Knowing where you fit in the publishing spectrum will help you successfully navigate the process, so let’s consider the different publishing models available to authors. The industry has changed rapidly in recent years and the lines between the different publishing models are now sometimes a little (or a lot) blurred. Still, you can publish a book in three basic ways – all other methods are based on these.
1. TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING
Traditional publishing is what most people are familiar with: an established company – such as Penguin – finds or commissions a book they think they can make profitable. They then negotiate with the author, and – if a contract is agreed upon – take on production of the book. The publishing company is responsible for paying the costs and managing the publication of the book, and shares the profits with the author in the form of a royalty payment.
The key advantages of this approach for authors are they don’t have to pay to have their book published, and they receive expert editing, design, printing, marketing and distribution. In exchange for this, the author gives much of the decision-making over to the publisher and shares the profits. (If you’re a control freak, traditional publishing is probably not for you.)
- TIP: If you’re ever presented with a contract that asks you to assign all rights to the publisher, run away as fast as you can. No respectable publisher wants to take full rights in your work.
Self-publishing is when the author also takes on the role of publisher, usually with the assistance of an editor or a self-publishing company. The greatest advantage of self-publishing – and the reason many authors choose this route – is that it guarantees your book gets out there. The biggest hurdle to traditional publishing is simply that many, many more manuscripts are written than books published every year.
With self-publishing, the financial and decision-making responsibility for the book lies completely with the publisher, who is also the author. And working with a skilled self-publishing professional, you can still get the expert assistance you need. This can be the best of both worlds; hire a good company to help you and you receive expert advice but you still get to make the decisions.
- TIP: With all the decision-making power comes all the financial risk. Although this can be managed with good advice, as with any business project it can never be eliminated.
3. PARTNERSHIP PUBLISHING
Partnership publishing is where inexperienced authors can get caught out. It’s a hybrid model, somewhere between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Nothing is inherently wrong with the partnership publishing method, and it can produce excellent results, but it does open up unwary authors to being ripped off. The ‘partnership’ is formed by the ‘publisher’ signing up the author to what is much like a traditional publishing contract, but also asking the author to contribute to the costs of the book or to commit to buying a large number of books from the publisher, or both.
Like anything in business, if the terms of the agreement are reasonable and the risks and returns for the publisher and author are equitable, partnership publishing is fine, and can be very successful. There are many reputable and successful partnership publishers. Where authors can run into trouble is if they’re unaware of where the risks and rewards lie.
With traditional publishing, the author contributes the time and energy to write the book, the publisher contributes the money and skill to publish and distribute the book, and the profits (or losses) are shared. Shared risk, and shared reward. With self-publishing, the author contributes everything and keeps all the profits (or losses). All the risk, and all the reward. But a dodgy partnership publishing deal hands most or all of the risk to the author but then shares any rewards with the publisher. That’s not good at all.
- TIP: If you ever have the opportunity to get involved in partnership publishing, do your homework and read the contract very carefully. It’s great if done well, and a potential disaster if not.