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Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
New authors seeking to distribute their first fiction or nonfiction book have two publishing options. One is to sign a book deal with a traditional publisher. Such a deal, which is traditionally facilitated by a literary agent, gives the publisher exclusive rights to print and disseminate the book. An author works with an editor at the publishing house to execute a fixed number of drafts. Whether or not the novel ultimately sees the light of day is at the discretion of the publishing company.
Many first-time authors, however, prove their chops in the world of self-publishing. Self-published authors eschew the publishing house and get their novel out into the world on their own. They do this by making the book available for print-on-demand, as an ebook, as an audiobook, or by printing and selling copies of the book themselves.
4 Methods for Self-Publishing a Novel
Today’s indie authors have more resources than ever for getting their work in front of readers:
- Via print-on-demand: Perhaps the lowest risk publication method in the publishing world is print-on-demand, where copies of a book are only printed when someone orders one. First-time fiction writers often enlist companies like Amazon for print-on-demand novels.
- As an ebook: Issuing digital copies of a book on an on-demand basis is even easier, as it requires no paper and no printing apparatus.
- Via self-printing: You can self-print books in advance of publication and hope they will sell later. This is sometimes pejoratively called vanity publishing. If your book catches on, you will happily sell through your self-published copies. If it fails to find an audience, you could be stuck with stacks of your book gathering cobwebs in your home.
- As an audiobook: Today’s audiences frequently consume novels as audiobooks. Much like printed novels, audiobooks can be issued by a traditional publisher or by the author themselves. In either scenario, you will require a narrator, who may be called upon to record dozens of hours of prose narration.
How the Traditional Publishing Process Works
The traditional publishing process generates the vast majority of books that are read by large audiences. Every novel you see listed on the New York Times bestseller list was issued by a traditional publisher. You don’t have to be a bestselling novelist like Dan Brown or David Baldacci to score a publishing deal. Writers with far more modest book sales still can land deals with prominent publishers like Random House, Penguin, Knopf, Riverhead, and others.
The traditional publishing process runs through literary agents. These professionals are the gatekeepers to the publishing world. With the support of a well-connected agent, a great book can reach the most prestigious publishers in the world. Publishers have been known to offer publishing deals to writers who lack agents, but the process is considerably harder.
4 Steps for Getting Your Book Published
Famous authors will frequently be offered a multi-book publishing deal with monetary advances paid up front, thus giving them a home for works that don’t even exist yet. Unsolicited manuscripts can also find their way to publishers, provided that authors follow the proper steps. Here are some tips for getting your book published through traditional avenues. Note that these are not writing tips; they specifically concern the publishing process.
- Edit and proofread. One or two typos won’t sink your career, but a bevy of them will make you look unprofessional. Remember that you may only get one chance with a publisher or literary agent; make sure they are seeing the best work you have to offer.
- Identify a target audience for your book. A writer’s market for publishing houses is determined by their book’s market—the potential audience who would be interested in their book. Within the publishing industry, certain genres hold more appeal than others. In the world of literary fiction, these include children’s books, young adult novels, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and romance novels. A great book can be written in any genre, but these are simply the genres with the most reliable audiences.
- Identify potential agents. While having an agent doesn’t guarantee your book will find a publisher, it certainly helps. Most agents and agencies have websites which stipulate their preferences, along with methods for querying. The annual Writer’s Market publication also compiles a list of all working agents.
- Submit your book proposal. Most literary agents do not want you to send an entire novel as part of a cold call. Here are some things they likely will want: A query letter, a 1-2 page synopsis of the entire novel, and 1-5 sample chapters. These combined elements form your book proposal.
- Submit directly to a publisher. If you don’t have an agent, you can sometimes submit directly to a publisher—just know your odds of acceptance are very slim. In the vast majority of cases, though, publishers will only consider a novel submitted by a reputable literary agent. The exceptions to this rule are if you are submitting a niche novel to a niche publishing house, or if you have a personal connection to an editor who’d be willing to read you on account of that relationship.
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