“Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing.”
Every author yearns to say one sentence: “I’ve been published.” The meaning of that statement has changed drastically in the past ten years, however, and although traditional publishing companies still exist, other options are continually cropping up, including vanity publishers, self-publishing companies, and do-it-yourself publishing. Confusion regarding the difference between the methods is rampant, and we’re here to set the record straight.
First things first: Traditional publishing ain’t what it used to be. Most large publishing houses now require authors to be represented by agents, meaning most do not accept unsolicited submissions. Translation: If they haven’t asked for it, they won’t look at it. Most also require authors to submit book proposals alongside manuscripts, and the proposals must include marketing and promotional channels available to the author should the book be published (many agents now require this as well).
The difficult (and often fruitless) process of getting a traditional publisher’s attention has driven many would-be authors to attempt the do-it-yourself, or DIY, approach. In this method, after writing a book, authors personally take on all of the following responsibilities:
- book jacket design
When considering this approach, authors should be honest about their abilities. Consider the following:
- Do they have a firm grasp of grammar, spelling, and punctuation, along with big-picture items, including character development and story arc?
- Can they design a professional-looking, attention-grabbing book cover using properly licensed artwork?
- Can they format a book for print and/or e-readers (e.g., Kindle and Nook)?
- Do they know the best price point for their book?
- After their book is uploaded, how will they get the word out beyond friends and family?
- How can they make their book stand out from the other millions of titles already available on Amazon?
- How will they do this for retailers that aren’t Amazon—Barnes and Noble, for instance?
- Once the initial sales rush is over, how will they keep their book front and center?
- And finally, if they run into something they can’t do themselves, can they afford to find, screen, and hire help?
As you can see, although the DIY approach might initially look like the simplest option, deeper reflection shows just how time-consuming—and expensive—it can be.
A person who publishes a book willfully appears before
the populace with his pants down..… If it’s a good book
nothing can harm her. If it’s a bad book nothing can help her.
(Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay in
a letter to her mother, 19271)
Next, consider vanity, or subsidy, publishers. The good news is that many of these publishers have progressed to offering basic services such as manuscript editing and cover design. The bad news is that the “editing” may be only a run of spell-check. Additionally, the author still pays for the production of the book and, more importantly, may be solely responsible for its marketing and distribution, leaving the same questions as the DIY approach—everything from the proper price point to results-oriented promotion.
Finally, we come to self-publishing companies, which take the successful business model of traditional publishing and add in the benefit of inclusivity. Topflight self-publishing companies such as Dog Ear work with authors of every age, ability, and career level, offering high-quality services and guidance throughout the publication process—including marketing and distribution. In short, quality self-publishers make sure both the author and the manuscript get the time and attention they deserve. Although no publisher can guarantee a book will be a best seller, self-publishers can guarantee to make a book available in numerous formats and through various outlets, both online and brick-and-mortar. This ensures that the book will find its audience and that the audience will find its book.
Many fledgling authors mistakenly assume they can simply upload a manuscript to an online retailer, then sit back and collect the royalties, but there is more—so much more —to successful publishing, and we hope this article has shed some light on the available choices. Knowledge is power, and it is far too easy for unethical companies to take advantage of the naïve and hopeful. Armed with the above information, however, authors can make an informed decision.
No matter what choice you ultimately make, the road to publishing your book will take time, so discouragement will likely set in. When it does, remember Stephen King’s story:
As a young man just beginning to publish some short
fiction in the t&a magazines, I was fairly optimistic about
my chances of getting published; I knew that I had some
game, as the basketball players say these days, and I also
felt that time was on my side; sooner or later the best-selling
writers of the sixties and seventies would either die
or go senile, making room for newcomers like me. (On
Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)