How to Publish Your Book

Many of our clients ask us about book publishing; specifically, how to get their books published. Although we’re ghostwriters, not publishers, we can guide you through the process. Here’s a publishing primer that will answer many of the most common questions our clients ask us.

1. What Are the Publishing Options?

There are two approaches: standard publishing and self-publishing.

In standard publishing, you write the book, and then a publishing entity such as Simon & Schuster publishes it for you. Standard publishing is also called traditional publishing.

In self-publishing, you are both writer and publisher.

With both standard and self-publishing, you can have hardcover, paperback, ebook, and/or audiobook versions of your book, and sell the rights to foreign editions, movies, etc.

The key difference between standard and self-publishing lies in who handles and pays for publication.

2. What About Assisted, DIY, and Hybrid Publishing?

Assisted and DIY (do-it-yourself) are forms of self-publishing, while hybrid is a blend of standard and self-publishing. Here’s a quick rundown on these approaches:

  • Assisted Publishing – You hire a firm to handle the various aspects of publishing, including editing, proofreading, designing both the book’s cover and the interior, and printing. Some of these firms will also handle distribution and marketing. There are many such self-publishing firms (see the list at the bottom of this page), and they offer a variety of packages and a la carte services. You are responsible for all costs.
  • DIY Publishing – Instead of hiring a firm, you hire individual experts to perform the publishing chores. The difference between this and the assisted form of publishing is you make all the decisions and shoulder all the responsibilities.
  • Hybrid Publishing – This is an evolving category that features a mixture of standard and self-publishing, but lacks a strict definition. Think of a hybrid publisher as one that asks you to shoulder much or all of the costs, but is very selective about what it publishes. Since they won’t publish just any old book and may have some skin in the game, hybrid publishers may do a better job with distribution and marketing. Some hybrid publishers work on a crowdfunding model, insisting that you develop a following and get a certain number of pre-orders before they will publish your book.

You can look at it this way: Whatever the approach is called, if you’re paying for it, you’re the publisher. You may engage a single firm or individual experts to do the work for you, but you’re still the publisher.

Let’s take a look at several questions relating to standard publication, then move on to self-publishing.

3. How Do I Get My Book Published by a Standard Publisher?

The process is straight-forward.

For non-fiction books, such as works on history, health, or business:

  • You write a query letter and book proposal, which you use to approach appropriate literary agents.
  • If one of the agents agrees to represent your book, she or he will submit the proposal to selected publishers.
  • If one of the publishers agrees to publish your work, you’ll negotiate a contract. Then, if the two of you can come to an agreement, you’ve got yourself a publisher.
  • With the deal in place, you write your book. (More correctly, you write the rest of your book, for you have to write some of it for the proposal.)

For fiction, certain memoirs, and other books that have a story arc or character development, the process is the same except you begin by writing the entire book. That’s because the agents and publishers want to see if you can sustain the story, character, tension, etc., throughout an entire manuscript.

4. How Do I Get Paid by a Standard Publisher?

Payment generally comes in the form of royalties, which is a certain percentage of each book sold. For example, if your royalty is 10 percent of the gross sales price and your book sells for $10, you’ll receive $1 for each book sold.

The royalty varies with the type of book that is sold; that is, there are different percentages for the hardcover, ebook, and other editions. In addition, the royalty may improve as sales go up, giving you, for example, 8 percent on the first ten thousand copies sold, 10 percent on the next ten thousand copies, and so on.

In addition, you may receive royalties or lump sums if your book is sold to foreign markets, made into a movie, or otherwise monetized, depending on how you’ve negotiated your contract.

5. What About the Big Chunk of Money I’ve Heard Authors Getting Up Front?

This is the “advance,” or “advance against anticipated royalties.” You can think of it as a signing bonus; however, you’ll have to pay it back, so to speak, to the publisher.

Let’s say, for example, that you are set to receive a $1 royalty for each book sold and your publisher gives you a $50,000 advance. Since you already have $50,000, you will receive no royalties for the first fifty thousand books sold. That money will go to the publisher to pay them back for your advance. You’ll begin receiving money again with book number 50,001.

6. How Likely Is It That My Book Gets Published?

Literary agents only agree to represent a very small percentage of the proposals sent to them, and publishers, in turn, are fussy about selecting projects from those submitted by agents. Looked at from simply a statistical point of view, your odds are not good.

You can improve your odds in several ways, including:

  • Writing a great query letter and book proposal – Agents regularly complain about poorly-conceived and badly-written queries and proposals that are filled with typos and unrealistic promises like, “EVERYONE will want to read this book!”
  • Researching prospective literary agents – Make sure the agencies you contact handle the genres you’re proposing and are accepting submissions. Then follow their submission guidelines carefully. Click here for a list of 100 agents accepting submissions and how to submit to them.
  • Developing your marketing platform BEFORE submitting – Agents and publishers are very interested in prospective authors who already have a following. That is, those who already appear on television, radio programs, and/or popular podcasts; already tour the country, whether actually or virtually, giving speeches and seminars; already have a very popular website or podcast of their own; and so on. This is not to say that unknown authors can’t land a publishing deal, only that having a large marketing platform gets you closer to having your book published.

There are many reasons why literary agents and publishers reject proposals and books, with some of them sound and others arbitrary. For an inside look at why books are rejected, see “The 10 REAL Reasons Your Book Was Rejected: A Big 5 Editor Tells All.”

7. Can I Bypass the Agent and Go Right to the Publisher?

While only a few major publishers accept unsolicited submissions sent in by eager writers, a fair number of medium and small publishers do. See our article titled “35 Publishers Who Accept Unsolicited Submissions.”

8. Will the Standard Publisher Set Me Up with a Big Book Tour Across the Country?

Probably not. Publishers reserve their big publicity pushes—and budgets—for a small number of well-known or highly promising authors. The rest are given a modest campaign budget and expected to do the heavy lifting on their own. That’s why publishers like to work with authors who are already out beating the publicity bushes—successfully.

Now let’s look at self-publishing.

9. Is Self-Publishing Legit?

Self-publishing has a long and storied history, with great authors such as Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Rudyard Kipling using this approach to bring their wonderful books to the public. Erma Rombauer’s The Joy Of Cooking, which has sold millions of copies, was originally self-published, as was Legally Blonde, The Celestine Prophecy, and 50 Shades of Grey.

So yes, self-publishing is legitimate in the sense that your book can be published and made available for sale online. It’s also possible, although highly unlikely, that it may land in brick-and-mortar book stores too.

10. What’s the Downside of Self-Publishing?

Since authors are acting as their own publishers, they must front the cost of publication. They may also have to make a lot of decisions about book design, marketing, and other matters, which can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the industry.

If you decide to hire a self-publishing firm to handle the publishing chores for you, you must sort through various companies and their packages and individual services, trying to figure out how to get the most value for your money. This can be a real challenge.

While some companies are highly ethical and deliver exactly what they promise, others have been accused of over-promising their services, charging inflated prices, and using pressure sales tactics on potential clients.

Unfortunately, no one has yet conducted a large-scale independent survey of the methods and results of various self-publishing firms, and their tactics and prices. Until that happens, it’s buyer beware!

11. What Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Book?

The costs involved in self-publishing are many and varied. These include:

  • Editing and proofreading the manuscript – the cost
  • Designing the book’s cover, either from scratch or using a “premade cover design
  • Designing the interior of the book
  • Creating, buying, and/or “tuning up” pictures and other graphics used in the book
  • Printing copies
  • Distributing the book to stores and/or buyers
  • Marketing the book

You can self-publish your manuscript without any initial set-up costs through Kindle Direct Publishing (a division of Amazon).

Other firms require you to purchase a self-publishing package, which can cost as little as several hundred dollars or run into the thousands, depending on which firm you use and the publishing package you select.

12. Will a Self-Publisher Get My Book into Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores?

Probably not.

Many self-publishing firms promise to make your book available for sale in book stores, but that only means they will list it in their catalog so bookstores can order it.

That’s not the same as saying that copies of your book will be placed on the shelves in thousands of bookstores across the country.

13. What Should I Look for in a Self-Publishing Contract?

Authors who engage a self-publishing company are required to sign an agreement with that company. Each firm will have its own agreement, and any one contract is not necessarily like the next. Be sure to read the self-publishing contract carefully, as well as any attachments or documents mentioned in the contract, as they also apply.

When reading through self-publishing contracts, look for items such as:

  • Who owns the copyright to the text, the cover design, and other elements of the book? For more on this, see “Who Owns Your Work?”
  • Exactly which services will the self-publishing firm provide?
  • Precisely which costs are you responsible for?
  • Do you surrender any control over the book’s content or appearance?
  • Who controls the book’s sales and marketing? If the self-publishing firm does, exactly what services will be provided?
  • Who determines the book’s sales price, and how?
  • Exactly how are the royalties calculated? (For more, see “Self-Publishing Royalties.”)
  • Is the contract exclusive, or can you accept other publication offers?
  • Can you terminate your agreement with the self-publisher? If so, when and on what terms?
  • Does the contract reflect the statements that appear on the company’s website, in their brochure, and in other materials? Or is there a disconnect between what they promise and what they actually do?
  • Which warranties are you making? (For more, see “Self-Publishing Contracts – The Warranty Clause.”)

These are not the only items you’ll see in self-publishing contracts, but they should give you an idea of the kinds of things to consider. It’s also important to pay close attention to any and all changes to the contract that the self-publisher may make. Yes, some self-publishers reserve the right to change the terms of existing contracts even after they’ve been signed and filed away by the author. (You may be notified of the changes via mail or email, or they may be posted on the self-publisher’s website.) The changes may be minor, but even a small change can impinge upon your profits or plans. So beware!

It’s always best to have an attorney review the agreement before you sign on the dotted line.

14. Do Self-Publishers “Clean Up” the Manuscript?

No, self-publishing firms do not tidy up your manuscript, copyedit it, or proofread it unless you pay them to do so.

Unless the self-publishing contract clearly states otherwise, assume that you and you alone are responsible for the copyediting and proofreading of your manuscript. It’s well worth the cost of hiring professionals to do both for you, as even small mistakes and typos will greatly undermine your credibility.

15. Who Owns Your Work?

As a general rule, you retain all rights to your book when you act as your own publisher, even if you hire a self-publishing firm to handle the publishing chores for you.

But “general rules” can be bent, so it pays to read the self-publishing contract very carefully. Although contracts typically spell out that the self-publishing company “acquires no right of ownership to the Work,” find out, for example, if you retain the rights to the cover design, interior design, and ISBN. You may have paid the self-publishing firm for these items individually or as part of a package fee, or you may not have.

16. Where Can I See Some Examples of Self-Publishing Contracts?

Below are links to some self-publishing contracts. They are not necessarily the “best” or “worst” agreements, but a random selection that will give you an idea of what such contracts may cover.

17. Which is Better, Standard or Self-Publication?

They’re equally good. The real question is, which approach is best suited to you and your book?

Standard publishers prefer authors who are already well-known, so if you are, this may be a good approach for you. You’ll get an advance, the publication chores will be handled for you, and the publisher may even give you a modest-to-large assist with the marketing.

Then again, we had a client who was not well-known to the general public, but was highly regarded in his field. He also spoke before thousands of super motivated fans at several conferences every year. For him, it made more sense to self-publish and sell the book at the back of the room and on his website.

We compare the pros and cons of the two approaches in our standard versus self-publishing blog.

18. Is There a List of Self-Publishing Firms?

Here are more than forty firms that offer a variety of services. I’m not recommending any of these, simply listing them to help you begin your research and vetting process. (This list is current as of March, 2019.)

  1. 1st World Publishing –
  2. 48Hour Books –
  3. Arbor Books –
  4. Archway Publishing –
  5. Author House –
  6. Balboa Press –
  7. Blurb –
  8. Book Baby –
  9. Bookstand Publishing –
  10. Brentwood Christian Press –
  11. Dog Ear Publishing –
  12. Donning Company Publishers –
  13. Dorrance Publishing –
  14. E-Booktime –
  15. Epigraph Publishing Service –
  16. First Choice Books –
  17. Foremost Press –
  18. Foresight Publishing
  19. Goose River Press –
  20. IBJ Book Publishing –
  21. Infinity Publishing –
  22. Innovo Publishing –
  23. InstantPublisher –
  24. iUniverse –
  25. Just Self-Publish –
  26. Kindle Direct Publishing –
  27. Laredo Publishing –
  28. Leonine Publishers –
  29. Lulu –
  30. Mill City Press –
  31. Morris Publishing –
  32. Old Mountain Press –
  33. OmniLand Books –
  34. Outskirts Press –
  35. Palibro –
  36. Professional Press
  37. –
  38. Smashwords –
  39. Trafford Publishing –
  40. Virtual Bookworm –
  41. Volumes –
  42. WestBow Press –
  43. Wheatmark –
  44. WingSpan Press –
  45. Word Association Publishers –
  46. Xlibris –
  47. Xulon Press –

19. Is There a List of Book Printers?

Yes. Click for a list of seventy-some book printers. You can also learn about the difference between digital and offset printing, and read up on printing definitions.