By Anna Parsons
So you finished writing your book and want to publish it—great! Completing a manuscript is an accomplishment you should be proud of. The next step is deciding how to pursue publication.
One mistake authors can make is to self-publish a book with the intention of “really” publishing it later on with a traditional publishing company. The problem with this is that self-publishing is a legitimate form of publication, and many agents and publishers will not take on previously published manuscripts. The main reason for this is that if a book is available to the public and is not already selling thousands of copies, it indicates to publishers that there may not be a market for the book or that the author will not be able to help them sell it. There are, of course, exceptions where agents seek out self-published books or these books are picked up by traditional publishers (such as The Shack, Eragon, or Fifty Shades of Grey). But these exceptions are just that—special cases that aren’t the norm, and books that make the transition are usually self-published successes in which the author has invested a great deal of time and money.
While transitioning from self-published to traditionally published is not entirely impossible, authors who wish to work with publishing houses should pursue this option first. Here are some factors to think through before deciding how to publish your book.
What is your goal?
What do you want to accomplish by publishing your book? Do you want to start a career as an author or earn additional income? Maybe you have an important story that others need to hear, or you simply want to share your creativity. No matter what your answer is, deciding why you want to publish a book is an important first step.
What are your strengths?
Publishing is more than posting a book online, and authors who simply list their book and wait for sales are often disappointed. Self-publishing means becoming your own publisher, and the process continues long after releasing the book. Marketing, publicity, sales, and distribution are vital for making your book stand out from the millions of available titles. If you already have a large platform, are skilled in these areas, and are willing to devote a significant amount of time to promoting your book, then self-publishing might be for you. If marketing and sales aren’t your strengths or you want to focus more of your time on writing, you may do better working with publishing professionals.
Keep in mind that there are some things publishers can do that you may not be able to achieve on your own. For example, most chain bookstores will not sell self-published books, and many media outlets and bloggers will only review books from publishing companies. Publishers can submit your books to national awards, participate in trade shows, and store and distribute large quantities of print books. And agents can help you create audiobooks, pursue foreign translations, and sell film and theater rights. If you can accomplish your publishing goals without these measures, then self-publishing could be a strong option. If not, you should pursue traditional publishing first.
A benefit of self-publishing is that you keep a larger percentage of your book’s profits. If your book is especially successful, this means more profit for you. The other side of this is that you only make money if your book sells, and you are also responsible for all of the costs, such as hiring editors, printing physical copies, or seeking marketing assistance. With traditional publishing, you receive an advance up front for selling the book to the publisher, plus royalties on any additional books you sell. This means sharing the rights and profits with your publisher and agent, but the advance provides immediate profit and can be more than you could make selling the book on your own. Furthermore, the publisher can help you sell more copies and bears all of the costs of creating, promoting, and distributing the book.
Self-publishing means you are in complete control of your book, including the cover design, the price, the metadata, and every word on the page. The downside to this is that unless you are an expert in all these areas, doing it yourself means your book could be lacking in quality or discoverability. Partnering with a traditional publisher means you will work with editorial, production, design, and sales experts who will help make your book the best it can be. But this means you have to be willing to make changes to your book. And while publishers want authors to be happy, the final decision is not always up to you. If you’re not open to compromise, self-publishing may be the better option. But if you’re willing to collaborate to create the best possible book, traditional publishing could be the best choice.
Whatever you decide, think through your resources and goals to before taking action to find the best path for you and your story.
Please note: Holloway Literary does not represent self-published material.
Anna is an intern with Holloway Literary Agency.