My Book’s Done, Now What? Options for Publishing Your Work

There’s a saying, “Every busboy in Los Angeles has a screenplay in his back pocket.” While that is less true for book publishing, one of the things you learn early one as a published author is that many people have a book idea they’d like to see published. For those few who actually push through the creative process and complete their book manuscript, the next question that comes up is, “How can I get my book published?”

In times past, there were basically two answers to this question: traditional book publishing or author-subsidized publishing, sometimes referred to as “vanity publishing.” With the first option, a commercial book publisher offers you a contract to publish your book. In return for accepting 100 percent of the financial risk of publication, the publisher gets exclusive rights to publish your book. The publisher further agrees to pay you a royalty on sales of the book. In most traditional publishing arrangements, royalties run between 10 and 15 percent of net receipts, which is the amount the book publisher is actually paid for selling your book, after retail or wholesale discounts. So, if your book has a cover price of $10 (to keep the math simple), and the publisher sells it to a bookstore at the typical discount of about 45 percent, the publisher receives $5.50 for the book and pays you a royalty of between 55 and 83 cents.

With vanity publishing, the author is typically required to put up most or all of the cost of publication, but the books then belong to the author to sell at whatever price they deem appropriate, and the author keeps all the proceeds. Some vanity presses offered certain marketing or distribution services, typically for an additional fee.

The main complaint typically lodged against vanity publishing is that anyone with enough money can get their book published, whether the book is any good or not. Traditional publishing supposedly allows for a process of quality control or, as it’s sometimes referred to in the industry, “curation.” In other words, traditional publishers bring to bear editorial, design, and marketing expertise on behalf of the books they publish, both to improve the content and to improve the book’s chances of getting noticed and purchased.

Nowadays, there are more than the two options above, and there are almost limitless gradations within all the options. There are still traditional publishing houses, but there are other publishers who, while they ask authors to bear some portion of the cost of publication, also provide editorial, design, marketing, and distribution services that look much like traditional publishing models. There are even options for authors to self-publish their own books. Depending on an author’s experience and budget, self-publishing can be a viable option, as long as the work is appropriately edited, designed, and packaged. Some self-publishing platforms even offer limited distribution services.

The main thing, of course, is to finish your book and hone your prose to be the best it can be. Ultimately, no matter which publishing option you choose, it’s all about the words on the page. So, before you explore too many publishing choices, make sure first that you have something worth saying and that you’ve put in the time and trouble to get it right.

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