When I received an offer to publish my book, (sorta out of the blue) I gave myself a crash course in publishing options. I learned there are basically three options for publishing your book:
- small publishing house
- big publishing house
But let’s back up a second and talk about the first steps…
Agents vs Publishers
Agents are people who believe your work can sell. They may help you with some basic suggestions to polish up your manuscript. Then their job is to get you the best publishing deal they can. They’ll help you navigate submissions to editors, and the legal contract. A good agent will be in your corner for any questions you have along the way. They take 10% of your net profits to do this.
Publishing houses will market and publish your book – whether it’s an ebook or a print book. They’ll provide content and line editing, cover art, and marketing for your book. For their services they take generally somewhere between 50-65% of your net proceeds.
So, in really rough math, if you sell your book for $10, your publisher will take $6.5 (65%) and then your agent will take $1 (10%) and FINALLY you’ll get $2.50. (Most places, like Amazon will actually take a cut off the top of that $10 sale – but you get the idea).
What it takes, and what you get.
As you go from “self publish” to “small press” to “large press”, you get to keep less of the money your book earns. But you have a bigger network of distribution (more sales), and less leg work to do on your own.
Self publish: You do everything. Find an editor, cover art, manage all aspects of promotion and your business. You also keep 100% of the net sales. From what I can tell, if you are a prolific writer who wants to publish multiple books a year, and can market your books AND keep growing your online presence, this is probably the way to go. If you’re thinking about this, you should do a lot of research on how to do this well.
Small press: You do a lot of the promotions – blog content, contests, social media connections, book tours (virtual usually), etc. The book is going to be as successful as you make it. The publisher provides you with an editor, cover art, an initial push of promotions, distributes it to their network, and manages the pricing over time. They also connect you with their pool of other authors for a lot of cross-promotion and networking opportunities. For this, on average they take about 65% of your net sales.
Large press: This is kind of the dream, although it’s a mixed bag. First, to submit to a ‘big 5 publisher’ you have to get an agent. It’s hard to get an agent. I write genre fiction – urban fantasy. After a year and about 50 queries, I couldn’t find one to rep my debut novel. If you’re a new author, or are writing in a ‘saturated’ market, you’ll likely have a hard time getting an agent. If you do land an agent, large presses have broader distribution networks and probably a little more ($ and branding) to put into promoting their books. So, although you still need the basics of a social media presence, and promoting your book online, a lot of that work is done for you. You pay for this up front with agent fees of 10-15% from what would otherwise be netted to you as the author (plus the standard 35%-40% going to the publisher). But the theory is that you’re now selling more books, and therefore making up the loss.
The potluck approach
Just because you go down one path now doesn’t mean you’re locked into it forever. A lot of people publish with multiple small presses for example (which is a good practice in case one goes under). And if you do publish with a small press it can build your ‘brand’ and reputation, making it easier to attract an agent (with a totally different work). Or you can self publish, and use your success as a way to attract an agent. Or start with a small press, and then when you see what works and doesn’t work, self publish your next work.
Watch out for vanity presses and scams.
There are agents out there up to no good. And there are publishing operations that are known as “vanity presses” or just plain old scams. “Vanity Presses” make you pay to publish your book – sometimes it’s an upfront fee. Sometimes, it’s hidden in the form of buying into marketing packages or editing services. Both of these options are not ‘traditional publishers’. A publisher should only get paid when you get paid. Period. Always, always research a potential agent or publisher before you sign on the dotted line.
If you’re questioning if a publisher is the right one for you, check out my article : Six Reasons I Said No To My First Publication Offer.
Have you published a book with an agent? Did you self publish or go with a traditional publisher? Tell us about your journey in the comments!