It’s time to address a question I am often asked: “What are the differing types of book publishers and how do I know which is right for my project?”
My first response to this question is, “Have you written the book? Because you can’t get it published if it’s not written.” I don’t mean you have to write the entire book to find a publisher. In some cases, you don’t. The point is, no one ever got a book published without actually writing it first.
Some people think having a great idea is enough to get a publisher. It’s not. Even if your topic is one of the best ideas in modern literature, and you are certain it will be a bestseller and a movie starring Emma Stone, publishers need to know you can execute the idea and they need to know you can write.
So after you’ve written the manuscript (if it’s fiction) or several sample chapters (if it’s non-fiction), what should you do?
Firstly, buy a copy of Writer’s Market for the current year and learn about various categories of publishers and their requirements. Go spend a couple of hours in the bookstore looking up books published by some of the companies that looked like a match for your project. You can see their finished products and further gauge the appropriateness for your project.
Pro tip: Never ever send out manuscripts or book proposals without first ascertaining what types of books a company publishes. If a company states in Writer’s Market or on its website they absolutely never in the history of ever will publish fantasy (or children’s books or nonfiction) and you send them fantasy (or children’s books or nonfiction), you will be showing your inexperience and lack of research. They will immediately delete the query because they don’t publish fantasy (or children’s books or nonfiction) but they may also remember you down the line as a lazy rube. So don’t do it.
These days there are hundreds of ways to get published and the best method for you will depend on your topic and your needs. If you’ve written a memoir or a family history and intend it to be used mostly by family or local libraries, self-publishing a small quantity of books is your best bet. If you’re writing a book of academic research, you can find publishers who focus on this area.
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If, like most of the country, you’ve written the Great American Novel, there are many choices. Is it really good enough for a large publishing house to invest in? Could it be published as an e-book in hopes of finding sales online?
With so many variables, I can’t discuss every option, so today I’m going to focus on three I have experienced: self-publishing, regional presses and mainstream publishers. I am the author of eight books, with two more due out in a few months.
Following are brief, very basic explanations (They are meant to be helpful tips rather than definitive explanations of the industry):
This means you will take on all the responsibility for editing, printing and marketing your book and you pay a company to assist you. These publishers, once known as “vanity presses,” offer varying levels of service: Some only print your book so the manuscript needs to be in perfect shape before you submit it. Some offer editing services or graphic artists to design your cover, for a fee. A few even offer marketing assistance, also for a fee, of course.
The company will assign your book an ISBN, a unique identifier that is necessary for placement in book stores and libraries, but most other phases of publishing are up to you.
Most people order a quantity of books, say 200, and pay a “wholesale” price to have them printed. They then sell the books at crafts fairs and community events, or to local bookstores, for a profit. If it costs about $10 each to print the book, you will likely want to sell it for $16-$20, depending on what you think people will pay and how much profit you’d like to make.
You can also use a print-on-demand press, which means you pay the company to set up the book and cover as it will appear in print, but the company only prints copies as they are ordered. The pro? You don’t have to pay in advance for each book. You pay the set-up costs and then the copies are paid for by the person ordering the books. The cons? It takes longer to receive the books because they aren’t printed until ordered and the company sets the wholesale and retail prices, and you are likely to make much less profit.
Self-published authors will find that many doors are closed to them: It is more difficult to get reviews needed to promote their books and big-box stores are less likely to carry them. In the ever-changing industry, however, self-published authors are commanding more respect, especially those that shows big sales thanks to a dedicated and driven author.
These types of publishers are relatively new. Although mainstream publishers typically want a book to appeal to a broad audience, regional publishes count on selling books based on a small region. They print fewer books but have a greater likelihood of selling to their targeted audience. These include two of my publishers, The History Press and Arcadia Publishing. These companies want books focusing on one state or even one community within a state. Although it is easier to have a book idea accepted at these publishers, the return is very small. That means: The publisher bears the costs of editing the book, printing it, creating cover art, and getting it into area bookstores. But the author will receive only about 7 percent royalties, which is low by industry standards.
You can purchase copies of your book at a wholesale price from the company and sell them yourself for a greater profit margin – up to about 40 percent – but, remember, you need outlets at which you can make sales.
This category is much too involved to explain in detail but here is an overview: These publishers bear all the costs of getting your book into readers’ hands. They pay you, the writer, for the manuscript, sometimes by giving an advance plus royalties, but typically only in royalties, which can range from 10-20 percent.
In addition, these publishers have huge marketing machines to sell your book and have the ability to get your book not only on shelves of U.S. store but in stores across the globe.
Unlike the huge presses whose names you know – such as Random House and HarperCollins – smaller publishing houses have fewer assets to put toward marketing your book and they may pay smaller royalties. However, they are also easier for writers to access. For instance, most large publishing houses today accept manuscripts only through agents.
In other words, you and I aren’t allowed to send Random House our manuscript. If we have an agent, however, he or she can send our manuscript to the company, although the possibility of rejection is just as high.
Pro tip: Do you need an agent? Yes, if you’re hellbent on getting a blockbuster publisher for a blockbuster book. But be warned, getting an agent is as difficult as finding a publisher. It requires in-depth research, dozens of submissions and rejections and plenty of heartbreak. It’s much like finding a mate.
Submitting to smaller presses does not require having an agent. You can send your manuscript or proposal directly to the publisher. However, as mentioned above, you must be sure you are submitting to a publisher that handles your genre. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your book is so good, the publisher will decide to change its policies. They publish in certain areas because that is where their interests and expertise lie.
In addition, you should make sure your submission is as professional as possible and include all the materials required by the publisher. These can be found in Writer’s Market and on the publisher’s website. On the flip side, be sure the publisher you choose is reputable and has your interests at heart. Checking out copies of their titles in stores will help you judge the quality of their books. And remember: Reputable publishers do not require you to pay editing fees.
That’s it for now. Later, I’ll go into a discussion of writing queries and proposals.