work together to aid and encourage one another. Indie houses tend to have more of a “family” feel.
- An indie publisher may not have as much clout. Librarians, bookstores, and other distributors are more likely to buy and stock from names they know and trust. Certainly, you can break that stigma, but it takes a bit of effort to advertise a new name.
- An indie publisher will still take part of your proceeds.
- Levels of author control vary by contract. Most likely, the publisher will keep the final say on cover designs, edits, publication dates, etc.
- An indie publisher may not have as much money to advertise your book.
- The publisher may require the author to do a bit of work on his/her end in the advertising field, whether that is through appearances, blogs, social media platforms, etc.
- You glean all of the proceeds from book sales.
- You retain complete control of your work.
- You can work on your own timeline and work as little or as much as you want.
- The book’s publication does not depend on anyone else. There are no middlemen or outside parties at play.
- You are doing everything by yourself. That’s marketing, editing, formatting illustrations—the whole shebang. This can be time-consuming, and if you’re not familiar with the process, it will take beaucoup effort to learn how to do it correctly.
- You have nobody looking over your shoulder—no one else invested in your success. If you make major mistakes in the execution, you are the only one who will suffer. The infamous Amazon “One Star Club” is rife with books reviewed poorly because of editing and grammatical errors.
- You have no one to guide you. You have to do all of your own research, and you’d better do it well.
- Self-publishing may require a bit of money for editing and graphic design. (And, YES. You MUST hire a professional editor.)
- To be successful in the self-publishing business, you must have insatiable DRIVE. Marketing experience doesn’t hurt, either.
Daunting, mais non? This is a lot, for any new or veteran author.
Here is my advice:
Whichever way you decide to publish, take on the business like a self-published author.
Stay hungry. Learn the industry. Study the markets. Understand your contracts. Research your genre. And hustle, hustle, hustle. If you truly believe in your book, go out there and show that to the rest of the world.
No matter what name is on the spine of your book, the author’s name is going to be what sells. I have yet to hear anybody say, “Penguin? I only read books published by Penguin.” And yet, you’ll hear: “Neil Gaiman? I own everything that man has ever written!”
There is only one way to skin a cat: Remove its hide.
In parallel, the only way to successfully publish a book is in such a way that distributes your product to clientele at a market price that makes you oodles of money.
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
That may be through traditional publishing. It may be through indie, or even self-publishing. Every rags-to-riches story runs its own path; every flop has its own tale to tell. If you figure out a surefire formula for megamillions, just go ahead and send it over via the “CONTACT” page.
I’ll be waiting to hear from you.
 I highly suggest you take a gander at the “RESOURCES” tab and make your way over to Mark Dawson’s “Self-Publishing Formula” podcast. It’ll learn ya a thing or two.
 If you have no idea what this is, please go back and read my last post. You’re way behind.
 See “THE COLD, HARD TRUTH” for more on this.
 Thank Sweet Lucy that the internet is BURSTING with resources…like the “RESOURCES” tab.