Debating Your Publishing Options? This May Help.

An agent friend recently asked me: “Have you noticed there are a lot more writers out there today? When I was an intern, going through the slush pile every day, there were about fifteen queries a week. Now it’s easily 30-50.”

Her hypothesis proves true. When I Googled “how to publish a book” today, there were 300 million search results. (Consider here that the US population is projected to increase by over 50 percent in the next 40  years to just 392 million people.) The larger we are as a population, the more, according to these stats, we seem to feel we that we all have “books in us,” stories worth telling. According to this self-publishing site, even The New York Times reported that in a recent survey, 81 percent of people feel that they have a book in them…and should write it.”

In 2009, 302,410 new books and editions came onto the market. And then figure there are already alot of classics and bestsellers out there, which will all be competitors to the new kid in school.

But with exponentially increasing quantities of aspiring authors to choose from, and all eggs in the basket of big blockbusters by well-known experts and proven sales potential, the top 6 publishers are tougher than ever in their selection.  And yet, 64% of readers don’t care about whether a book has been on a bestsellers list (but how many turn to bestsellers’ list to find new books to read?)

So we’re seeing a clear mismatch of the quantity of writers looking to publish and the chances it will actually happen. That is, with Random House, HarperCollins, or Penguin.

Fortunately, you have options: while some sources like MentalFloss suggest books are fast heading toward extinction, with the advent of digital and eReading, readership has increased by 16.6 million people as of the year 2008.

Here’s our read on traditional and emerging modes of publishing to make the decision that’s right for you:

Print Publishing: getting an agent, getting a book deal, working with a top name historical institution, like Simon & Schuster, or newer up and comers that work in the same way, with smaller lists and smaller advances, like Adams Media or Sourcebooks.

Pros: even in today’s digital world, with less bookstores and less print book sales, this is the mark of recognition in the writing community. And your publisher can still be expected to do the work and know the landscape, with minor exception given the saturated marketed place, and diminishing resources. Ah, you will also have a full “team” assigned to your book, plus an agent to fight for you.

Cons: authors are increasingly less happy with the traditional publishing experience. I am not speaking for everyone. But given lacking time and resources, there’s naturally less attention devoted to any given book launch, particularly for debut or non-bestselling, midlist authors. Authors with either big advances, big names, or big internal support, will take the lion’s share. There is only so much human capital to give.

Good for: Those who need an advance; feel they deserve the “stamp” of a print publisher; have day jobs that won’t allow for gregarious book promoting; have little interest; believe their primary buyers will not buy on Kindle or iPad and thus require a physical book they can see in stores.

Recommend: Hiring a publicist and/or marketer with online expertise (our company offers these services) and blogger connections. Hiring an intern or assistant, for building your mailing list or monitoring your website traffic.

Self-Publishing: this can be done free via Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), or its more alternative alter-ego, Smashwords, if you see the value in having an eBook only. If you want to see your book published in physical form, you might consider vanity presses, but they’ll charge you to publish.

Pros: You could be the next Amanda Hocking or Michael Prescott. You will have creative control over every aspect of your book. You will benefit prosperously from book sales.

Cons: You will not have “brand name” support via booksellers and retailers, and will be solely responsible for your book’s editing, production and design, marketing and publicity, bookseller relationships. In a saturated marketplace, you’ll have to devote endless time and energy should you want to see your book really perform–even if it’s really quality work, it will be you, not your aggregator, convincing your readers. Not to mention this dismaying statistical report, suggesting that the marketshare for eBooks has been significantly overhyped, and that 74% of readers don’t even buy eBooks. We want a second opinion on this…

Good for: The savvy and business-minded movers and shakers, major social networkers or experts in any field, with the confidence in selling books through your own site or Twitter feed or existing audience and established recognition. For fiction, those who have connections to bigger writers or journals who can help promote your book. Emily Giffin and Jennifer Weiner,  I’ve seen as particularly kind to fellow authors. Either way, you are confident in your networking abilities and have clear business objectives.

Recommend: Same as above, hire a publicist or marketer with online expertise, and specifically with blog understanding and blogger relationships. Read up on social networking and certainly get on Twitter. Make or utilize existing connections among writers or publishing insiders who can lend advice and support.

Small Press or ePublishers: this is a variation of the above, but offers an actual publisher behind you (e.g. Diversion Books, Vook Books, Open Road Media).

Pros: allows the support and resources of publishing experts to help navigate you through a complex new landscape. Some, not all, charge minimally up front, with the expectation that your book sales “earn out” their investment (if they don’t the remaining monies are on you, but they’re small), and you’ll get a bigger piece of the royalties, usually at 50%. The key pro here is the attention and education you’ll receive, along with retailer relationships and production/design costs covered. For Diversion Books, this includes non-exclusive relationships with important e-retailers. Diversion would work collaboratively with Apple, for instance, on merchandising your book for greatest visibility.

Cons: ePublishing, while still somewhat selective, does not yet have the brand power of any of the top 6. This is new territory — for everyone — so it doesn’t have a yet tried and true method that guarantees your book’s success, nor Amazon’s promotional opportunities or audience. (However, to take advantage of prime placement or attention on Amazon, publishers now need to pay, and self-published authors who want the full publicity “package,” can expect a soaring up front fee of $5000. Nor is Amazon, yet, offer true publishing expertise.)

Good for: same as above self-publishers. But more niche titles can benefit from the extra promotional hand, and your platform may not need to be quite as huge, to be selected, or to be successful once published.

Recommend: same as above for all options. And asking your current agent, if you have one, about ePublishing options they may be doing in house.

Lee Hartley Carter


“If you're searching for the right words, Lee Carter ought to be your first stop. There's no one who better understands messaging persuasion or what people really want." — Tucker Carlson