by Joanna Maciejewska
Being a writer might mean that, at some point, you’ll be thinking of showing your work to the world. It might mean sharing it with a friend or family. But if you’ve been editing it for what feels like ages, if you’ve gotten feedback of beta-readers and critique partners… You might be considering having your work published.
This is when, before you make any other decision, understanding your publishing options comes into play.
Understanding your publishing options
If you don’t know where to start, trying to figure out publishing industry might be confusing. There are many good articles on the subject, but sometimes it’s hard to find them without any idea of what to search for. Especially that there are also the ones that repeat hurtful myths or try to prey on your lack of experience. So, before you start your research, it’s good to have some key words at the ready. Understanding what different kind of publishing means will not only help you find the relevant information, but also make a better decision on which path is best for you.
If you think about publishers and books on the bookstore shelves, you get it right. Traditional publishing is when a publisher picks up your book. Then they do editing, formatting, and cover design, and markets it for you. You don’t pay for anything during the process.
In exchange for your work, you might receive an advance and you’ll receive royalties – percentage amount of your book’s sales.
Contrary to some myths circulating on the internet, you can be a debut author with no connections or publishing credits, and still get traditionally published. But there’s no doubt: it’s a long and uncertain path. Not only you’ll have to research how to write a query letter, but also research agents who take submissions in your genre. Then, you’ll have to steel yourself for a lot of possible rejections.
It also takes a lot of time. Agents respond within weeks or months, depending on how swamped they are with queries. After finding an agent, you can expect similar response time from the publishers. Publishing process also takes time: most books are scheduled for a year or later from the signing date.
Please note that some small publishers don’t require you to have an agent, but they should be researched carefully.
In the era of ebooks, it’s quite easy to have your book “out there”. Moreover, it can definitely be faster than the traditional route since you set your own deadlines.
This publishing route makes you take upon the role of a publisher: you find a freelance editor and cover designer, and you pay for your own marketing, if you have a budget for it. It’s up to you to ensure the book is available in the online stores such as Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. You get to keep a higher percentage of the book’s sales (even 70% of the price compared to the 10-15% in traditional publishing), but all the expenses are on you.
Getting traditionally published isn’t easy or fast. This is where vanity publishers come in. They pray on writers’ insecurities and fear, repeating hurtful myths that it’s impossible for an unknown writer to be traditionally published. And then, they offer their services. They ask the author to “participate in publishing costs” in exchange for publishing packages that may or may not include editing, cover design, and marketing. Since these companies prey on writers, and their income comes from the fee paid (the “publishing costs” aren’t partial – the money burden lies solely on the writer’s side), they have much less interest in actually selling the books or reaching out to potential readers. Also, often times the editing and cover design standards are very low, making it hard for those books to compete with traditionally published titles.
Commonly, vanity publishing is considered the worst choice as much better results at much lower price can be achieved through self-publishing, so it’s always advised to think thoroughly a decision to go with a vanity publisher. Since vanity publishers avoid that name, it’s hard to see some of them at the first glance. Phrases like “innovative publishing”, “author-centered publishing”, “assisted publishing”, or “hybrid publishing” might be a warning sign. But the best test is always the cost of publishing: if you have to pay anything to the publisher, you should run.
With the growth of the internet and people using some terms clearly, some seem to have developed double or confusing meanings. No matter which one you choose to use, it’s good to be aware that other people might use them in a different way. Two of such terms are “indie publishing” and “hybrid publishing”.
The term indie publishing comes from “independent publishing” and in the past it described small, boutique publishers who weren’t a part of the so-called “Big 6” (the largest publishing groups). But since it has been also adapted by self-published authors to describe themselves. While they are technically correct (a self-published author is independent), at times it might create a confusion of whether they are traditionally published with a small press or self-published.
The first time I came across the term “hybrid author”, it described authors who were both traditionally and self-published. For example, they had a career as traditionally published authors, but they decided to self-publish some of their books: either a back list or something that didn’t fit in the genre they were writing in so far.
Nowadays, vanity publishers also use “hybrid publishing”. So while “hybrid author” still seems to be a neutral term, its publishing equivalent might be a warning sign.
Which one to choose?
New writers often ask which is better: traditional or self-publishing. But like with most things in life, there’s no “one size fits all” publishing path. The choice will depend on an individual goals and preferences. Some writers dream of seeing their books on the shelves of bookstores, so they pursue the traditional route. Others thrive as entrepreneurs, and the idea of having a complete control over the process that comes with self-publishing excites them. Researching all the options and giving yourself time to think about them will help you to make the best decision for you while keeping you away from scammers and predators.
So, which of the publishing options is the best for you? Do you know already or are you still researching them?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science-fiction writer who was born in Poland, spent a little under a decade in Ireland, and now resides in Arizona. She had stories published in Polish magazines (“Nowa Fantastyka”, “Science-Fiction Fantasy i Horror”) and anthologies (Fabryka Słów, Replika, Solaris). She also writes in English (“Fiction Vortex”, “Phantaxis”, “The Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror”). You can find out more about her at melfka.com. Or you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. She also designs graphics available as gadgets for writers (stickers, mugs, t-shirts, and more).