A lot of people dream about writing novels. Some of them even talk about it. Not many people, however, actually have the fortitude to sit down and write 80,000 words. Of those who do, it’s an even smaller number of people who invest in the self-editing and editing process, so if you’ve made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS! Finishing your novel manuscript is a big enough reason to celebrate. Polishing it deserves a round of applause!
Now that you’ve created the best version of your story, what’s next? It’s time to think about publishing.
These days there are lots of publishing options. I’m of the opinion that there is no right or wrong way to publish your book, there are just different ways. The best option for you depends on several factors. Today, I’m going to focus on the two broadest definitions of publishing options: self-publishing and traditional publishing.
Self-publishing is anytime you (the author) take on the full responsibility of publishing your book, including the cost. There are a lot of options out there and people define them differently – print-on-demand, vanity publishers, etc. The one thing all of these publishing options have in common is that they author foots the bill (e.g. if you’re paying for it, it’s self-publishing).
Who should consider self-publishing?
If you’re an author who wants to be involved in everything – editing, formatting, cover design, scheduling, marketing, and book distribution – self-publishing is a great option. When you self-publish, you get to make all of the calls (which is why you pay all of the expenses). If, however, you only want to write, this probably won’t be a good fit for you.
Why should you consider self-publishing?
This is a great option for authors who write for specific niches, i.e. a city manager who’s written a how-to guide for other city managers. Those books won’t have general market appeal, but the author may have the right connections necessary to sell books.
Self-publishing is also a good option for authors who’ve gotten good reviews on their manuscripts but can’t find a publisher willing or able to take on their books. For example, a modern-day marriage-of-convenience story that’s written well, but publishers may not be sure how they can market (i.e. sell) the book. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with the author’s writing style or voice, but the story doesn’t fit into a publisher’s schedule or brand.
In both of these situations, it’s not that the manuscripts are poorly-written, but the publishing houses aren’t willing to take on the risk of investing money into books that may not recoup the cost. In those cases, the author can take the risk and self-publish.
When shouldn’t you self-publish?
I’ve heard lots of different reasons why authors decide to self-publish, and these are some of the worst:
- I’ve submitted to every publisher and they all said no.
- I’ve been submitting for a year now, and no one has offered me a contract yet.
- The publishers don’t understand my story.
- I don’t want anyone to change my story.
What’s wrong with all of these reasons? None of them consider the possibility that the story isn’t ready for publication. Here’s the hard-to-accept truth: if you wrote a great novel, people would be interested in it. Instead of assuming that everyone else in the publishing industry is wrong, put your manuscript away. Keep learning. Then go back and see if there are some changes you can make to strengthen your story.
There are dozens of traditional publishers, from large publishing houses who print hundreds of books a year to small publishing houses who print just a handful of books. Some traditional publishers might have better book cover designers and others will have better connections for distributing their books, but they all have one thing in common – they absorb all of the cost of publishing your book.
Traditional publishers provide some level of editing and/or proofreading, cover design, and distribution. The author does not pay for any of this. The author also, however, doesn’t have much input. Publishers might ask for your opinion, but the decision is ultimately theirs, and you may or may not be happy with everything. It won’t cost you, though.
Who should consider traditional publishing?
If you’re willing to turn over creative control of your story and work on someone else’s schedule, traditional publishing is a good option.
Just to clarify: turning over creative control does not mean the publisher is going to change your story! It does mean, however, that the publisher will edit it as necessary. If the publisher suggests changes to your plot and characters, it’s not because they want to change your story, it’s because your story needs those changes. Publishers aren’t in the business of writing or rewriting stories, but they will help you polish yours to make it the best version of itself (so they can increase their changes of selling more copies).
Why should you consider traditional publishing?
If you don’t know how to run a business and have no desire to learn how to run a business, consider submitting to a traditional publisher. If you aren’t willing (or able) to figure out how to publish a book well, then put your faith in the professionals and trust them to make the best decisions for your book. Otherwise, you might have written the best story of the year, but people will overlook it because of amateur-looking artwork (or they won’t know where to buy it).
There’s no real reason to talk about who shouldn’t consider traditional publishing because, when it comes to this option, it’s not really in your control whether or not you get that book contract. Unlike self-publishing, which you can do at any time, authors have to submit and wait to find out if they can secure a traditional publishing contract. That means it can take years before you find a publisher, but the wait will be worth it if you want to focus more on the writing and marketing and less on the behind-the-scenes decisions.
As you can see, neither of these options is “right,” they’re just different. Only you can decide what’s best for you and your writing career. Just make sure you do your research before you sign anything so you’ll know for sure whether or not you’re working with a respectable, reputable publisher.
My debut novel – Summer Plans and Other Disasters – released September 15! Sign up for my monthly newsletter and you’ll receive the unpublished prologue: find out what inspired Calista Stephens to make those summer plans. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more updates about my debut release!