The really exciting thing is that there are really SO MANY options and ways to get published in this day and age. The two most common ways are traditional publishing and self-publishing so I want to unpack how both of these work - as this is one of the most common questions I get asked.
I recall sending my first (somewhat bad) novel off to publishers back in 2002. Back then book publishing was a totally different terrain. No publishers accepted emailed submissions. It had to be hard copy and posted with a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope). Your first three chapters had to be 1.5 spacing with a 12-point font. I was giddy with nerves and excitement at the Post Office (with my good luck charm in my pocket) as I kissed each envelope goodbye and sent them ‘registered post’. Then I waited. Of the 20 queries I posted, I got just one reply. It took six months and it was not good news for me.
‘Thank you for submitting your book. We will not be accepting it. Good luck.”
The rest… never relied.
Well, like most writers, I just gave up. It was a combination of rejection, boredom, and the fact that I had actually just moved onto some other dream during that long wait.
Fast-forward 17 years. A few weeks ago it took me exactly six minutes to get one of my authors a publishing deal with a fantastic publisher. I sent them a killer proposal, a strong query letter and a really good and marketable book concept. Ker-ching! Publishing contract in hand. Things have changed. Publishers take submissions via online platforms like submittable.com, and they don’t care what font size or spacing you use.
The really exciting thing is that there are really SO MANY options and ways to get published in this day and age. The two most common ways are traditional publishing and self-publishing so I want to unpack them as this is one of the most common questions I get asked.
How does traditional publishing work?
If you want to submit your book to a traditional publishing stable (think Little Brown, Penguin or Random House) you need a few things. You need a completed manuscript and a strong and polished publishing proposal (for non fiction) or a rocking book synopsis (for a novel). You submit your idea in the form of a query letter and attach your proposal and first few chapters. The publisher will read your book idea and decide whether it is a good fit for their company. If the publishing house decides to publish your book it means they think they can sell enough copies to make them (and you) some money. They will buy the rights to your book and pay you a percentage of earnings (royalities). Most often this is around 18-20% of nett sales for printed book and around 30% on digital sales.
A traditional publishing deal is really a writer’s golden egg. It means they will pick up all aspects of your book production. They pay for the design, editing and layout of the book, print the book, help you marketing it and also distribute your book to bookshops. Traditional publishers are in the business of knowing a good book and getting it to market. They have a good idea of what books sell, and what books they like to publish. If they buy your book, they believe in it.
How does indie or self-publishing differ?
Not all authors want, or need (or get a publisher) to carry all the costs. If you chose to self-publish your book you basically become the publisher. That means you hire an editor, get your book cover designed, get the book proofread and you carry the costs of printing. Many highly successful indie (independent) authors choose this and you don’t actually have to print the book at all or navigate the tricky path to getting your books into stores. Most authors opt to only list their book digitally via services like Kindle Direct Publishing or lulu.com.
Can you make more money? Yes you can. When you self-publish, you take in most of the earnings and platforms like Amazon offer authors 60-90% of the sale price. But you carry all the costs of getting your bookl to market too. If you get it right and your book is well written and strikes the right cord it can fly. Just ask EL James who self-published 50 Shades of Gray. One new author Brenna Aubrey is among the first in a wave of authors to do what, until very recently, would have been unthinkable; turn down a $120,000 deal from one of the big five publishing houses and decide to do their job herself. Read her story here
The days of calling indie ‘vanity publishing’ are long gone – self-publishing is a business model.
If you are going to self-publish it is important you put out a professional product. Do your homework and make sure you get the best book possible out to market.
You may want to read: E books are a revolution
This author's book had strong sales in shops. But when it went digital and listed at 99p it topped the charts for six weeks and changed her life.
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, literary agent and book editor. She coaches writers on how to become authors and how to write to get published.