How to Publish A 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.
Questions one through three deal with the types of publishing; numbers four through nine with standard publication; and the rest with self-publishing.
How To Publish a Book – Everything You Need to Know
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, eight percent on the first 10,000 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.
- 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 50,000 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.
- 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.”
- 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 Welcome Unsolicited Submissions.”
- What exactly do literary agents do?
Literary agents try to match manuscripts to publishers; that is, they find a book proposal or completed manuscript they believe is saleable, then “shop it around” to the publishers they think would be interested in such a work.
In a sense, they are salespeople, acting as middlemen between writers and publishers.
Agents devote much time to discovering new material by inviting authors to submit their work to them, and by attending writer’s conferences and workshops. Sometimes they may generate new material by matching a writer with an expert who has an interesting idea.
They devote another chunk of their efforts to understanding the changing needs of publishers and knowing what kinds of projects various acquisitions editors are looking for.
Then they try to make “a match” by getting the books/authors they represent in front of the editors most likely to purchase them. If an acquisitions editor makes an offer, the agent may then negotiate for better terms if she thinks it’s possible to get them.
For their efforts, agents receive a commission on the book projects they sell to a publisher—usually 15 percent of the author’s proceeds.
- What don’t literary agents do?
Agents do not buy the rights to your work from you.
They do not guarantee that they will sell your work to a publisher, or that you will make a lot of money.
They do not edit or proofread your manuscript. In fact, if the material you initially send them is poorly written or chock-full of typos, they will most likely reject it out of hand. Once they become interested in your proposal or manuscript, they may offer suggestions for improvement, but it will be up to you to perform the work.
They do not serve as your attorney. They can offer advice on publishing contracts, but they are not legal experts.
- 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.
- Is it difficult to get started with self-publishing?
Not necessarily. You can self-publish without any initial set up costs at Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and some other platforms, although you do have to pay for any copies of your book that you want for yourself.
Other self-publishers require an initial set-up or package fee, which can be as low as several hundred dollars, or run into the thousands, depending on which firm you use and which of their publishing packages and services you select.
- 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.
- 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. (For more, see “Self-Publishing Packages: What They Cost.”)
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!
- What costs are involved in self-publishing 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.
- Will a self-publisher get my book into brick-and-mortar bookstores?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Who owns my 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.
- 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.
Aventine Press “Author Publishing Agreement” – http://aventinepress.com/aut_agree.html
CheckPoint Press “Simple, Easy-To-Understand, One-Page Agreement for Self-Publishing Services” – http://www.checkpointpress.com/selfpublishingagreement.html
Dog Ear Publishing “Publishing Author Contract” – http://dogearpublishing.net/resourcesauthoragree.aspx
Infinity Publishing “Book Publishing Agreement” is downloadable at http://www.infinitypublishing.com/book-publishing-agreements/get-published-now-download-our-book-publishing-agreement.html
Kindle Direct Publishing “Publishing Terms and Conditions” – https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/help?topicId=APILE934L348N
Old Mountain Press “Self-publishing Contract” – http://www.oldmp.com/ompcontr.htm
WingSpan Press “Publishing Agreement – http://www.wingspanpress.com/publishing_agreement.php.
Xlibris “Services and Distribution Agreement” – https://www.xlibris.com/uploadedFiles/Agreements/AuthorAgreement_XLUS_05022017_English.pdf
- Is there a list of self-publishing firms?
Here are more than 40 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 – www.1stworldpublishing.com
2. 48Hour Books – www.48hrbooks.com
3. Arbor Books – www.arborbooks.com
4. Archway Publishing – http://www.archwaypublishing.com
5. Author House – www.authorhouse.com
6. Balboa Press – www.balboapress.com
7. Blurb – www.blurb.com
8. Book Baby – http://www.bookbaby.com
9. Bookstand Publishing – www.ebookstand.com
10. Brentwood Christian Press – www.brentwoodbooks.com
11. Dog Ear Publishing – www.dogearpublishing.net
12. Donning Company Publishers – www.donning.com
13. Dorrance Publishing – http://dorrancepublishing.com
14. E-Booktime – www.e-booktime.com
15. Epigraph Publishing Service – www.epigraphps.com
16. First Choice Books – www.firstchoicebooks.ca
17. Foremost Press – www.foremostpress.com
18. Foresight Publishing – www.foresightpublishingnow.com
19. Goose River Press – www.gooseriverpress.com
20. IBJ Book Publishing – www.ibjbookpublishing.com
21. Infinity Publishing –www.infinitypublishing.com
22. Innovo Publishing – www.innovopublishing.com
23. InstantPublisher – www.instantpublisher.com
24. iUniverse – www.iuniverse.com
25. Just Self-Publish – www.justselfpublish.com
26. Kindle Direct Publishing – https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/
27. Laredo Publishing – www.laredopublishing.com
28. Leonine Publishers – www.leoninepublishers.com
29. Lulu – www.lulu.com
30. Mill City Press – www.millcitypress.net
31. Morris Publishing – www.morrispublishing.com
32. Old Mountain Press – http://www.oldmp.com
33. OmniLand Books – www.omnilandbooks.com
34. Outskirts Press – www.outskirtspress.com
35. Palibro – www.palibrio.com
36. Professional Press – www.profpress.com
37. SelfPublishing.com – www.selfpublishing.com
38. Smashwords – www.smashwords.com
39. Trafford Publishing – www.trafford.com
40. Virtual Bookworm – www.virtualbookworm.com
41. Volumes – www.volumesdirect.com
42. WestBow Press – www.westbowpress.com
43. Wheatmark – www.wheatmark.com
44. WingSpan Press – www.wingspanpress.com
45. Word Association Publishers – www.wordassociation.com
46. Xlibris – www.xlibris.com
47. Xulon Press – www.xulonpress.com
- Is there a list of book printers?
- Any final advice on working with a self-publishing firm?
There are two major issues with self-publishing firms, unrealistic expectations and over-hyped promises.
Unrealistic expectations – Many self-published authors enter into the process with stars in their eyes, dreaming of seeing their books zoom to the top of the charts. “All I have to do is list it on Amazon,” they’ll say, “and it will sell a million.”
Whether you self-publish or have your book released by a major New York publisher, you must remember that most books do not earn millions of dollars in royalties, and most authors do not make the rounds of the major television programs talking about their books.
Yes, self-publishing firms can list your book on Amazon, perform various publicity services, make your book available to Hollywood scouts and otherwise do the same things standard publishers do.
However, there is no guarantee that any book will succeed, no matter how it is published.
Over-hyped promises – Some self-publishing firms have been charged with ripping off their clients by over-promising their services and/or selling vastly over-priced services.
There are bad apples in every industry; protect yourself by conducting the same kind of due diligence you would before hiring any firm or person.
Ask plenty of questions and pay close attention to the answers, read the contract carefully, and research the company’s reputation in depth.
Make sure you do the following:
1. Do your research – Find out all you can about the company and their services. Go beyond checking out their websites. Check the firm’s credentials and reputation carefully. Scour the web looking for independent reviews of self-publishers, good and bad. Read books such as Mark Levine’s The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Ask your friends and acquaintances if they’ve worked with any of the firms.
2. Get everything in writing – Don’t rely on what you’re told by any company, or what you see on the website. Have everything put in writing, and read the contract carefully. You’re going to be spending money—perhaps a lot—and entrusting your work to the self-publisher, so it may be a good idea to have an attorney review it as well.
3. Check all the charges carefully – Even if you’ve selected what seems to be an all-inclusive package that covers everything you need, there may be extra charges for revising the manuscript, Photoshopping images, etc.
4. Find out who owns the rights – You want to make sure you retain the rights to your manuscript or you can easily get them back. You also want to know who owns the rights to other items such as the cover design, art work, interior design, and PDF format of the book.
5. Stay on the job – Don’t assume that everything is taken care of once you sign the contract and send in your manuscript files. Many self-publishing and printing-only companies do a nice job of creating the physical book. But the difficult part is getting people to notice and purchase your book.
Watch out for promises…
…whether clearly stated or implied, that your book will be a best seller, make you famous, earn a lot of money or anything similar.
Book publishing is an iffy business, and it’s impossible to guarantee any particular book will be a winner. So be aware of vague promises of any sort. For example, the phrase “up to,” as in “we will contact up to 1,000 media outlets on behalf of your book,” only guarantees a maximum number, not a minimum. They might contact 1,000 outlets, or they may only contact 900, 800, or even fewer. And there’s no guarantee that the media outlets they contact will be interested in your book.
Self-publishing is definitely real. But it is a business venture that should be approached realistically.
Self-publishing firms can point to numerous successes. Author Solutions, the parent company of AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, and other self-publishing firms, notes in its “Facts and Figures” release that AuthorHouse books such as Legally Blonde, Proof of Life, and September Dawn became films, while Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, originally published via iUniverse, was picked up and republished by Simon & Schuster for a six-figure advance. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for 14 weeks. Some famous people have published through AuthorHouse imprints, including U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), actor Alan Thicke and “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher.
• You’re acting as your own publisher, which means you bear the costs.
• It’s up to you to get people to buy your book.
• If you can’t generate enough sales, you lose money.
• If anything said, written, suggested, or implied by your self-publisher sounds too good to be true, be very suspicious.
Keep reading the self-publishing blogs to learn about individual self-publishing firms and definitions, contracts, royalties, warranties, and more.
(The undated “Facts and Figures” PR release was sent to me by AuthorSolutions in February, 2011.)