The difference between self publishing and traditional publishing

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I wrote this email response because I get a lot of people emailing me about getting their book published. Because they don’t often know the difference between self publishing and traditional publishing, I send this response. I thought it might help those of you who may have a book in you. (Note: this does not address e-publishing, which is easier and very inexpensive. For a how to post on publishing your own e-book, click here.)

Now, on to the explanation:

Thanks for asking about how to get your book published. In terms of publishing, here is the journey in a simplified nutshell:

You can choose two ways to get your book published:

  1. Traditionally published (Simon & Schuster, Random House, etc.)
  2. Self published (you pay a company like xlibris to print your book)

In traditional publishing (how I am published), you first need to find a literary agent. In order to secure one (can take years!), you must write a nonfiction proposal (not the whole book) and three sample chapters. I sell a nonfiction proposal tutorial that helps someone write a proposal. It’s seventy five pages long and has several proposal examples. Folks who have used my template have been able to secure agents (not always, but some of them have). If you write fiction, you need to write the whole novel and a proposal. Here’s the link for my fiction proposal tutorial.

How to find an agent is typically to go to a writer’s conference to meet with agents there and pitch your idea. You still have to have a proposal though. If an agent signs you (big if), then he/she pitches your book to several publishing houses. If a publishing house is interested, they will take it to the publication board and present the project. Most of the time, these are rejected. But if they’re not, then the publisher sends the agent a contract (agent gets 15%) and the agent sends it to the author.

You sign the contract, then typically receive an advance on royalties (either 33%, or 50% or the advance they’ve promised. You get the rest when you deliver the manuscript, and in the case of 33%, when the actual book publishes). Then you write the book and hand it in on time. From that point it takes a year before it is on the shelves, having gone through several editorial processes, marketing stuff, cover art, etc. The positive of this is that you get paid to write, and the book is distributed for you to practically every bookstore and online outlet. The negative is that it’s very hard to get traditionally published and it takes a very long time.

In self publishing, you have to pay to have the book published. The positive is that it doesn’t take very long to get it published. The negative is that self published books rarely sell more than 500 copies because they aren’t distributed through normal, proper channels (usually, I’m oversimplifying).

In self publishing, you obviously have to have written the entire book. A typical nonfiction book is about 50-60,000 words. You can send in the manuscript unedited and have it printed as is, but it will be full of mistakes. It’s better to either

  1. Write the book and hire a professional editor to edit the book or
  2. Hire a collaborative (also sometimes referred to as a ghost writer) to write the book for you. We have both services at my company, The Writing Spa. Click here to see those particular products: http://www.thewritingspa.com/subfiction.html

I hope this explanation helps you figure out your next steps in the publication journey.

If you’d like to read about my publishing  journey, click here.

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