The Different Forms of Publishing

The publishing landscape is always evolving but, despite this, the fundamentals remain the same. If you’re interested in publishing, you can try and get ‘traditionally published’ or, if you want to do it yourself, you can ‘self-publish’. Then, you have what are called ‘partnership publishers’ – publishers who claim they will share the cost and risk of publishing your book. Before exploring each route further, let’s look at what they involve:

Traditional Publishing
A traditional publisher will take on all the financial obligations of publishing your book. You will not pay a cent.

How it works …

  • You will submit a sample of your manuscript to a publisher. Every publisher will have different guidelines as to what they want to see. But usually, it’s something like the first three chapters of your book, a synopsis, and a cover letter. For nonfiction, they may also want a market breakdown, i.e. you’ll be asked to provide similar titles to yours on the market.
  • Every publisher has different response times. About three months is normal.
    • If they’re not interested, you’ll receive a rejection, although it’s becoming common now that no response after a certain time equals a rejection.
    • If they’re interested, they’ll ask to see the rest of the book.
  • Again, you’ll wait. Times vary.
    • If they’re not interested, you’ll receive a rejection. Because you’ve come this far, they might personalise the rejection and offer feedback.
    • If they’re interested, they’ll offer you a contract.
      • The contract will be to print your book and will include:
        • The publisher’s obligation to take on the editing of the book.
          • This publisher will provide a ‘structural’ edit, where they offer feedback, and explain where they believe your book needs work. You may go back and forth with the publisher several times to get the book to a standard you’re both happy with.
          • Then comes the ‘copy’ edit, which looks at the text line by line and addresses grammar, punctuation, spelling, and clarity of expression. Small publishers might have the same editor provide the structural and copy edit. Bigger publishers may have different editors performing these tasks.
        • The book will go to a designer, who will provide the layout.
        • The designer will work on a cover. While the publisher and the designer will consider your input as to what you believe the cover will look like, they will have a better idea about what’s suitable for your book and how it will fit into the market.
      • The manuscript will be sent to a proofreader, who’ll give it a last going over. This is usually a fresh set of eyes. They will also be looking for any issues the layout might have introduced, e.g. the loss of manual formatting (such as italics for emphasis), or headings that might’ve been swallowed into the text.
      • Financially, the contract will offer:
        • Royalties – about 10% of every book sold (so, a couple of bucks for every copy).
        • An advance, which is a set amount of money. This usually won’t be a very big figure.
        • An advance against royalties, which means your royalties will have to pay off the advance before you see any further money.
  • The publisher will have your book printed. The print run depends on how saleable they believe your book is. Big publishers might ordinarily publish 2,000 copies for a first-time author.
  • The publisher will distribute the book, e.g. get it in bookstores.
  • The publisher will try to organise marketing for you and your book, e.g. interviews and reviews.

For a lot of people, being published ‘traditionally’ is about validation – it’s about a publisher decreeing your work is good enough to be published commercially and bear their name.

You pay for whatever services you require to publish your book. You then try and get it in bookstores yourself.

A lot of people skimp on what’s required to self publish – we can’t count the amount of times somebody has told us their book doesn’t need editing because they’ve had somebody who has some experience with English (e.g. a Year 9 English teacher) read the book.

It’s up to you to determine what you need, but if you’re going to self-publish it’s worth doing it right and putting your book through the same wringer a traditional publisher would. Don’t ever believe that the strength of your content as a whole will override poor punctuation, misspellings, or a shoddy layout. It won’t. It’ll just make your book look unprofessional.

This is largely why self-publishing once had a stigma attached to it – your book wasn’t good enough to publish traditionally, so you did it yourself, and did a slipshod job. Then you have a chicken-and-the-egg situation: is your book bad because it’s self-published, or did you self-publish because it’s bad?

Self publishing has become accessible due to the evolution of technology, particularly in the realms of print-on-demand (where you can print as little as one copy of your book) or ebook publishing. In terms of hardcopy, you can publish a book that’s indistinguishable from books coming out of the big multinational publishers, e.g. Penguin, Allen & Unwin, Hachette.

A number of self-published authors have done well, e.g. Andy Weir with The Martian (adapted to film, starring Matt Damon); Lisa Genova with Still Alice (adapted to film, starring Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin); and Amanda Hocking, who published paranormal romance as ebooks annually (on Amazon), was hugely successful, and then picked up by a traditional publisher.

If you self-publish, you retain all your profits (minus expenses).

One thing to keep in mind is that a bookstore will take 40% for every book sold (of the RRP), and distributors (an organisation hired to get your book in bookstores) will take 30%.

Partnership Publishing
You and the publisher (supposedly) split the cost of publishing your book fifty/fifty.

  • You submit to a publisher, or pay for a manuscript assessment.
  • They rave about your manuscript and offer to publish, under an ‘innovative’ contract model.
  • You undertake much of the route you would with a traditional publisher.
  • Instead of going to print, they may print a ‘galley’ copy (just a printout) and distribute it for review.
  • Reviews will be glorious.
  • The partnership publisher will try to convince you, based on the strength of the reviews, that you publish. Print runs may be exorbitant, e.g. 3,000 copies.

Most partnership publishers are unscrupulous – we can’t attest to them all, but the ones we know of (through clients who’ve been burned, and come to us) are shameless. They will flatter you and gush over your manuscript. They’ll tell you that you have a bestseller, that the market is just waiting for a book like yours. As a writer, your ego will be satiated. The partnership publisher will convince you to publish, claiming they’ll split costs with you, which means you get to share the profits 50/50. In actuality, they probably don’t put a cent in towards the development of your manuscript. You’ll be paying entirely, while they outsource needs (e.g. editing, design) to subcontractors. The subcontractors will do their best, given that this is their livelihood, but they’ll be paid (low) flat rates and be given limited turnarounds.

The reality is ‘partnership publishing’ is just self publishing, but using a middleman to oversee the process – a middleman who’ll lay claim to your royalties (as well as rights to your book) despite having no investment whatsoever in it. The least investment they’ll have in it is a personal or emotional investment. You at least want somebody who genuinely believes in your manuscript.

If you think you’re looking at a traditional publisher, but they ask you to put money in, you’re actually dealing with a partnership publisher. Often, you won’t be able to tell because they have the transparency of mud. You’d be much better self-publishing with people who are upfront.

At Busybird, we’re always interested in educating and nursing authors, and making sure they have a pleasurable and rewarding publishing journey, so we hope this breakdown has been helpful.

There are the three realms of publishing – two viable, and the other to stay clear away from!


8 responses to “The Different Forms of Publishing

  1. The information provided was everything a writer needs to read before hastily committing to a partnership publishing. Some publishers simply prey on vulnerable and struggling authors and once they receive their money they wash their hands of them. No author should be demoralized in this way or suffer financial loss on account of such con publishers.

    1. Yes, we agree, Maria. There are opportunistic people out there who’ll exploit an author’s inexperience for their own gain.

  2. Not all partnership publishing is as you describe. We at Hybrid Publishers work closely with our authors to produce a successful book, without the need to take all the risk with a book that may not be commercially viable. See what our authors have said about us on our website under Author Submission.
    We are a member of SPN.

    1. Hi, Anna. That’s great with Hybrid Publishers.

      We did state in the blog:

      Most partnership publishers are unscrupulous – we can’t attest to them all, but the ones we know of (through clients who’ve been burned, and come to us) are shameless.

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