Learning how to self-publish a book can be time-consuming. Before you publish your book or novel with a third-party publisher (or before you start your own publishing company), read this to learn the basic information on how to self-publish. There are various ways of getting your book published without going through a literary agent or a big New York publishing house.
What kinds of books are best for self-publishing?
Sometimes perfectly good books are rejected by major publishing houses because the audience for the book isn’t very big (in other words, the publisher won’t make gobs of money).
If your book appeals to a niche audience—like birders in Massachusetts, members of a certain church, or even your own extended family—self-publishing may be a good way to get your book to your readers.
Most self-published books do not sell more than a couple hundred copies, and most do not turn a profit. For more on this read Ask Ronnie: Is There More Money In Self-Publishing Or Traditional Publishing?
If your book has wide audience appeal, we recommend querying at least 100 literary agents with your project before giving up on finding a traditional book publisher.
What are the different types of publishers and/or self-publishers?
All types of publishing in which the author assumes the majority of the financial risk can be deemed “self-publishing.” But there are distinctions within the larger umbrella of self-publishing. Here is a list of types of publishers that should clear things up:
What is POD publishing?
POD stands for print-on-demand. POD publishers can print your book at a moment’s notice—as few as two or as many as 2,000. POD publishers are generally independent publishers or self-publishing companies.
What is a commercial or traditional publisher?
These are the “household name” publishers, and they are highly selective. There are no costs to the author for printing, artwork, or distribution, and authors are paid up front for their books. Authors do need to be represented by a literary agent and do maintain the ownership of their work. Traditional publishers are Random House, Penguin, etc.
What is a vanity publisher?
A “vanity” publisher prints books at the author’s expense. The author is responsible for paying the publisher’s profit and overhead costs. These publishers print anything for anyone who can pay their fees. They may offer marketing help, warehousing, editing, or promotion of some sort. (NOTE: the term “vanity publisher” is considered pejorative and outdated by many in the the larger publishing industry; use it carefully or not at all.)
What is a subsidy publisher?
This kind of publisher shares the cost of (or subsidizes) publishing a book. Subsidy publishers are often selective, and the completed books belong to the publisher, NOT the author. The books remain in the publisher’s possession until they are sold. Authors can collect royalties. Subsidy publishers are NOT generally considered to be traditional publishers.
What is true self-publishing?
As stated earlier, the term self-publishing can refer to all types of publishing in which the author absorbs some or all of the cost of publication. Historically, the term self-publisher refers to an author who starts his or her own publishing company, pays ALL costs of printing, and is responsible for marketing, distribution, promotion, etc. This is the equivalent of starting a publishing house, but authors who self-publish via their own houses are not considered to be traditionally published (see above for a definition of a traditional publisher).
What questions should you ask a self-publishing company?
1. How much will self-publishing my book cost? Depending on the services and “extras” you choose, your investment into printing your work can escalate dramatically. Shop carefully. Compare what services are included in your quote. Are you obligated to purchase a minimum number of books? How much of a deposit is required? Do you have to pay for the entire contract before you even see your first book? How quickly can you get additional copies? Is shipping included?
2. Are the printed books high quality in terms of art, typesetting, and paper? Some less reputable firms will use a lesser quality paper stock and have wider tolerances for production values. Be sure to see a sample of what you’d like BEFORE you sign a contract. Request references. Contact others who have used the service, just like you would do if you were renovating a bathroom.
3. What extras do you offer writers? Most companies will have additional services they want you to buy. Some may be in your best interest; others are a waste of your money. PODs will sell design services for your book cover, offer editing services, register your copyright, or help you obtain your ISBN and Library of Congress numbers. You may want help with your cover presentation if you are not artistically inclined.
4. Is there a fee for formatting? Manuscripts must be digital and properly formatted. POD companies will help you format your work but may charge an additional fee for this service. Unfortunately, this is one area in which you should NOT skimp. Remember, how the printer receives your work is how it will appear.
5. What kind of distribution do you offer? Many self-publishing companies have an online store. They also offer to list books on Web sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. BUT unless the author has marketing in place that will direct readers to go to these online stores, it is unlikely that the author will see substantial sales.
Some self-publishing companies offer to distribute print copies of a book to bookstores. This is a good way to make sure that your book is shelved in stores, but it does not guarantee sales.
If your book is of a particular niche, you may be able to self-promote your book locally. For instance, if your manuscript is about a medical issue, you can set up book signings with local support groups and hospital outreach programs.
6. What is the cancellation policy? Because PODs print exactly what you give them, they will not cancel orders once your work is being printed; they will not accept returns nor give you a refund.
7. What are the responsibilities of the publisher? PODs will NOT accept nor be responsible for misspelled words, grammatical errors, and overall presentation of the material (unless you pay for proofreading). Some will let you see a mock-up or galley proof before proceeding to the print stage; others do not. And none will take responsibility for the content of your work, including fact checking, potential copyright infringement, or libelous statements.
8. What’s the catch? As with all consumer products, it is important to carefully shop and compare services being offered. Read the fine print. Know what you are agreeing to pay and what you get for your money. Have someone knowledgeable read the contract, too.
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