Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this post are my own based on my experience, information and understanding. I appreciate that your views and experiences might be different from those expressed below, and this post is not meant to oppose any of your views.
If the title of this post attracted you to read further, you probably have an idea in your mind already or have a deep passion for a topic that you want to write about. A few people that I have talked to have mentioned that they aspire to be authors, and are inspired or motivated by my efforts. In Los Angeles, I was speaking with a Japanese artist who was displaying her works of art on the sidewalk on Hollywood Blvd. When she learned about my book, she got interested, and started talking about how she wanted to publish a book with family stories but was concerned about confidentiality. I could see the glow in her eyes as she was talking about writing a book. I discussed with her to write using a fictional character and add some details that will not identify her.
At the beginning of 2019, I had decided that I would release my first book during the year. Having just started thinking about the book in the latter part of 2018, I knew that getting this across the line within the year was a challenging but achievable goal. Now that I have gone through the full cycle of launching the book, I will do my best to help you find some answers by sharing my experiences in my blog posts.
So, what's next for you to get your idea or passion on paper and get it published? You might be wondering, "how do I go about it?" and "what's next?” This blog post is not about how to write a book. In this post, I will discuss a specific topic - the first big decision of choosing the most appropriate publishing approach. I will highlight my thought-process and my decision. I also explain what I learned having gone through the full cycle and what I would do differently.
One of the key decisions towards being a published author is to decide how the book will be published. Most people will give you two options and define those options as below: 1) Self-publishing (when you pay anything for publishing the book) 2) Traditional publishing (where you handover your manuscript to a publisher who takes care of the complete process to publish your book and you do not have to pay anything upfront).
My view of the publishing options is different – there are two options in my definition: 1) Self-publishing (where you have full control the whole process yourself, officially there is no publisher, it's all on the author), 2) Engaging a publisher (where a publisher takes care of the publishing process for the author, whether you pay or not). A publisher's name shows on your book. Engaging a hybrid publisher is also not self publishing as you do not have full control.
The decision is whether you want to take on the whole process yourself or engage a publisher who will take you through the process. However, you need to know a lot more details to be able to make this decision. Let me break this down using five major criteria to make that decision easier.
1. Convenience In terms of convenience, engaging a publisher is the better option as the publisher will ensure you have everything you need. For the publisher, these are regular tasks that they complete on a daily basis. Self-publishing demands that you plan for everything by yourself. This entails a significant investment of time to learn and understand all the pre-requisites. For a first-time author, some of the tasks might be daunting. For this criterion, my vote goes to engaging a publisher.
2. Control Self-publishing is a lot of effort but it gives you the most control over the results. If you want to engage your own editor or cover designer, you have the freedom. The other benefit in self-publishing is that you have the option of choosing different editors or cover designers than being constrained to go with the publisher's editor. You decide what price to assign to your book, what discounts to offer, when you want to make the book available, what book formats you want, etc. You decide everything about the book, period. Subsequent changes are also easy since you control the process. Control comes with a cost, as you need to be prepared to do everything, and put in all your money, time and effort to get things done. If you like to get things done the way you want, my vote goes to self-publishing.
3. Time and effort This criterion is closely linked to the convenience factor mention in #1 above. Self-publishing is a full time job. It can take time away from writing. For a first-time author, while getting your manuscript ready is by itself a monumental task, understanding all the nuances of self-publishing might break the back. Bear in mind that self-publishing means that all the marketing and promotion also falls on the author. For a first-time author, my vote goes to engaging a publisher.
4. Investment In terms of investment, self-publishing might be a lower investment if you know the whole process well and you want to limit the amount you put in. However, investment factor is not only the money invested but also the time investment that we discussed previously. Also depends on your time frame to release the book. I had a very specific timeframe in my mind for my book. As mentioned earlier, at the beginning of 2019, I had decided to release the book during the year. I didn't have time to delve into the self-publishing world. For a first-time author, my vote goes to engaging a publisher even though the investment is a bit high. However, it depends on your situation, and now much money you want to put in.
5. Earnings from the book Self-publishing generates the higher earnings from your book. This is because you determine prices, and eliminate the middleman by keeping a higher margin. You are also in-charge of how much and what types of marketing and promotions you undertake to derive higher earnings. Some publishers might squeeze every bit out of you, and can make you feel cheated. For the earnings criterion, my vote goes to self-publishing.
As you can see from my perspective, engaging a publisher was my preferred route for my first book “Negotiation Quotient: Opening the door to a successful deal”. Now, in terms of engaging a publisher, there are additional details you need to bear in mind. There are two ways to engage a publisher. First is to engage a traditional publisher, and second is to go with a hybrid publisher.
A traditional publisher firm reviews your manuscript in detail, and determines whether it is worth the time and investment to publish your book. This process is long and time consuming, hectic, and prone to rejection. Getting accepted by a traditional publisher is a tedious and uncertain process, and might not work for many authors. For some other authors, it might be the most viable option. I know a friend who was approached by a publishing company to publish his book. If your book is considered worth publishing, and you win a contract with a traditional publisher, then the publisher: 1. Has the full process charted out so it makes the process convenient for the author. Also, you would have already made the heavy time investment during validation of the manuscript. 2. Puts in all the effort and costs to publish the book and bring it to the market. In some cases, the author might get an advance payment but it is not common for a new author. There is no upfront cost for the author but the royalty payment percentage of the sales is low. The publisher keeps majority of the earnings from book sales. If attention is not paid to the nuts and bolts of the contract terms with the publisher, the author might be subjected to additional costs along the way. 3. Retains the copyright and control over the book. You have effectively handed over your baby! Also, it is possible that the publisher's editor might make significant changes to the book, and you might not have much say in it. 4. Does some marketing but the authors need to do their own marketing and promotion. Publisher might also have contacts in the industry but these contacts will be available only if the book performs very well. 5. Prints several copies of the book to distribute. Everything works out well only if the book is successful. Otherwise, the book is set aside and the publisher shifts focus to other books.
A hybrid publisher, on the other hand, will help you publish your book in any shape. I recently realized that some people call them "vanity publishers". You own the content so the hybrid publisher performs only some basic upfront review of the manuscript. After you sign a contract, the publisher:
1. Charges upfront fees that covers costs of getting to book to market but attends to all the formalities like ISBN, copyright, formats, editing etc. You have the option of choosing the cover design service with the publisher or engaging somebody on your own. Again, if attention is not paid to the nuts and bolts of the contract terms with the publisher, the author might be subjected to additional costs along the way. This can turn out to be an expensive deal for the author. Look out for my next blog on the details, and reach out to me to discuss nitty-gritty aspects of a publishing contract. 2. Does not own the rights over the book. So the author owns the copyright. However, a little but important detail should not be missed. The publisher also posts the book on all platforms, and it means that they have the control of when it is posted, where it is posted, and other details. You might even be constrained by the timelines of the publisher, and which might cause delays in making the book available. The publisher might own the rights to print the book. This means that the author is dependent on the publisher to obtain copies of the book. 3. Does some basic marketing (very basic!) but there are additional charges for higher-level marketing and promotion (the objective for the publisher is to charge for additional services but an author should make sure you know how effective it will be; do your research before you pay more for the services). I didn't get any much value in terms of marketing. Authors need to do their own marketing and promotions. 4. Primarily uses print-on-demand services (print copies as the orders are received) so the book can be available for readers to buy as long as you keep promoting it, and will not be set aside. However, in today’s age, this process can easily be complete by authors themselves.
I am not saying that either self-publishing or engaging a publisher is the right way. It depends on your circumstances. However, having gone through this whole process and having done my research, my recommendation is to prepare early and carry out your research towards self-publishing. The further I went along my publishing journey, the more convinced I became that self-publishing was a better route. After a point, I was knocking myself for why I did not go this route. If you have time on your side, you can accomplish every step in the process. Be prepared to do (or preferably hire a professional) all publishing activities such as editing, cover design, formatting, book promotions, distribution etc. but the whole experience is worth it. With proper planning, the self-publishing process can be learned well in advance of finalizing your manuscript. Your decision also needs to be driven by your long-term plans. If your first book will certainly not be the last, it would be worthwhile going the route of self-publishing. Even if you engage a publisher the first time as I did to learn the nuances, the experience should pave the way towards self-publishing.
My next book will certainly be self-published, and I will provide further updates on my experience after my next book.
Reach out to me for any questions regarding my experience. I will highlight detailed aspects of learning from my publishing experience in another blog post.