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The Three Roads to Publication Every Author Needs to Understand

October 1, 2014

For every book you write, as an author, you have three basic options for publication. This, of course, is a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s a useful one that will help you understand the lay of the land in “Publishingville.” You can opt to: 

1) Pursue a large publisher; 
2) Pursue a small press or independent publisher; 
3) Self-publish. 

In general terms, the differences between these three options are:  
1) A publishing contract with a large reputable house wins you an advance ($$) as well as the imprint’s imprimatur, which translates to influence with bookstore buyers and media. 
2) A small press will give you personalized attention and, quite often, demonstrate a passionate commitment to your title’s success in addition to a typically smaller advance. 
3) Self-publishing allows you to retain control over the making and selling of your book—and for potentially more lucrative returns. 

Tips about large publishing houses:  
1) Bigger isn’t always better. And advances from large houses are not always so large. If a large publisher offers you a small advance, chances are good that the firm largely intends to ignore your book after printing. For this reason, nowadays, it is not uncommon for large houses to require authors to hire their own publicist. 
2) The imprimatur of the press or editor matters a great deal in literary works, but less so in nonfiction categories such as self-help. 
3) Nine times out of 10, you will need an agent to approach a larger publisher 
4) Vet agents carefully before signing a contract. If they are not a well-established agency, get references. One particularly useful source regarding agents is the Association of Authors’ Representatives’ website: www.aaronline.org/mc/page.do. Here are some tips for dealing with agents: 

• Reputable agencies do not charge reading or editing fees. 
• Ask for a clause that allows you to exit the contract within a stated period of time should the agency fail to place your work.

Tips about independent or small press publishers: 

1) You do not need an agent to submit to most small presses. 
2) Bestsellers and literary award-winners can—and do—happen all the time with small, and even tiny presses. Examples include The Power of Now and The Shack. 
3) There are thousands of independent publishers, some of which are marvelous, some of which haven’t a clue. The first thing to look for is bookstore distribution. Here is a list of recognized independent book distributors that are also excellent sources for small or independent publishers: 

1. Consortium Book Sales & Distribution: www.cbsd.com/ 
2. Publishers Group West: www.pgw.com/home/
3. National Book Network: www.nbnbooks.com/
4. Independent Publishers Group: www.ipgbook.com/ 
5. SCB Distributors: www.scbdistributors.com/ 
6. Perseus Distribution: www.perseusdistribution.com/ 

4) The better small presses are often genre specialists. Sometime they have distribution outside of the trade (bookstores and libraries). For example, a gardening publisher may have access to garden store distribution. Always try to find a press that knows your subject matter well. You’ll not only be rewarded emotionally through working with someone who understands your book, but you may also be rewarded financially as well. 
5) If you have the means, be prepared to subsidize the publication with additional revenues for marketing and advertising. One difference between a larger house and a smaller one is the author’s ability to work more closely with the top brass in the company. Small presses may hesitate to ask for subsidies, and some will even turn them down, but most will jump at the chance to work with a larger budget. 

Tips for self-publishing: 

1) As a self-publisher, you have two basic options: 
• Go it alone and set up your own publishing company. 
• Use a self-publishing company. 
2) Unless you have a deep desire to actually be a publisher and spend the next six to 12 months doing nothing but that, save yourself time and money and use a self-publishing company, especially the first time around. 
3) Make sure your self-publishing contract is, in fact, a self-publishing contract. Do you retain all rights to your work? Can you cancel the agreement easily? Do you own the rights to the design and editorial work? 
4) Understand the economics of your self-publishing contract. There are tremendous differences in costs and potential earnings from company to company, and the best deals are categorically not to be had with the bigger companies. 
5) Do not undervalue the services provided. Things like book design matter a great deal to your book’s success. Take a clue from this tidbit: An established professional book designer who is working for an established trade publisher charges approximately $2,500 and up per cover, and big-name cover designers command much heftier fees. If you purchase a cover design for $250, it’s likely to show, and your book will be stuck with that cover for life (unless you pay to replace it). If you underpaid for your book design—a one-time cost—and overpay for printing—a recurring cost— you can know for certain that you’re going in the wrong direction. The same goes for editing. 
6) Kiss rejection goodbye! 

 Final Tips for Authors:

1) If you get rejected, don’t sweat it. You’re an author now, so buck up! All of the best authors have been rejected, so you’re in noble company. If the rejection comes from an editor you admire and s/he hasn’t given a reason for the rejection, ask why and consider the editor’s comments closely. 
2) Whichever way you get published, celebrate it! Having a book published can be a life-altering event and open doors you never imagined. But never think for a moment that you have handed over the responsibility for the success of your title to your publisher, whether it is a large house, small house, or self-publishing company. Educate yourself about the care and feeding of your intellectual property. You will be glad you did.

Paul Cohen

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