Many people have come in to our library and asked, “How do you publish a book?” Well, once you’ve gone through the painstaking process of writing it, editing it, editing it again, revising it, and editing it some more, then you begin the next painstaking process: finding a publisher.
I am going to focus on three different kinds of publishing. First there is vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is great when you have something you want to hand out to fifty of your closest friends. For instance, before my great grandmother passed on, she chronicled her life and printed copies for each household. She had six children who went and had children, who went and had children, who are now just getting around to having children. Her concise biography is a coil-bound paper back. I’ve also seen that kind of printing become popular with hometown cookbooks, the kind where everyone in the community contributes a recipe or two. I had to contribute to one for a grade in middle school and it still sits on my mother’s kitchen hutch. You cannot find vanity published books here at the library or on Amazon. You have to buy them directly from the publisher and more often than not in large volumes. Lulu.com falls somewhere between self-publishing and vanity publishing but it is what I recommend for projects like cookbooks, family history books, and anything you want to share with your friends.
Now self-publishing is not what it was seven years ago when I started trying to publish my first book! When I began, it was more like vanity publishing but more costly. I have not self-published so I only know what my friends have told me. With self-publishing, I find the bigger the company the better. I have heard nothing but good things about publishing with Create-a-space dot com! It is owned by Amazon and can offer you paperback books as well as eBooks. There is also Kindle Direct Publishing, which is publishing for free, but only Kindle eBooks. Self-publishing is great if your niche market is very small. For instance, you write for hairless cat owners who run hair salons! I can almost guarantee there’s one out there. Stop looking at me like I’m crazy! I can also almost guarantee there are very few publishers who know hairless cat owners who run hair salons and they will look at you like you are crazy. Maybe you own a hair salon and a hairless cat and have found others like you! Maybe you know people who run salons and a group of people who own hairless cats. Either way, when you’re self-published, it’s up to you to find you niche market and sell to them.
I do not recommend using self-publishing to put your book out on the market faster. That being said, I had a friend who was ill and self-published her book in the space of a few months. The main problem I have with self-publishing is that the manuscripts released into the market are often unpolished. Even if your manuscript is polished gold, it’s going to be set up for sale next to a book that is decidedly not polished gold. (Think post-apocalyptic angel-vampires and the wrong there/their/they’re.) I know many avid readers who won’t pick up a book because it’s wearing the label “self-published.” When I started, again, seven years ago, I was told self-publishing is not how you begin a long career. I have seen that theory proven wrong more than once! (Go look up The Princess Saves Herself in This One.) I was told that a traditional publisher will not pick you up once they see that you have self-published in the past. I have also seen that theory disproven!
All in all, I highly recommend traditional publishing with small publishing houses. That is what I did, thus it is the right way! (Note the hint of sarcasm.) I chose to traditionally publish my book because I have every intention of having a long and fruitful career. Is my book perfect? Not by a long shot! When you traditionally publish you have less control over your book, which is not necessarily a bad thing! I could be wrong, but it’s unlikely you’ve been studying cover-art market trends for years, have perfect spelling, grammar, and know people all across the country who have booths at book fairs, conventions, and comicons. When you traditionally publish you have a whole team of people to work with. As with any team you have to give and take. You may not wind up with the cover art you wanted, but you’re more likely to end up with the cover art you need.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re speaking to a legitimate traditional publisher is whether or not they ask for money up front. There are scams to the umpteenth out there meant to trick writers out of their hard-earned cash! A real publishing house will not ask you to “invest” $1,000, give or take, to publish your book. A real publishing house will take your manuscript, publish it, and then make you pay for the copies of your own book you buy. All in all, make sure to read your contract carefully before you sign it and send it in.
Another thing you should do to protect yourself and your work is copyright it as soon as you have the funds to do so. Every publisher is different. Some will ask for a summary of your work, some will ask for the whole thing, some will ask just for your query. Either way, the best thing to do is carefully read their submission guidelines and follow them to the best of your abilities.
The best place to find small publishers is to find a list of small publishers! The one I like the best is Poets & Writer's list of small presses. Within the past year, Submittable, a third party site you will be using to submit your work to publishers anyway, has made it possible for you to search through publishers that are looking for books like yours. I have yet to explore it in depth, but it is worth a shot.
Someone asked me “what is the most lucrative form of publishing?” Find a different job. Never ever, ever go into writing thinking this is how you’re going to become a millionaire. You’re not. Vanity publishers are how you make Christmas presents, self-publishers often offer higher royalties (50%-100%) but that’s because they don’t expect you to earn back your $1,000 “investment,” and traditional publisher royalties swing anywhere from 10%-15%. That’s 10%-100% of $15.
All in all, the most important thing is to do your research and figure out what’s right for you and your book. You’re reading this article, so you’ve started somewhere! Good job! Do your research on your publisher, polish your manuscript until you hate it, have someone adept with legal things review your contracts, and understand that publishing a book is a sort of journey. You must play both the roles of artist and businessman. If there is an easy way I have yet to find it! Stay patient yet determined.