Publishing options abound

Publishing a book nowadays is both much easier and far more difficult than it used to be. It’s easier because the options are nearly a dime a dozen—almost one for every prospective author—but it’s more difficult for the same reason—sooo many options, and sooo many decisions to make.

Thankfully, the options can pretty much be sorted into four basic categories, and those four can be further categorized into two piles, those in which the author pays the shot, and those in which the publisher pays the cost of getting your book into the hands of readers.

Whichever option you choose, your bill at the end of the day will be less if you exclude the services of a professional editor, or decide to use Cousin George or Aunt May, your spouse, or some flash-in-the-pan “quick editor” instead of a professional with experience.

Remember, this is a lot like buying a new car. Do you choose one that is as cheap as possible, or do you choose one that you can easily control on the road and that runs smoothly? Is yours the car that can be relied upon to get you where you’re headed, or is it the one that just gets you onto the street and then stalls?

In short, if you want good sales and smooth sailing, regardless of how your book is physically manufactured, promoted and distributed, the first decision in looking toward eventual publishing is to use a real editor.

The Way Life Is
A self-published book

The options

1. The world of ebooks is quickly becoming one of the best and easiest publishing options. You can create your own ebook following the online guidance of Amazon and others, or you can have someone else do it.

2. Traditional commercial, mainstream or trade companies. (They pay!)

3. Print-on-demand or print-to-order. (Author pays!)

4. Independent or self publishing. (Author usually pays.)

Regardless of the option you choose, the process is complicated and not to be taken lightly. A whole raft of elements and factors must be planned out and brought together, not the least of which is the decision to retain, or not, the legal rights to your book or give them up for a price.

The ideal outcome, of course, is to end up with an economically produced, professional-looking book that sells, as opposed to winding up with an amateurish-looking effort that sits only on the shelves in your basement… like a cheap car sitting in your garage because it just doesn’t work!

Commercial or mainstream publishing

There is really only one option in which the publisher pays the cost of getting your book to market. If you think that’s the way to go with your book, understand first of all that the commercial or mainstream route entails having a publisher first accept your book out of thousands of submissions received every year.

If you are able to convince them that your book is worth the gamble and their significant investment, they will purchase the rights to your manuscript and then pay you a royalty on subsequent sales. They will handle every aspect of getting the book out, including editing, distribution and marketing. BUT, you do not retain the legal rights to your book.


Be sceptical about the “marketing” package offered by mainstream publishers, if there is one at all. The situation is changing due to competition and the relative ease of some online marketing choices, but don’t expect commercial houses to aggressively promote your book. They are highly selective in the manuscripts they choose in the first place and generally try to pick sure-bet blockbusters. Any lesser titles, especially those of first-time authors, get much less attention.

But if you are convinced your book will be a blockbuster, and you are willing and able to convince an established commercial house to agree with your assessment, the mainstream or trade route may well be the right option for you. It certainly is if you are an established author with previous great book sales to your credit. But if that’s the case, you are not likely reading this in the first place.

On the other hand, if you are a first-time author, one of the independent options may better suit your situation. It was certainly the right way to go for Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol; Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn; David Chilton, The Wealthy Barber; John Grisham, A Time to Kill; Phil Edmonston and his Lemon Aid car guides; not to mention T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Poe, Irving, Whitman, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Twain, and Melville. And the list of successful self-published authors grows daily!

Independent publishing

In the broadest sense, self publishing is really just any way of getting your book to the reader in which you pay all the bills. The costs involved in the traditional “vanity” option include the printer’s profit and overhead so it’s usually more expensive than other independent options, and certainly more expensive for an author than commercial publishing. The upside is that all the books printed are the author’s property and she, or he, retains all proceeds from all sales.

Wade Hilton’s Goddess of the Arawaks, Gwen and Gwenette, and Caught in a Crossfire are great examples of how self publishing can make your books soar to the top of the e-book market.


However, unlike the commercial route, with this option the “manufacturer” does not generally screen for quality and will publish almost anything for anyone who can pay for the service. For an extra fee, some may offer some editing, warehousing, distribution, and/or promotional services, or they may provide variously-priced service packages that include differing menus of extras.

“Subsidy” publishers are just a variation on the theme. They take payment from you as the author to print and bind your book but will also contribute a portion of the cost and/or adjunct services, such as editing, distribution, warehousing and marketing. However, completed books are their property and remain in their possession until sold. Income to the writer is by royalty.

The independent route also requires that you bear the entire cost of the process and handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. on your own. And, whatever services you eventually enjoy will have been put together by, guess who? You! So you have a lot of say and a lot of control over all aspects of your book’s production and marketing... and the work that goes with that process!


Print-to-order or print-on-demand companies are purveyors of publishing services to authors. They charge a fee for what they do for you and your book.

Again, anyone who is willing to pay will see their book in print. They don’t routinely provide editing or proofreading and don’t do a lot of screening of submissions. However, many do offer some assistance with book marketing, depending on the “package” you choose. The biggest attraction with this option is that one book at a time can be produced and shipped anywhere, anytime, hence the term "print on demand." You don’t have to have hundreds or thousands printed on speculation.

In the end...

Having a book physically produced and available, regardless of the option you choose, does not mean it will automatically be purchased by anyone. The most important decisions you will make will have to do with three primary aspects: the marketing and promoting of your book after it is produced; retaining rights to it—or not! And thirdly, the editing, which is really the first decision because before anything else happens, the book needs to be polished in order to be the best it can be.