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How to Publish Your Book: The Options Authors Have Today

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on October 30, 2012 in Indie Publishing Basics
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So perhaps you've done the hard part already and written a book. Or maybe you're just doing some research because you're thinking about writing a book. Either way, you should know that the publishing landscape today looks vastly different than it did a mere 15 years ago. Heck, it looks vastly different than it did 2 years ago.

Authors today have a lot more options — unfortunately, that also means a lot more decisions. 

I was recently discussing talk about this with a client;  we're working on edits for her book and she's wondering where to go once she's got the book the way she wants it.

I told her she has 4 real options:

  1. Go the traditional publishing route — This means either finding an agent who deals in your genre who can find you a publisher (or is at least willing to try) or finding a publishing house that will let you submit to them directly.
  2. Self-publish via a self-publishing company, putting down money upfront to receive your book in print and then hand-selling these print copies, either via a website, through Amazon or at in-person events.
  3. Create and sell digital version of your book through your website. This means setting up a shopping cart on your site, creating sell-able files and signing up for a service like e-junkie to deliver them.
  4. Create and sell digital versions of your book through online retailers, like Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com or Smashwords.
Or, of course, any combination of the above (with the realization that some online retailers have terms of agreement that rule out other options).

How to Decide How To Publish Your Book

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the options above — and examples of people who have chosen each of them and gone on to be massively successful. That said, not every choice is right for every writer. So how can you decide which is best for you?

Traditional Publishing

It used to be that authors choose this route because the conception was that it was a one-stop-shop. You land a publisher and they take care of everything. That's largely no longer true. Publishers today expect authors to pitch in and help out when it comes to marketing and selling their book; they'll likely want you to blog, or do readings, or something. For some authors the prestige of landing a publisher and having their book produced is a goal in and of itself. If that's your end goal, no judgement here.


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But to me the real advantage that traditional publishing houses still offer is the willingness to take the financial risk — you've put in the time to write the book and you'll probably have to put in a lot of long hard hours to market and sell it. But they're willing to pay to produce real print copies and they'll leverage their connections with book buyers to get it in brick and mortar book stores (which, while not impossible for a self-published author, is extremely rare). They also tend to be willing to "help" you learn your way around social media, showing your the ropes and explaining what you need to do to help build your platform.

Self Publishing through a Self Publishing Company

If going the traditional route doesn't appeal to you, but you still want to see your book in print, this is a real option. Any number of self publishing companies  will take your word document, format it, and send you printed and bound copies — for a price. Of course this comes with no guarantee of sales (although some will try to help you in various ways). The risk is yours, but so are any potential rewards.

This may be a great option if you are a speaker or frequently do in-person events where you can hand sell your book to attendees. People love the idea of a signed copy and if they are "wow-ed" by your talk, they may be willing to shell out some hard-earned cash to read more of your advice in the comfort of their homes.

Creating a Digital Edition for Website Sales

If you don't have the money or don't want to dive in feet first by spending a ton of money on print copies of your book (or if you just don't care about seeing your words in print) you can create a digital version.  There are any number of file types that you may want to consider, but regardless you can create them yourself (there are lots of how-to videos via youtube and other websites) and then upload it to a site like e-junkie so that a customer can click "buy" on your website and have your book sent to them automatically, right away.

If you already have a happenin' blog or website, this may be a great option for leveraging some of that traffic in a way that lets you make some money. There are a number of leading bloggers who have done this with great success. You keep almost all of the profits and the costs are minimal; it's just a matter of setting up your website and signing up for an e-junkie account.

Create and Sell A Digital Edition via Online Retailers

This is another pretty cheap option that authors have available to them today. I'd say it's the option most of my clients ultimately choose. Most of them still market their books via their website, but they then link to the Amazon.com or B&N links so that readers can purchase through those sites. While this means giving up some percentage of the profits, it can greatly help with visibility — especially if you can get your book listed  on one of  Amazon's coveted lists (David Gaughran had an excellent post on how to do this recently; check it out by clicking here).

Of course you still have to do a ton of marketing and hard work to gain your audience and help your book be found among the tons of other books on Amazon; but at least your not competing with every website on the internet, as you would be if trying to ONLY sell the book via your own site. It also lets you tap into those buying books for their e-readers, by formating your book in the proper file types. Read any terms carefully however — that way you know what other opportunities you may be passing up.

Alright, now I turn it over to you — Which options have you used? Which ones are you considering? Share it in the comments!

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My name is Melissa Breau & I’m a Raleigh-based tea-drinker and dog aficionado. If you’re local, let me know—I’d love to grab a drink.

By day, I’m a keyboard junkie, and (shameless plug) craft killer marketing content for small business owners far and wide.

By night (and sometimes on the weekend) I help out at several nonprofits, teach my dog new tricks, and try to spend as much time outside in the sunshine as I can.

Before joining the world of marketing I spent several years at various publishing companies in NYC, including both magazine publishers and book publishers. I also earned my Masters in Publishing from Pace University.

Want to chat? Find me on twitter or drop me a line via my website.


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5 Comments

  1. Nick Cowan November 2, 2012 Reply

    Thanks, Melissa, I will consider your advice and may then write to you. I’m a ‘hobby’ beekeeper (amongst other interests) and have been mentoring novice beekeepers for several years. I’ve kept bees since 1978 and am still working to keep them. My book is almost finished and includes some photos of bees too for practical help. I’m living in Scotland so the advice I can give is particularly relevant for British conditions. Kind regards, Nick. Note: a publisher could make extra money by including relevant advertising at the beginning and end of the book, but I’m not sure of the law on that point.

  2. Melissa Breau November 5, 2012 Reply

    Hey Nick,

    That sounds like a fascinating subject. I know that in NYC (where I used to live) there’s a whole community of city beekeepers… I’ve always thought it was interesting that they managed to keep them even in such an industrialized locale.

    I’d love to hear more from you on your book.

    In response to your note about advertising in the book — Romance publishers have done this for YEARS but no one seems to notice. I remember when I was still in high school and got my hands on my first romance novel finishing the book and seeing the subscription services romance publishers offered and the adds for other books and being intrigued. You could sign up to receive a book a month!

    That said, I think you’re probably referring to general ads rather than ads for other books and again, I think it’s an idea the industry seems to be slow to grasp although I’m not sure why. If you can pay people to wear a t-shirt with your info on it I don’t see why ads in a book are such a big deal. I have a kindle and the ads from Amazon don’t bother me at all — although I do think authors / publishers need to be careful about the ad’s placement, i don’t think including them is a problem.

  3. Nick Cowan December 7, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for your e-mail. Your christian name obviously has reference to honey-Fr. miel, Gr. meli (I think) med (Slav, I think, maybe Turkish too). Urban beekeepers usually do better than rural beekeepers nowadays because of excessive use of harmful pesticides also harms the bees. The countryside is often given over to large scale mono-crops which are often useless for nectar production and may give little or no pollen for the bees.
    There seem to be many on-line publishers and it is a bit difficult to know where to start. I’m also in contact with a publisher in the U.K. who may be interested in producing a paper version of my book which would be more useful to most beekeepers because they may want to refer to my book in their apiary!

  4. Melissa December 12, 2012 Reply

    Hey Nick,

    Very interesting! I never would have considered that aspect.

    I certainly understand that the process seems complicated. Generally, the best first step would be to produce the body copy of the book (or at least an in depth outline) which you can then pitch to publishers to see if they want to publish it. Or, if you prefer to self publish, you can take that body copy and have it edited and then pay one of the self publishing companies out there to publish it for you.

    The down side to self publishing a print book is that you will have to do a lot of marketing and self promotion to make sure bee keepers are aware your book is available. I’ve talked about some of this here on the blog, but there are also many great resources out there. Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions you think I might be able to help you with!!

    • Nick Cowan December 14, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for your helpful suggestion, Melissa. I’m contacting a number of publishers and have already heard from one who mainly sells books to existing beekeepers. He said I should contact a ‘real publisher’. I don’t have the energy or the money nowadays to go down the self-publishing route with all the promotion and possibly distribution that it would require.

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