What is My Book’s Publishing Path?
“Does it really matter what direction you take? And the truth is, the publishing path that’s right for you depends on why you’re doing this — what you’re writing a book for.” – Azul Terronez
It wasn’t long ago that I dreamt of becoming an author, just like you. And perhaps you’re ready to start writing, but find yourself overwhelmed by the breadth of publishing choices available, leaving you stuck.
Perhaps you’ve researched all your options and still wonder, “Is self-publishing legitimate?” or “How do I even begin to find a traditional publisher?”
If this sounds like you, this week’s solo episode of “Authors Who Lead” is a must-listen. In it, I will help you decide which publishing path to take — whether it’s traditional or self-publishing, or a hybrid model — and get you one step closer to making your own book-writing dreams come true.
The Traditional Publishing Path
In trying to decide which publishing path you should take, you first need to think about what this book is going to do for you.
If you’re writing this book as a legacy for your family and just want to tell the story, then you may want to take the self-publishing route. But if you’re trying to use your book as a business card to secure speaking gigs, traditional publishing could be a good fit.
Personally, when I first considered publishing my book, I wanted a traditional publisher so I could feel “legitimate” — meaning, I wanted validation, like it was a “real book.” I dove into what I thought it took to become a traditionally published author. I attended workshops and webinars, read books, and asked myself questions like, “Do I need a publisher first? Do I get a publisher after I’ve written the manuscript? How does a publisher even acquire books?”
The process can be confusing and a bit overwhelming — but here’s a run-down of what you can expect if you go this route.
First, always remember that publishers are in the business of selling books and, sometimes, they specialize in a certain genre or type of book. They can have multiple imprints, which establish brand identity or different genres of the books they publish, so make sure you research where your book could fit.
When I started looking into traditional publishing, I learned that publishers often don’t take submissions from unknown authors — which is where agents come in. They’ll ask you to submit a book proposal before you’ve finished writing, and learn as much as they can about you, your book, your marketing plan and launch. They aren’t just looking for your ability to write. They want a book title that appeals to a broad audience and will sell lots of copies — all information that traditional publishing houses prefer that agents collect, instead of having to do that legwork themselves.
For the book proposal, which can range from 20 to 60 pages long, agents will typically give you guidance and ask for what they want included. They understand that most books need to be rewritten, so they prefer to be a part of the process from the beginning. They will also ask for marketing materials — where you’ve been featured in the media, your social media following, your email list size, and any connections you may have in the industry who could share your book to a larger audience.
If a contract with a traditional publisher results from your proposal, expect it to include the terms, advance amount, royalties — which typically hover around 10 percent of sales, depending on negotiations — and a timeline.
Exploring Self-Publishing and Hybrid Models
My first book as a solo author, “The Art of Apprenticeship,” is a great example of my publishing path becoming clear once I figured out what I wanted the book to do. I wrote it for people like me, who not only want to learn from in-person or online courses, but also want to serve others and simultaneously learn from them.
Because I had a specific reason for publishing my book — including using it as leverage to find a mentor, which I eventually did in Pat Flynn — I chose to self-publish. I wanted control over the title and cover, and I needed to publish it quickly. In just a few months, the book was edited and published, which could have taken years just to get greenlit on the traditional publishing track.
Even with self-publishing, you still want to think like a publisher. Your book will give you authority, but it can also be a significant investment. On Amazon, where most books are bought and sold, there is a free platform for self-published authors called Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP, which helps you set up your book with Print on Demand. It won’t print your book until it’s actually ordered, eliminating overstock or the need for you to print thousands of copies and store them in your garage. It’s free to set up your titles and they only take a small percentage of book sales, usually around 30 percent.
In between self-publishing and traditional publishing models lies the hybrid publishing route — an option for those who don’t want to learn all the details of self-publishing, but still want to publish their book outside of the traditional route, without waiting for permission.
Through companies like Authors Who Lead, our publishing imprint, Mandala Tree Press, will find the right editors, designers and book coaches to help you publish your book, and we can lend a hand with marketing, too.
Before deciding on your publishing route, I highly encourage you to take our free quiz, What’s Your Book’s Publishing Path?, which will also identify if you need help writing your manuscript before even making a choice.
The Hidden, and Not-So-Hidden, Expenses in Writing a Book
The first large expense in writing a book is editing — and the most important. Poor writing and organization, typos, spelling errors can be the determining factors between coming across as professional or amateur hour.
I made the foolish mistake of giving the first edition of my book to one editor, thinking he or she is someone who only proofreads your book and, suddenly, it’s ready to go. So, I accepted the edits and I put it out there, having no idea what kind of editor I had hired — and that I needed a developmental editor, copy editor, line editor and proofreader, who all have different roles and responsibilities, to make my book good.
Next, you want to have a great cover and interior design, which can make all the difference. You want your book to stand out while also looking like it belongs within its genre. Look into resources like fiverr.com and 99designs.com for a professional, yet inexpensive, design by freelancers, allowing you to compete with traditionally published books.
Another option that I like quite a bit — and we use them ourselves — is Reedsy.com, where freelancers who work in the industry, some for big traditional publishers like Random House and Penguin, seek out more work.
Finally, the last step is getting your book on Amazon. The process is pretty intuitive, but complex. And without any guidance, your book may be there, but no one will be able to find it because the site is oversaturated with millions of books. If it’s not easy for people to find, they won’t buy it — and if it has zero reviews, or only a few, they’re less likely to take action, even if it’s a great book.
Finding Your Path as an Author
Everyone comes to the publishing process with different experiences, readiness, and abilities — but once your book is out in the world, it will open doors you never imagined. Writing my own book allowed me to give a TEDx talk, which now has 2.6 million views, all because I’m an author. And that’s amazing.
The same is true of Anita Morris, a former podcast guest who started out teaching people how to sew through her popular YouTube channel. But she wanted to share her own journey — not necessarily about sewing. So, she wrote a book that earned a top rating on Amazon, signed copies at Barnes & Noble, and landed speaking gigs on stages and guest spots on podcasts, all because she’s an author with a message to share.
Or, take Heather Lee Dyer for example, one of our author success coaches. She’s published over a dozen young adult novels, using their entertainment factor to help young adults learn how to write their own. Depending on your purpose, you will gain clarity on your publishing path, giving you confidence that you’re making the right choice.
I don’t ever want people to postpone their dreams because they lack information, or they’re waiting for permission. The era of permissions is over. With Amazon’s direct publishing and social media, you have your own audience. You can sell your own book. You are in control.
And if you’re still wanting validation by having a publisher, you can do that! Just know that the road will be different than with self-publishing or a hybrid.
As you’re thinking about publishing your book, remember these main takeaways from today’s episode, and don’t be afraid to tag me on social media with a question:
- Know what you want your book to do for you.
- Think like a publisher so you can discover the potential in your book.
- Don’t wait for permission. Pick yourself and start the path to publishing today.
Thanks again for being here. I always appreciate you listening. Please stay tuned for more information about our programs and how we can help you make your dream of writing a book come true.
You are meant to be an author.
Authors Who Lead: www.authorswholead.com
Mandala Tree Press: www.mandalatreepress.com
Take the Quiz: What’s Your Book’s Publishing Path?