How to Get Your Book Published: Understanding Traditional, Self, and Hybrid PublishingFeb 14, 2023
The most common question we get here at Juxtabook is, "How do I publish a book and move from words on a page to published author?”.
That question is followed by “Should I self-publish or try to get a traditional publishing deal? Should I reach out to literary agents for help? What's the best path to reach potential readers? HELP!”
In this blog post, we will run through a series of trade-offs for all those questions. and we’ll introduce Hybrid Publishing and provide answers that will help you decide what is best for you.
Right off the bat, I will tell you that with the millions of books already out there and the estimated million published yearly, the vast majority of those books are self-published.
Gaining a traditional publishing deal is very hard. A publisher isn’t just asking for the right book at the right time; they’re also looking for someone with a strong author brand, a killer marketing plan, and a ready-to-buy audience (and you have to prove that with social media numbers).
Let’s begin with understanding the book publishing process and then dive into the differences between the three types of publishing.
Book Publishing Process
This is a very simplified overview of the publishing process, but this post will give you an idea of what can be done with your own book.
Writing a book your readers will love and read is the first step.
At this point, you decide whether to pursue publishing through a traditional publishing house or self-publish.
If you choose traditional publishing, you will likely need a literary agent. The agent helps you prepare your book proposal, and they pitch it to publishers. MOST traditional publishing houses will not review your manuscript without an agent.
Traditional publishing is going through a publishing company, often called a publishing house)that distributes books to retailers. They essentially buy the rights (audio rights, foreign rights, print rights, digital rights, subsidiary rights, permission rights, etc.) - of your book by making a cash offer, called an advance, and pay an ongoing royalty (typically 7.5% to 12%) and that’s after the advance has earned out.
If you accept their offer, you are selling the rights to print and distribute your book to them in physical, electronic, and audiobook form. Publishers don't guarantee that you will be successful or have a bestseller.
There are hundreds of publishing industry options, and you'll want to research the publishing houses you are interested in and see what genre of books they specialize in.
The top five traditional publishers - known as the Big 5 - are Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan. It's not impossible to get a book deal with one of these publishers you'll need the right combination of your book's market relevancy, your author branding, your following, and your book marketing plan.
Keep in mind that in addition to the Big 5, there are hundreds of other publishing companies.
Again it’s essential to remind you that if you want to publish, you will more than likely need a literary agent traditionally. An agent will also review your entire book and help you brainstorm ideas for writing a compelling book description, articulate your author brand, guide you on which sample chapters to include, and create an effective marketing strategy.
And then it becomes their job to sell you to a publisher and to convince that publisher that you have a book that will give them a high-margin return on their investment.
Traditional publishing is still thriving, but less than 5% of proposals ever receive a traditional publishing offer and deal. If you go down this path, it's possible to land a book deal, but it is rare.
Self-publishing is not new. It’s been around for over 100 years, but the accessibility and ease of use for the self-publishing process has increased dramatically over the past few decades.
Basically, an author who pursues a self-published book takes upon themselves to do everything needed to get their book published and all the costs associated with it. This would include funding the editing process, paying for book formatting and a book cover, providing an ISBN, and creating all the book marketing.
The good news is that you CAN do all this by yourself (if you have the time and resources) and if you want some help, there are self-publishing companies available to guide you through the publishing process so it feels less overwhelming.
However, when you do self-publish, you receive the full upside when a book sells, and you receive a much larger royalty. Additionally, you have full control over the rights and content of your book.
Bottom line: the difference between traditional and self-publishing comes down to who owns the rights and the royalties.
And the third option–Hybrid and Professional Publishing. This can sometimes be more confusing than traditional or self-publishing.
Hybrid and Professional Publishing
The intent of hybrid publishing is to bring together the best parts of traditional publishing and self-publishing by offering better terms to authors and still providing some traditional publishing services. This can be a great alternative for many authors, but there are trade-offs and cautions.
As mentioned, a publisher will purchase the rights to publish a book by offering a book advance and a 7.5 - 15% royalty and handling much of the upfront costs. A hybrid publisher will still want the rights to distribute and/or publish a book but the terms can be more flexible.
Hybrid publishers typically don’t offer an advance, and some will even charge the author a flat fee to help cover the costs of publishing and distributing a book. You may not have complete control, but you do have a lot more influence over decisions made about the book.
However, they may offer more generous royalties. The best royalty rates we have seen are 50% (with no advance), which totally goes against the norm of traditional publishing.
A word of caution, if you choose to look for a hybrid publisher, it’s important to confirm that they are a true hybrid publisher. Some hybrid publishers are glorified distributors, meaning that they are just self-publishing the book for you and handling all the file uploads and money management.
You’re probably wondering how you will decide which publishing path you want to pursue and which is a good fit.
Which publishing path is right for you?
One thing we tell the authors is don’t stress over which path is right for you. We don’t believe that there is a “right” path, there are only different paths that will provide you with different opportunities based on your author's goals and goals for your book.
The good thing is that as you write your book, you can try multiple paths simultaneously and choose which one you believe is best. You can pitch the book to traditional publishers keeping in mind that you may self-publish or hybrid publishing. That way, you aren’t devastated when you receive a rejection
If a publisher decides to make an offer, you can take a look at the terms, and if it doesn’t work for you, politely say “no” and pursue the other paths.
What to consider: Traditional vs. Self-Publishing vs. Hybrid -
The four areas we coach authors to look at when thinking about any of the publishing paths are Control, Cost & Royalties, Distribution, and Timeline.
Ask yourself: Do I want more control or less control over decisions made about my book? Do I want to relinquish control over the cover, design, pub date, distribution, and even the plot line or message?
When traditionally publishing, you are selling your book rights to a publisher. You give up control in the areas of design and the decisions of how your book will be formatted, designed, structured, marketed, edited, and distributed. There are also guidelines around how the content of the book can be used outside of the book.
If you self-publish you retain the rights to the manuscript and make all of the decisions--format, design, structure, marketing, and deciding when you want to set the publication date. It also means you bear the responsibility for the cost of printing and distribution.
This is dependent on the hybrid publisher. The publisher will most likely purchase the rights to distribute your book and will have more control over the design, structure, and distribution of the book but you will have additional control as well.
Cost and Royalties
Ask yourself: How do I want to make money from my book? What are my book sales goals? What do I need to make?
When you traditionally publish you MAY receive an advance (typically between $5,000 or $15,000 if it’s your first book and you are still growing your author brand) If your first book is successful you may receive and negotiate larger advances. You also receive a royalty, typically 10 - 15%, some of which may go to your agent.
However, if you received an advance you will not get paid any royalty until the publisher earns out the advance they paid you. In other words, the book needs to sell enough copies to cover the advance they paid you as an author.
One nice thing about a traditional publisher is that they will front all of the costs associated with producing the book. This includes having a professional editor go through content or grammatical editing, having a graphic designer layout the manuscript and book covers, and taking care of the printing and distribution. That can save a lot of money on the author’s end.
You front the cost to write, design, print, and distribute the book. Self-publishing can be expensive. And to do it right and with quality can be even more expensive. In publishing, there is no truth to “if you build it, they will come.” Your readers have to know what you built and where to find it amongst the tens of thousands of other books self-published every year. Costs can vary for fiction writers or non-fiction writers but it's dependent upon the extent of your graphic design.
The upside to self-publishing is that even though you own the production and front the cost you get 100% of the royalties (after all the costs). For every book sold, you will receive a considerable amount more money than through traditional publishing.
Many hybrid publishers don’t pay an advance but pay a larger royalty and cover the upfront costs of book formatting and design, cover design, printing, and distribution. The most generous royalty rate we have seen is 50% after the development expenses of the book have been earned out (which is usually not more than $7,000).
Ask yourself: Do I have the bandwidth (money, time, resources) to build an author brand, a website, and a reader/book buyer following that will drive book sales?
This is where an established publisher really does the hard work. They have distribution relationships, salespeople, conferences, catalogs, and websites to get your book to retailers where it can be seen and purchased easily.
You do the heavy lifting here. Depending on your goals you'll either want to use a self publishing service or will be responsible for shipping a final copy of your book to readers. Most authors we work with don't want to deal with the supply chain of shipping from their garage so they opt for a service that is print on demand or they ship books directly to other retailers to ship out their book title.
In addition, you promote the book wherever you can. Your greatest asset word-of-mouth. You build a loyal fan base and they do the marketing for you by writing reviews and talking to their friends about your book. In other words, you have to build a base who are invested in your story and your message enough that they become your salespeople.
A hybrid publisher will have similar distribution power as a traditional publisher and will actively present to distribution salespeople, international distributors, and at conferences.
As a result, your book will be better positioned to be placed in stores (if that’s important to you) and featured by retailers. As mentioned previously, do your homework to make sure you know and understand how the hybrid publisher will be distributing your book.
Ask yourself: How important is it to publish my book sooner rather than later?
Traditional publishing is slow. You’re looking at a minimum of one year from the time a publisher accepts your proposal and wants to move forward with a contract and then finally get to publishing your book–and that’s if you have a completed manuscript. If you have only written a few chapters of your book, it will take even longer. Since publishing houses do this for a living they will guide you from the first step to the final step of book publishing.
Assuming you have the funds and knowledge and stamina to write, edit, and format a book within a week, then within a, few weeks you could have it up on digital platforms as an e book. And within a month you could have it available as a print-on-demand printed book. Even by self-publishing standards that is superman-fast but you get the point. Self-publishing is quantum leaps faster than traditional publishing.
They may be able to move slightly faster than a traditional publisher but the timeline can still be 6, 9, or 12 months from the time the manuscript is submitted. The quickest is still self-publishing.
Take the time to really research and consider the pros and cons of each book publishing option. Ask authors you know what publishing path they have chosen, what they have learned from it, and if they would do it again.
Among the most valuable steps you can take is to determine your vision and your goals as an author and for your book and your book business. Doing that provides clarity not only in how you will publish your book but how you will make your book relevant to your intended audience.
You'll never know what good ideas will pop up and if you haven't already begun, start writing!
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