Updated: Jul 2, 2020
EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this article back in 2018 prior to founding the Muñoz Publishing House. In fact, I believe that writing this article was what led to the founding of my company. Regardless of what you have written and how you have written it, I hope this article helps you decide how to publish it.
Once upon a time, the doors to the digital publishing industry opened and authors were faced with the grueling choice of whether to stick with the renowned traditional publishers, have their book sold more widespread, but have less total revenue per purchase and lose some of their book’s rights or go the unfamiliar self-publishing route, have a more difficult time getting their books in stores, but total with significantly more revenue per purchase and keep all of their book’s rights. As far as the publishing industry is concerned, modern-day writers are faced with various of methods of publication to choose from such as self-publishing and traditional publishing, and formats such as ebook, paperback print, and hardcover print that uphold various implications for the publishing and print industry.
Printing a book was once the distinction of a successful publisher. Traditional publishing was once the primary and profitable option for publications. Now, with the rise of electronic publishing, this distinction has moved (Fitzpatrick 15). Self-publishing has emerged as a competitor to traditional publishing, with the birth of electronic publication formats.
Self-publishing has been on the table as early as the 15th Century (Herther). One of the earlier, more well-known self-published authors was Nathaniel Hawthorne. The historical standpoint on the self-publishing industry, since that era, has changed (Saffle). Today, sales of self-published works are comparable to those of traditionally published works.
Both self-publishing and traditional publishing are still options for both indie and popular authors today. Many of these authors have leaned towards one method or the other. Very few use both. One of the primary reasons many authors opt for traditional publishing is that it is the cheaper option. Most of the expenses are taken on by the publishing house. Author Kim Chance of Keeper estimates that she paid only about $2,200 through the traditional publishing route (Chance). On the other hand, however, traditionally published authors give up the rights to their literary works. Furthermore, their salary is only a small fraction of the total revenue that their book makes.
The process of traditional publishing requires a great deal of effort from the publisher and a small quantity from the author, post-writing. The first stage of the traditional publishing process is content submission. Typically, the author writes and submits a query letter that is to be sent to either a literary agent or directly to the publisher. “Author initially submits the proposal or query letter to a literary agent or directly to a published (Agency Fish Ltd.).” There are many avenues for which an author can submit his or her completed manuscript. The author can write a query letter and send it directly to the publishing house requesting consideration for his or her manuscript, recruit an agent to act as a mediator in communication with the publishing house, or directly submit the completed manuscript to the publisher (Agency Fish Ltd.). Once a publisher accepts the author’s work as a project for which it is willing to take on, the publisher reviews the manuscript. If the author sent them a query letter, this is the stage in which the author shares the manuscript. Commissioning editors then meet with the author to negotiate the intellectual property rights of the manuscript, the royalty, and the formats that this manuscript will be published in (Agency Fish Ltd.). At this stage, publishers usually request the rights for the manuscript itself, in entirety, and the rights to dictate plot changes from the author, to accommodate for the market’s trends. Furthermore, the author renders the right to decide whether or not their book will be used in a movie deal and, if it is, how much the movie abides by the plot. Many indie authors typically agree to traditional publishers' terms, regardless of their loss of rights. This is due to their yearning for publication. More popular, or well-known authors are typically given the right hand in determining the extent of such right-losses, as they have a fanbase that is of great interest to the publisher. This fanbase serves as leverage to open a reasonable negotiation. Authors and publishers also negotiate the royalties that the author will receive. A royalty is, in a sense, a paycheck for which the author receives in correspondence to the number of sales by the author’s book. Typical royalties range from 10%-15% of the book’s total profits (Jacobson). The remaining 85%-90% is distributed between the publishing house, editors, or anyone else involved in the publication process. Lastly, the author and publisher decide which format to publish, whether it be one or more of the following: ebook, paperback, or hardcover (Agency Fish Ltd.).
Once the terms of rights, royalties, and publication formats have agreed upon, the manuscript is sent to the publisher’s editors. Larger publishing companies have in-house editors. Smaller presses utilize outside editors that provide a reasonable rate to the publishing house. The editors review the manuscript and work to improve its plot and grammar (Agency Fish Ltd.). This process can take a couple of months, as it is both lengthy and the editors typically take on a couple of projects at a time. “Main focus is on technical-legal issues, improving quality of content through rewriting/ editorial changes, selection of title and headlines and structural changes (Agency Fish Ltd.).”
Once the manuscript of the book has been fixed to or near perfection, the completed revised manuscript is fit and formatted in preparation to be printed by the publisher or an affiliated company. This stage also includes the creation of both cover art and interior art, such as world maps. In addition, typesetting, paper type/quality, and binding method are determined (Agency Fish Ltd.). The novel, at this point, is sent to be formatted accordingly. Once it has been formatted, it is sent to be printed and bound. Printing the novel is rarely done in-house. Publishers usually have an affiliation of some sort to a printing company. This company prints the pages and, more often than not, binds them. Some printers only print the book. However, the number of companies where this can be observed is drastically decreasing. “Printer sends the pre-press proof of the book to the publisher (Parkes). Once the proof is approved by the publisher, the printing begins (Agency Fish Ltd.).” Digital versions of the manuscript are uploaded and prepared to be released. In addition, audiobooks are, in some cases, recorded (Agency Fish Ltd.).
Once the physical book has been made, copies are sent out to receive pre-release reviews. These reviews are often used for promotions, advertisements, and any other form of marketing. Despite the misleading claims that the publishers will take on the full responsibility of marketing the novel, to meet the required par of sales for their royalties, the authors often end up having to market themselves. This, for many traditionally published authors, is the most costly part of the publishing process(Agency Fish Ltd.). Lastly, the printed book copies are placed throughout various bookstores or vendors (Agency Fish Ltd.). “Books are generally sold through book sellers or retailers. Newspapers and magazines can be directly sold by publishers or subscribers. Other periodicals are sold through newsagents or vending machines (Agency Fish Ltd.).”
Self-publishing, on the other hand, provides the author with control over their manuscript’s plot, all the rights to the novel, and about 100% of the profits. For these reasons, many indie writers are opting for this option. Unfortunately, self-published books are usually looked down upon by publishing companies that fear competition by amateurs (Berinstein 1). Many authors also fear to have their novel compared to or drowned in the sea of self-published novels that are, to say the least, poorly written.
Venturing through the e-book market as a self-published author is not a small task (Bishop and Visser). For this reason, marketing must be taken to a much larger scale than with a traditional publisher. This means that the self-publishing process is both expensive and tedious (Blofeld). Lastly, it takes a while before a profit is seen (Morrissey). Traditional publishing typically pays out at a quicker rate (Hughes).
To self publish one's works, he or she must take it upon his or herself to recruit and hire an editor, critique partners, and beta readers. There are many types of editors. Line editors go through the novel, line by line, addressing grammatical errors. Acquisition editors typically assure that the refined manuscript is ready for publication. If it isn’t, they prepare it. Developmental editors typically work with nonfiction novels to assure that the plot is always moving forward and that the characters remain the same throughout the novel. Similarly, content editors revise the plot, characterization, voice, and setting of the novel, for both fiction and nonfiction novels. Copy editors focus on grammar, spelling, and formatting. A proofreader is someone who revises the work post-editing, for anything that the editor may have missed. A Critique Partner is a reader, generally with an English background, who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling. In addition, provide suggestions to improve the story's plot, characters, and setting. A Beta Reader is a reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the sole intent of looking over the material to suggestions to improve the story, characters, and setting. Unlike a critique partner, beta readers offer a general audience perspective, as they have no expertise in the English field (“Editorial Confusion: Kinds…”).
While this list may seem overwhelming to most indie writers, they are in no way obligated to use all of these types of editors. Doing so would be both heavily time consuming and costly. Editors usually charge around $0.01- $0.03 per word of the work that they edit. Most indie writers often recruit one type of editor, a handful of critique partners, and a handful of beta readers (Ross).
Following this, the author typically decides which self-publishing route he or she will use: subsidy publishers, vanity publishers, print-on-demand publishers, or total self-publishing (Hill 137).
With subsidy publishers, The author pays for the book’s printing, binding, editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing. Subsidy publishers contribute to the cost of editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing, so it is of less of an expense to the author. Unfortunately, the author has to pay out-of-pocket for printing and binding. In addition, the publisher owns the printed copies of the books until they are sold. Furthermore, similar to traditional publishers, the author’s earnings come in the form of royalties. In order to use a subsidy publisher, the author submits and pays for his/her book to be printed and bound. The subsidy publisher then helps put the final product together, market it, etc (Samkough 3).
With vanity publishers, also known as vanity presses, the author pays entirely out of pocket. Furthermore, the author does own all the rights to the book, owns all of the printed copies, and receives all of its profits (Samkough 3). To utilize a vanity press, the author submits his manuscript for printing and binding. He or she then accumulates the printed copy in a warehouse or storage room until they are sold. The author is responsible for locating and using an outlet for which these works can be sold. “Best option for hobbyists and those whose personal goal is to see their work in print (Samkough 3).”
With print-on-demand (POD) publishers, the author uses his or her own money to print the book one at a time (Samkough 3). The books are, as the name implies, printed as ordered. This eliminates the cost for space to store unsold copies. POD publishers require little or no upfront cost. The author keeps most, if not all, of the rights. In addition, the books can be sold in most online mainstream retailers. For example, Amazon, BarnesandNoble.com, etc., since their appearance is the same or comparable to that of offset printed books. On the other hand, however, the unit cost for the book is higher, resulting in a higher retail price. POD books have also proven more difficult to get into bookstores. Lastly, POD books are not likely to be recognized or eligible for book awards (Ross and Collier 137). To use a POD publisher, all an author needs to do is upload their manuscript into the POD publisher’s system, The books are then printed as they are ordered. Some POD publishers offer to edit, proofread, and/or market the manuscript for an additional cost. “Good choice if you are writing a family history, memoir, or poetry and have a limited audience (Samkough 3).”
Electronic publishing services offered through POD publishers often require little to no upfront fee. The fee is only paid, typically, in the case of using a distributor. If a fee is not paid, however, a percentage of the revenue might be kept by the system per purchase. Fortunately, an ebook system allows leeway for the book can be put up / taken down at any time. In addition, versions, prices, covers, and descriptions can be edited. Lastly, as various formats can be published, conversion tools allow the book to be accessible in as many forms as possible. (Samkough 10).
To format for electronic publishing, most systems use the EPUB format. EPUB is the global standard format for e-books and is widely compatible. MOBI is a less popular publication format. It is primarily used for the Amazon Kindle. The Amazon Kindle, however, also accepts EPUB. The least popular format for electronic publication is the Portable Document Format, or PDF. PDFs are the most cumbersome since the viewing experience and compatibility may be different with a variety of systems (Moreci).
Today, most self-published authors are leaning towards the print-on-demand system, as it alleviates the cost and effort of having to warehouse and individually ship out copies of the manuscript. The two leading POD companies today are Amazon’s Createspace and Lightning Source’s Ingram Spark. Createspace is free to set up. Ingram Spark, however, charges a $49. Createspace charges $3.85 to print each book. Ingram Spark charges about $4.20. Createspace, however, only allows for paperback and digital formats. Ingram Spark allows for hardcover, paperback, and digital formats. Furthermore, since Createspace is owned by Amazon, Amazon is its only vendor. Ingram Spark, however, allows for distribution in various book stores and websites, including Amazon. Lastly, neither Createspace nor Ingram Spark requires an outside ISBN for the product. They both have some available, should the author decide to use them (Broad).
In total self-publishing, the author takes matters into his or her own hands and recruits separate companies for each stage of the process (Reis). The author pays fully to edit, format, design, print, bind, warehouse, distribute, and market their book. This method is more cost-effective than vanity or subsidy publishing. Unfortunately, similar to the other methods of publication, the author pays out-of-pocket for the entirety of the process (Samkough 3). “Perfect for authors with an established fanbase and those with time-sensitive manuscripts (Samkough 3).”
Once the author has decided which method he or she will take, this is put in the back-burner. At the forefront of the author’s agenda is now the design stage. Typically, the author recruits a cover artist and interior book designer. Some companies take on all the stages of this process for an affordable price. Some independent cover artists, opt to work on their own, outside of a company. Throughout the course of this stage, the mom and pop British company Eight Little Pages will be used as an example. Offering both services of cover design and interior design both separate and in packages, Eight Little Pages is a company owned by husband and wife team, Chris and Claire Lucas, who prepare the manuscript for publication through their interior design expertise and cover art craftsmanship. For their most elaborate package, the diamond package, they charge £440 GBP. That is about $618.62 USD. This includes the cover art and formatting for ebook, paperback, and hardback versions of the book. In addition, five 3D rendered mockups. Their simplest package, the bronze package, is £215 GBP. This package includes cover art and formatting for ebook versions of the book. In addition, two 3D rendered mockups. This is equivalent to about $302.26 USD. Alone, they charge £150 (≈210.88 USD) minimum for the cover art. This option includes cover art for ebook versions of the book and two 3D rendered mockups. For the interior design alone, the smallest package comes out to be £135 BGP (≈$189.81 USD) for just the ebook (Lucas and Lucas).
After the book has been formatted and the cover art has been done, the author looks back at his previously determined plan and proceeds to engage with one of these printing/publishing options. The primary reason for creating a publishing plan prior to the design stage is so that the designers can use proper formatting while working on the novel. Once the author follows through with his or her publishing plan, it is common practice to send out copies of the novel to reviewers for their feedback. This feedback will be, as in traditional publishing, used in the marketing stage of the promotion process (Hane).
The final stage in this process is distribution. Unless taken care of by the author’s publishing/printing option, as it is in POD publishers, authors are required to either find and recruit a distributor or become their own distributor. For e-books, there are two primary methods of distribution: single-channel distribution and multiple-channel distribution. In single-channel distribution, retailers distribute and sell the book through one outlet (Samkough 11). For example, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) option and Barnes & Noble’s Nook Publishing. In multiple-channel distribution, multiple-channel distributors act as middlemen, utilizing multiple retailers and/ or distributors to release the book (Samkough 11). For example, Smashwords, BookBaby, and Draft2Digital. In this case, the authors either pay an upfront fee or render a percentage of sale profits. Some authors can utilize both methods, starting out using the single-channel distributor of Amazon KDP, or a comparable option. Then, adding the multi-channel distributor Smashwords, or a comparable option, which doesn’t charge authors upfront and distributes to all other major retailers, excluding Amazon (Samkough 11-12).
The next step that the author will have to take in his or her efforts to be successful would be to market the now published masterpiece that is his or her novel. Most authors are encouraged to create an author profile on some of the following platforms: Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Goodreads. Furthermore, authors are encouraged to create a personal website for themselves. Becoming known in the community greatly increases the author’s fan-base (Moreci).
When it comes to planning, with the intent of maximizing sales, it is important for authors to take into account the following data: E-Published books usually range on Amazon from $2.99 to $9.99. Furthermore, Amazon Kindle accounted for at least 60-70% of e-book sales in the United States. Amazon pays 70% of the list price for ebooks between $2.99 and $9.99. In addition, the percentage plummets to 35% for any price outside this range. Anything under $2.99 guarantees the author over 70% of the profits. For this reason, most authors put their books between $0.99 and $2.99 (“February 2017 Big…”). The more well known authors are given the leeway to charge more, as they have a secure fanbase who are willing to pay for it (Samkough 12).
Despite popular belief, there is one other form of self-publishing. In the case of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Martin Luther, Emily Dickinson, and many more greats, they all started their own publishing companies (“Self-publishing”). This is still considered self-publishing, since all the regular self-publishing work is done, through any of the previously stated routes. The difference is, there is a company name that can be used in the rare cases of a legal plight. Furthermore, any research documents, book signing trips, etc. can all be paid off as a business expense, alleviating the author of having to come up with the money out-of-pocket. In addition, this allows the author to earn money publishing other writer’s works, if he or she so pleases. There are four options the writer can take to opening this company. He or she can make it a profit corporation, a nonprofit corporation, a limited partnership, or a limited liability corporation (LLC). The most commonly advised option would be to open an LLC. It provides the most leeway for the lowest price. In the state of Florida, an LLC cost $160 to open. This price is comparable to, but not equivalent to, that of other states. This option, however, is not the trend of most indie writers.
Within the past few years, it has become evident that more authors are looking to self publish, independent from any publishing company (Diggs). This can primarily be attributed to the birth of ebooks and the simplicity behind getting one published. E-books take up about 35% of all book sales in America (Samkough 3). In addition, 60% or more of book sales in America are made through an online retailer equal, primarily Amazon. In 2010, still near the birth of the ebook movement, for every 100 printed books sold on Amazon, 144 e-books were bought and downloaded (Hepworth).
Another primary reason for the discouragement towards traditional publishing would be that traditional publishers are filtering the voices expressed through the works they publish since they are afraid of publishing anything controversial (Crisostomo 1).
In Hugh Howey’s “The 7K Report,” he states that of all the titles in the e-book Amazon Bestseller List, 35% of titles were published by indie writers. This was followed by 28% of titles that came from the “Big Five” publishers. 18% were from an uncategorized single-authors. 15% came from small or medium publishers. Only 4% were published by Amazon (Howey 6).
Furthermore, of the daily unit sales of e-book genre bestsellers, 39% came from an indie publisher, 34% came from the “Big Five” publishers, 15% from Amazon, 8% from small or medium publishers, and 4% from uncategorized single-author publishers (Howey 7). This shows how strong the hand of indie writers have become in the publishing industry.
Furthermore, with regards to ebooks, Howey reports that of the Amazon Top-100 Genre Bestsellers, 92% of purchases are through the Kindle Edition-type ebook. Audible audiobooks account for a surprising 4%. Mass-market paperback, hardcover, and paperback accumulative account for the remaining 4% (Howey 8). This is substantial proof that the ebook industry is minimizing the print industry (Cardiff 1).
Following this report, in reference to daily author revenue (based on the top 7000 e-book genre best sellers on Amazon), Indie authors make over $300,000 accumulatively. Authors from “Big Five” publishers make slightly over $200,000. Amazon published authors range around $100,000. Small, medium, and uncategorized single-author publishers barely $50,000 cumulatively, with a greater percentage of that figure coming from small and medium publishers (Howey).
These trend lines indicate that more writers are, in fact, choosing to self publish due to more total revenue and ownership of rights. Publishing companies need to adapt to this trend and make themselves more inviting to such authors. More readers are inclining towards ebooks. Writers need to shift their publication variety to include ebook formats.
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