It’s one thing to write a book — it’s something else entirely to release it out into the world. Book publishing is how you get your book from manuscript stage to a published work that is available for readers to buy.
Publishing a book can seem like a daunting process, especially if you’re a new author. You may wonder what your publishing options are, maybe even how much it will cost to publish a book. This guide will help you learn what you need to know so you can begin your publishing journey.
Before we break down the different components of book publishing, it’s worth taking a moment to highlight up-and-coming trends. Knowing what’s likely on the horizon for 2021 and beyond will help you make informed decisions when publishing your own work.
The book publishing industry had to abruptly adapt to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and the aftershocks of that event will carry forward into 2021.
We expect authors and publishers to continue their focus on audiobooks as a growing trend. Readers who once listened to audiobooks during their commute are likely to renew the habit as work returns to offices across the country. And those who were introduced to the convenience and comfort of listening to a book while performing household activities aren’t likely to let go.
As Kirkus Reviews notes, self-published authors may be well-served to consider adding an audiobook release to their print and eBook publishing plans to capitalize on this trend.
One thing that stands out in the shakeups of 2020 is the rising importance of diversity in books. From new author voices to the characters who take shape on the page, readers are hungry for new stories. Sticking to the same, stale, homogeneous voice closes off new opportunities.
Authors and publishers who embrace a variety of representations will find loyal readers who are eager for the diversity and find it enriches their experience.
We’ll explain a little more about your publishing options below, but it’s important to note the growing trend in 2021 of a hybrid, or collaborative, publishing path, which blends the DIY ethos of publishing your own book with the deep and rich experience of the traditional publishing world. We expect to see this blend continue, with serious-minded independent authors increasingly reaching out to traditional publishing experts on their path to authorship.
You have many choices when it comes to publishing a book. The two main methods are traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Traditional publishing: With traditional publishing, a publishing company takes complete control of the publishing process. You, as the author, may get an “advance,” which is like paying you royalties ahead of time. You write the book, and the publishing company edits, formats, designs, and prints it. They distribute it to bookstores and handle all of the advertising and marketing. In return, they keep a portion of the profits.
To get published with a traditional publisher typical requires that you find yourself a book agent or literary agent. An agent is someone who works on your behalf, helping you make your book the best (and most marketable) it can be. They pitch your book to publishing houses until one of them agrees to publish your work; the agent also helps you land the deal.
Working with traditional publishers and agents will require you to send out many, many query letters, which are letters that inquire as to whether someone would be interested in working with your book. Therefore, the traditional publishing method is not completely hands-off, but it does mean you won’t have to deal with printing and marketing if you don’t want to.
There are big publishing houses (see below) and small ones. Who you work with may depend on who is interested in your book.
Self-publishing: This method is a DIY affair. You as the author don’t get an advance from a publishing company — you ARE the publishing company. You’re responsible for editing, formatting, designing, printing, distribution, and marketing.
On the other hand, you get to keep 100% of the profits, and you don’t need to work with an agent, either.
Traditional publishing: There is definitely a high barrier to entry with traditional publishing. You are not fully in control of how and whether your book is published. If you can’t find someone to work with you, or if you find an agent but they are unsuccessful in landing a book deal, the publishing path hits a dead end.
Also, you’ll need to split your profits if you do sell your book, and that can take quite a big bite out of your book income. If you’re trying to make money from your book, you’ll lose some directly off the top to the publishing company as well as to your agent.
Self-publishing: While this method gives you complete control over your book, it’s a process that’s not for the timid. You will be completely responsible for every stage of the book publishing process. Whether you DIY the entire thing or hire outside help, the buck — and your book’s success — ultimately stop with you.
Once you’ve decided to pursue publication of your book, you’ll need to choose a publishing company.
To choose the best publisher requires two things: knowing the biggest names in publishing and knowing your book inside and out. You may be inclined to go with one of the “Big 5”, but competition is heavy and they might not be the best publisher for your work, anyway.
You should pick a publisher that will work with you, is suited to the nature and scope of your book, and will pay you a fair sum (not necessarily a huge one— a fair one).
The Big 5 are the largest and most well-known publishing houses. You’ll recognize the names.
Getting your book noticed by one of the big five publishers is no easy feat, but if you manage it, you’ll earn instant credibility as an author. It can definitely be worth the effort to polish your manuscript to be the absolute best it can be.
You’ll also want to thoroughly research your chosen genre, as well as your target publishing company, in order to submit a book to a Big 5 publisher that stands head and shoulders above the competition.
Of course, the Big 5 aren't the only publishers out there. You may find a smaller publisher or independent press is the right choice for you. These smaller book publishing companies might offer a more connected, personal publishing experience, or they could be experts in your niche.
Make sure to include these smaller publishers in your research. They could wind up being just the right fit.
It’s important to understand the various stages of the publishing process, so you know what to expect.
The publishing process kicks off with the writing stage. After all, there’s nothing to publish until you’ve written your manuscript. You may find it helpful to work in several phases, beginning with a rough draft and following it up with one or more polished drafts. Self-editing will be an important part of the writing process.
When your book is complete, you can hire an agent and pitch your book to publishers using query letters.
Finding an agent requires some research into your book genre and the agents available who specialize in your niche. You’ll need to pitch several of them on the merits of working with you and your book. You’ll likely need to have some meetings in order for you both to consider working with each other. As much as you want to find the right agent for your book, agents want to find authors. With enough time and effort, you’ll land on the right one for your needs.
Once your agent is in place, you’ll work together to pitch publishers on your book.
For non-fiction books, you’ll write a book proposal that sums up your idea and the structure of your book. For fiction books, you’ll probably submit the manuscript as a whole.
Even though you have hopefully self-edited your book as thoroughly as possible, it’s no substitute for a professional view. Not only will your book benefit from beta readers (who make sure the plot or structure make sense and offer feedback from an “average reader” point of view), but also from hired editors.
The editing process can be quite long, even arduous for a writer, and have several “rounds,” which can include:
Editing can last from the writing stage all the way (in some form) to the final printed proofs. It’s one of the most important parts of publishing a high-quality, error-free work, ensuring it’s the best it can be.
Publishers will often have a team of editors who take on this work for your book.
Once your manuscript is polished and spotless, the production process begins. Designers and typesetters take over, formatting the book for the printed (or digital) page. Formatting a book makes your manuscript conform to common, standard book conventions — chapter breaks, page numbers, title page, and so on.
Book design concerns the aesthetic design of the book, both the inside pages and the cover. And since the cover is what people will notice first, it’s a crucial part of the book design process. Publishers have designers who specialize in book cover design, which is an art unto itself.
Files in hand, the publisher arranges for your book to be printed. There are many different options for printing, including offset and digital presses. The printing process transfers your words to paper, prints and attaches the cover, and binds all pages together. The final result will be the tangible, physical product you can hold in your hands and sign for loyal readers.
For digital books, there is no “printing,” but there is a special file format conversion process that takes place. This process ensures that your book can be read on eReaders, such as an Amazon Kindle. The eBook conversion process retains basic book formatting and font styling so that the eBook reading experience is as pleasant as the print one.
When your book is complete, the publisher will distribute it to bookstores, warehouses, and online marketplaces — wherever books are sold. This gets your book to the bookstore shelves and other places that readers can encounter it. But distribution is only one part of getting books to readers — the other is marketing, which is the process of raising awareness of a particular book with its target audience.
Like it or not, marketing is hugely important to the success of your book. If no one knows about your book, they can hardly be expected to seek it out. Marketing your book lets people know what it’s about and why they should read. It may also let them know a little about yourself as the author and what makes you tick. There are many, many methods to marketing a book, but you’ll commonly be expected to have an author website and a social media presence at minimum. Publishers will often have entire marketing departments devoted to promoting a book, but you can promote your book yourself, too.
The book publishing process can definitely take some time. You can expect the process to take several months, with a realistic timeline of nine months or more.
When you work with publishers, there are a lot of moving pieces and back and forth for each stage of the process, including the negotiating stage. If you have a lot of rewriting to do (or if something unexpected like the coronavirus pandemic comes along), it could add to the time frame.
If you decide to do it yourself, you should expect to spend at least a couple thousand dollars on preparing, printing, distributing, and marketing your book. That figure can easily trend way upwards, too, especially if you hire professional help. However, the cost can easily be worth it; if you establish a professional presence in your work, you’ll be more likely to win over readers and make up the cost in sales.
If you go the traditional publishing route, it may seem as though there are no costs at all. You’ll likely receive a book advance (even a small one) on your royalties, and the company takes over the expenses of printing and distributing the book. However, keep in mind that while you may not shell out money out-of-pocket for those expenses, they will come from your book’s sales, which means those are profits you won’t receive later. You may only receive 10% of your book’s cover price when all is said and done.
You certainly can. You’ll need to be strategic, though. Carefully calculate the expected costs of each method. You may need to do several calculations when you take variables such as book price into account. Do you already have an established audience? Then you may be able to leapfrog to a good number of sales. If you’re starting from scratch, it may take longer. You may find it easier to make money doing it yourself because you can trim a lot of the costs.
Ready to get started in publishing your book? You don’t have to go it alone. At 48 Hour Books, we’re here to help you every step of the way. And with our super-fast printing, you can print your book in as little as two days.