Marketing is a never-ending challenge. In a sea of consultants, writers, Web developers, or graphic designers, how can you stand out? If you’re strategic about your marketing, you may have decided to specialize in a particular niche. That’s a good start, but unless you’re a Web designer who only works with underwater basket weavers, you probably have competition.
If you’ve read classic marketing books like Get Slightly Famous or The Obvious Expert, you’ve probably read that one way to stand out in your niche is to write a book. Maybe you thought it didn’t really apply to you or “it’s too hard.” But even in our online world, the reason people continue to write books is that the tactic still works.
Writing a book gives you a level of credibility like almost nothing else. Being a book author sets you apart and positions you as an authority in your field. Anyone can set up a blog or create a PDF, but not many people go to the effort of publishing a book.
As a smart business owner, you should educate yourself a bit before you embark on a new marketing tactic. The publishing industry is complex and one question that stops many people in their tracks is determining the “right” or “best” way to publish a book.
The best way to publish your book depends entirely on your book, your goals, and your personality.
Avoid the Scams
Before I get into the best ways to publish, I’d like to take a small side trip into the worst way to publish. Many options for turning a manuscript into a book are expensive and some are out-and-out scams. The publishing landscape is littered with unhappy authors who made poor publishing choices.
If you do a Google search on book publishing or self-publishing, you’ll see a lot of ads for companies like Xlibris, iUniverse, and Outskirts Press. The problem with these companies is that they act as a “middleman” between you and the real print-on-demand printer they are using.
You pay for the company to produce your book, and although they make it sound like you are “self-publishing” a book, you actually aren’t. In the book-publishing world, these companies are referred to as subsidy or vanity presses. And almost every knowledgeable person in publishing recommends you avoid them (including me).
Here’s why. Subsidy presses charge you to publish a book, mark up their printing costs, and then pay you only a percentage of sales (called “royalties”). They mix the worst of traditional publishing and self-publishing, so the real loser is the author.
Subsidy presses have a stigma in the book-publishing world. Even worse, their complex contracts are author-unfriendly with clauses that often let them keep rights to artwork you paid them to produce. Most people deeply regret going with a subsidy once they discover the alternatives.
When you remove the subsidy press option, you are left with two good choices: taking the traditional approach and publishing through an established publishing company, or self-publishing your book yourself.
Each option has pros and cons. Your goals for your book affect what you do next.
Traditional Publishing Pros and Cons
When you publish a book traditionally, you submit book proposals (usually through an agent) to various publishing companies. If a company accepts your proposal, you sign a contract, which may give you an advance and then a royalty on the book’s sales after the advance.
Although, you are the author of the book, you will be working with the publishing company to produce the final manuscript. Their input can significantly influence the final result. The publishing company manages the production of the book, including interior layout, cover design, printing, and distribution.
Pros: You may get money up front. The publishing company handles all the production details. You also may get royalties on sales.
Cons: Your proposal may or may not get accepted. In fact, most proposals aren’t accepted, so you may face years of rejection. If your book proposal is accepted, it also can take a long time for the book to see the light of day (often 1-2 years). The publisher can make decisions about your book you don’t like, such as changing the title, manuscript, cover art, or other key elements. The publisher also can take the book out of print at any time. Most authors never earn any royalties beyond the advance, so if you do get a contract, be sure to negotiate for the largest advance possible.
Interestingly, many people go with a traditional publishing contract for reasons that have little to do with money or developing a writing career. Most people want to be published by a big publishing company as a type of validation. Because so few books are accepted, it can be a source of pride to say your book was published by a big publishing house.
Of course, most of the people who actually care about that are in New York City. (When was the last time you looked at the copyright page to check out who published a book?)
Self-Publishing Pros and Cons
When you self-publish your book, you form your own little publishing company, so you are responsible for all of the production issues. You hire freelance help for editing and layout and make all the decisions regarding book printing and distribution options yourself.
Unlike with a subsidy press, you are the publisher of record. That means you own your own block of ISBNs, which you buy from Bowker. Owning your own ISBN makes it possible for you to go to the printer directly without the middleman markup.
Pros: You have more flexibility and control. The book also has a much higher income earning potential over time. Instead of making 10-15% royalty off the title as you would with a traditional publisher, you keep all the profits for each copy sold. You also never have to take the title out of print, and you can update it when you want. Some evergreen self-published titles have made money for decades.
Cons: With greater control comes greater responsibility. You are solely responsible for the quality of the finished product. You also have to cover any up-front costs, such as hiring freelance professionals and (obviously) getting the books printed.
Being a successful self-publisher requires an entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to work hard to create a high-quality finished product that can compete with books coming from larger established book publishing companies.
The Bottom Line
I have been traditionally published and self-published, and like I said there really is no “best” way to publish a book. My self-published books are on topics that are important to a small segment of people.
Traditional publishers often want “blockbusters” so I published my niche books myself. They have made me far more money over time than any of my traditionally published books. But that doesn’t make my self-published books “better” than the traditionally published ones. Or vice versa.
No one knows the right publishing option for you, except you. Here’s some food for thought:
|Like control and making editorial and design decisions||Hate details|
|Want to write a book on a niche topic||Want to say you’re published by a big company|
|Want to make more money per book sold||Don’t care how much money each book makes|
|Want the book out ASAP||Don’t really care when the book is released|
|Want total flexibility to create follow-on books, bundles, or related products||Just want somebody else to get the book out there.|
|= Learn about self-publishing||= Learn how to write a book proposal|
No matter how your book is published, you are going to be responsible for marketing the title. Books do not sell themselves and it takes a lot of work to market a book effectively.
The good news is that for less than $100, you can get a wide array of fantastic books on both self-publishing and writing book proposals. Armed with that education and information, you can make the best choices for you and your upcoming book.