Publishing Options

We labor over our books, our stories; our fertile imaginations sowing the seeds deep within our subconscious, and we labor to bring forth our characters so they can tell their stories. Once we have given birth to this masterpiece and raised it to be the best story it can be, it is time to send it off into the world. The burning question at this point is…to whom should we send it? Should we send it to one of the big six traditional publishers, where we will definitely need an agent?  How about a smaller, Independent Publisher, which may or may not require an agent? Here, our book may or may not be wanted or could get lost in the slush pile. An agent or publisher must love (not just like) our book in order to sell it. Maybe we should send it to a small, vanity printer, which may cost more money than perhaps we can afford? How about sending it to a POD publisher where we know it will not be rejected; where it is definitely wanted since POD publishers make their money by publishing rather than selling books.  Or, worst case scenario – we lock it up in the attic to mold and mildew in the hopes that some future relative of ours might discover it and read it and actually enjoy it.  So my question to you is….what ARE you going to do with the fruit of your hard labor?

The traditional publisher route is an arduous journey for any writer. The big publishing houses seldom accept unsolicited manuscripts.  On the off occasion that they do, unless we have made a personal connection, the manuscript will be among the masses and masses of those being flung onto the desks of the assistants to the editors whose job it is to wade through the slush pile and pluck out what they feel the editor would want to see.  That is not to say that it is not possible for a story to make it through to the correct editor who will read it and be completely blown away by the brilliance of the author; but those are tough odds. In a traditional publishing setting, the manuscript you labored over may sit in the slush pile for months waiting to see the light of day. Once the first assistant has read it and loved it, it goes to an editor, who must get fellow editors to read it, love it, and support it for publication at an editorial meeting.  On the more positive side, without new material and new voices publishers would cease to exist. They are always on the lookout for a good story.  If this is your goal: Don’t give up.  Go for it!

Another route to go is to send your work to an Independent Publishing house.  Independent Publishing houses are smaller than traditional houses and may accept unsolicited manuscripts. However, most prefer agented material. When an author sends a manuscript to an Independent house, it is much more likely to be read by an editor and it is more likely that the response will be more than a form letter. The difficulty with a smaller house is that the number of manuscripts accepted is much smaller and most have limited funds for author promotion. However, since the larger publishers spend 90% of their PR dollars on 10% of their bestselling authors, a new author must do most of their own promotion. On the plus side, small publishers generally are more nurturing with their authors. The competition is just as fierce, but there will always be a market for a great story.

A Subsidy Press or Vanity Publisher is yet another choice. With a Vanity Publisher, an author can expect to pay for services such as editing and cover design, and is unlikely to receive any help with marketing or promotion. This is an expensive alternative but can be worth the expense depending on your purpose. This also includes a subset of Print On Demand Publishers who will only print a copy of the book if it is ordered. The price is generally higher than printed books.  These alternatives will not lead to a spot for your book in a large bookstore such as Borders or Barnes and Nobel, since booksellers do not stock book that are not returnable. Many POD companies offer a paid returnability option. However, I have found (particularly in this economy) booksellers still fail to order these books. Not only have they have gone through no selection process; they must be paid for up-front.  It is wise to research any publisher well, but when it comes to the above it is imperative. Do not be taken advantage through lack of knowledge or research. There are several with excellent reputations but it takes some research to find them.

A Partnership Publisher shares the expense of publishing the book with the author and receives a piece of the profit in return. They may pay for services such as editing and cover design as well as distribution, marketing and promotion. Usually there will be a creative director who will help assess what services are needed most and how much money needs to be allocated to which service.  This type of publisher also tends to be an expensive alternative with up front, out of pocket costs, but again, it is worth it depending on your purpose and your financial situation.  Reputable partnership publishers who produce quality books are highly selective~they publish only what they feel they can sell since their major revenue is derived through the sale of books not the printing of them.  Because of this selectivity, they have an excellent reputation with booksellers and their bookstore distribution is excellent.

Self-Publishing is fast becoming a popular choice as competition in the big publishing houses gets more intense. With Self-Publishing, the author does everything him/ herself. The author must find a professional editor and cover designer. They must develop a marketing plan, get their books input into the on-line bookseller locations, and find a distributor if they want their books in the book stores – it is all in the hands of the author.  If your do not desire to be a publisher as well as an author, there is an alternative to going it all alone. You can hire a book shepherd.  A book shepherd has experience with the publishing industry and can help guide our courageous, creative genius through the details that he/she doesn’t really know about or want to get involved with.  A reputable book shepherd can save an author time, money and frustration by guiding him/her through the publishing process. However, these services do not come without a cost.

There is also a lot to be said for the new opportunities available for E-Book publishing, but that is a whole different subject. Jerry Simmons covers this type of publishing in depth at

As the saying goes: “different strokes for different folks”. There is no sure-fire road to success when it comes to the publishing industry. The best bet for any author is to be knowledgeable about the process and to surround yourself with supportive, helpful people who have a desire to see you succeed. Go to writers conferences and join writers’ organizations. There is a lot of help out there, and I have found writers to be a generous group who do their best to help each other. Don’t let rejections get you down; most of our bestselling authors have a drawer full of them. If their story was compelling, their manuscript well edited and still they were rejected, it may have been that they hit the reader on a bad day, it was not that readers cup of tea, they had read or published something similar recently–a whole host or reasons. Few authors succeed the first time around. However, the only way to fail is to not try or to give up.

Suggestions: A wonderful  gift for any aspiring writer this Christmas could be  Damn the Rejections, Full Speed Ahead: The Bumpy Road to Getting Published, in which Maralys Wills gives a candid view of the road to publication with her  multi-gene books.  She brings writers in the picture and suggests what to do and things to avoid.

11 responses to “Publishing Options

  1. Excellent post, Darlene. I’m an editor and book shepherd–I think you did a masterful job of laying out the various publishing options, without discounting any of them. I’m off to share your post with others. Thank you.

  2. Darlene this is needed. As much research I’ve put into this field, it shows I still can learn something more. In particular, self-publishing.

    Thank you

  3. Darlene, you have done an excellent job in outlining the different options we writers have in the publishing world. It can be a very difficult decision to make as to which direction to take, and if we don’t know all the options we may just miss the right one for us. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  4. Nice overview of the options–thanks for sharing!

  5. Hi Darlene, can you write anything about choosing/getting picked up by an agent? Apart from a great book, what ‘s the best way to get interest from them so they can sell it to the big publishers?
    Thanks, lots of good info on this blog

  6. You really gave us many options here, and certainly show your audience the importance of doing your research first and the amount of work involved if you wish to go the self-publishing route. Promotion is key, no matter which method you decide on, for the success of your book. Thanks, Sonia.

  7. Darlene thanks for the objective information that you compiled and shared with us. As writers we sometimes get blinded by our own personal goals and dreams. It is easy to become lost in a sea of competition. I thoroughly appreciated everything written and would like to see more especially on writing groups to join. I live in a rural area where there is no support. I live in the Northwest and all publishers seem to be on the Northeast. I would like more regional information for those of us who feel lost in the woods.
    Thanks again.

  8. Thanks for this post, Darlene! Publishing is a new and ever-changing world. We’re all better informed because of your post! Good luck to all writiers…and you’re right! Writers are a generous sort, all encouraging and supportive. My favorite conference is Southern California Writers Conference. I travel from Michigan to attend. It’s been an invaluable source in honing my craft, achieving publication, and networking with an extremely brilliant group of colleagues and friends!

  9. Excellent summary of today’s publishing options. Concise, yet descriptive. Does not slant it one way or another. Good job!

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