So you’ve written a book about your business, your industry, your company story, or simply your passion for why it is you do what you do. Maybe it’s an in-depth look at all the ways you can help your customers. Maybe you own a restaurant and the book is about your quest for local, ethically sourced ingredients, your fantastic rooftop garden, and some of your favorite recipes.

This is really exciting! You have something to share with the world, and let’s face it, writing a book is one of the hardest things a person can do. And you did it!


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But now what?

You’ve sunk time, energy, and emotion into this project, but now that you’re finished, how do you get it in front of people? Do you start submitting it to publishers? Do you find an agent? What about self-publishing? Do you make it into a PDF and pop it on your website? What about a book cover? Editing? You’ve heard all these steps go into published books, but you have no idea where to start. All you know is you’ve accomplished this fantastic feat, and now you want to share it with the world.

Going with a Publisher

To answer the questions about next steps, you’ll need to decide if you’re going to submit it to publishers or if you’re going to self-publish. There are pros and cons of both. Let’s take a look, shall we?

With a publisher, they take on all the risk up front. This is great, right? Let’s assume for a minute you have an interested publisher and a contract in front of you. For anywhere between 40-60% of your net royalties (or sometimes higher), this publisher is going to run your book through their editing department, design a cover, and distribute it to various online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks. They set the pay schedule (frequently 45 or 60 days past the close of each quarter, or even bi-annually), provide you with a royalty statement that shows the number of copies sold, and how they calculated your total, and deposit your money in your account. In some cases, they may offer an advance, or money up front to sweeten the deal. What a lot of first time authors don’t realize is they won’t see any royalties on the book until it’s earned back the advance, so there could be a big gap between the advance payday and the first royalty payday after the advance is earned out. The contract will specify a number of years they’ll keep your book in print, and depending on the genre and publisher, the size of their stable of authors, and release schedule, that could be between 3 to 5 years.

What you end up getting in our example deal (let’s say without an advance, 50% royalties, 5 year deal) is a publisher promising to pay up front for editing, graphic design, and formatting costs. Printing costs too if they do the project as a paperback as well as an ebook. For 5 years that publisher will take half of all that book’s sales. Now of course, publishing is a business and they have staff to pay, overhead expenses, and a range of other costs for doing business. It makes sense that these contract terms are fairly standard (ish, so you might want to have a lawyer check them over before signing anything).

Out of that, you have the publisher’s brand backing your book. What does that mean? Well, for starters, their logo is on your book cover. Their marketing department will have worked out a promotion schedule to get your title in front of readers in the hopes of enticing purchases, right? Not necessarily.

Traditional publishers, depending on their size, have hundreds of books in print at a time, and only a handful of those receive a strategic marketing plan. Advertising is expensive, so the publisher very carefully chooses which releases they’ll build a marketing campaign around and which ones they’ll rely on word-of-mouth to promote. That means that you, as the author, will likely being the only person telling people your book is out. You’ll be the one sharing reviews on Facebook and Twitter, and trying to promote in various online communities. You’ll have the label of traditionally published author on your side (because there’s still a bias against self-publishers, no matter how good their books might be), so that’s something. But is it enough?

Now, let’s take a look at the other side of the publishing coin, self-publishing.


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As a self-publishing author, you would assume the responsibility of readying your book for publication and distribution. So where do you start? It seems so daunting, but it really isn’t. It’s just a matter of finding the right people and following some steps to get your book out there.

You need people.

The three people you’ll most likely need are an editor, a cover designer, and a formatter, and for each of these people, you’ll be paying for their services yourself. That may sound like a major drawback of self-publishing (and for some, it really is), but it’s also an investment in the book. The more care you take with this part of the publishing process, the more polished the final product will be. If you’re competing in an arena with traditionally published books, you’ll need the best you can afford.

  • Editing will run you between $.008 and $.01 per word. That may not sound like a lot, but for a 50,000 word book, it’s about $500 on the top end of the scale. Sure, there are freelancers in places like Fiverr or Upwork who charge less, but it’s best to consider the old adage, “You get what you pay for.”
  • Cover design is harder to quantify because you’re paying for someone’s artistic talent. The market for book covers runs around $300 depending on what you’re after with your cover (and the licensing rights to photos can make that price go up by a lot). A good graphic artist can help you envision your cover, source reasonably priced graphics, and provide a professional quality cover that’s sure to catch the eye. If you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” just remember that’s exactly what readers are doing when they come across your book. Put your best foot forward with the cover.
  • You can source a professional formatter who will make the inside look just as professional as the cover artist has done for the outside. A good formatter will charge anywhere between $150-$300 for standard formatting to make your pages look pretty. If your book has photos, charts, or infographics, that price may rise. There are also software programs that create flawless ebook formats, such as Vellum, or add-ons for Microsoft Word, like Book Design Wizard, that help you format in the document.

The Publishing Itself

This part may be the scariest, but there are plenty of tutorials online for how to actually publish your book. There are also services that will distribute your book for you, like Draft2Digital, so you can follow the instructions to upload your book, select some well-considered keywords to help the websites where you’re publishing sort your book into the proper categories, and choose your distribution channels.

Printing paperbacks is not difficult either. Amazon is inarguably the largest book retailer, and through their publishing process, they have a paperback option similar to the ebook option that walks you through the requirements. You’ll have to have a paperback size book cover, but your cover artist will have all the specs required if they’re experienced with making book covers.


Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Why Self-Publish?

You may be looking at this with eyes wide and thinking, “If it’s that tricky, and that much money up front, why in the world would I do anything besides traditionally publish?”

The answer is control.

You control every aspect of your book. You know the quality of the editing because you vetted the editor yourself. You had far more say in the cover design. You know the interior is professionally done. More importantly, you are in charge of distribution, and this may not sound like much, but it’s critical to the success of your title.

You set the price.

When a traditional publisher sets the price, they have considerations in mind that may not be as important to you. Perhaps they’re doing a simultaneous ebook and paperback release, and want to recoup costs faster, so they set the price higher than you would have. Research similar titles and determine what the best price point is. Stick with that, at least at first.

You can change the price.

Authors in a traditionally published relationship with the press that released their book have no say over when sales or pricing promotions are run. Say you’re planning a second book, perhaps a dessert recipe book to go with your first offering about your restaurant’s ingredients philosophy. The second book is ready for publication, and to generate buzz about it, you decide to knock the first book’s price down for a week prior to book 2’s release. A traditional publisher will not hear of it. As a self-published author, you have the control. You could permanently reduce the price of your first book as a loss-leader into your second book if that’s the one you really want people to land on.

You promote for yourself best.

I won’t lie, promotion is hard. Finding your market, getting into the discussion in an organic way, establishing yourself as an authority, these are all things that take time and dedication. But it’s no different than any other marketing for your business. It’s simply a complimentary arm of your overall marketing plan, and because you’re the expert here, and not a traditional press, you know exactly what nuances your message should contain, exactly how your book aligns with your business, and exactly what you want your new readers to know about you and your brand. You’re not going to phone this part in. Your publisher, who has to market a variety of subject matters, might not get the message spot on.

And as has already been pointed out, traditional presses might not do any marketing for your title at all. You’d already be doing this marketing strategy, so why pay someone else half your royalties for years to come when the work, at least once the title has been released, is the same for both routes of publication?

You determine availability.

You want your book in a library? Great! Draft2Digital has access to the databases that distribute to libraries. You want your book to remain in print for longer than 5 years? Your call. Keep it going forever if you like. The point is, it’s YOUR book, so you’re the boss.

The bottom line is, sure, you can have a publisher handle the upfront nitty-gritty of releasing a book, but then they have all the power over what happens with your book. They also are very selective about which books they put their marketing might behind. Most authors don’t end up winning the bestseller lottery the first time publishing. In fact, that’s probably less likely than winning the actual lottery. So the chances of a big marketing campaign to boost your book are slim. Once the release process is complete, they’re going to move on to the next titles they have coming out.

For many authors, having each aspect of the publishing process within their control and controlling the pricing and promotional opportunities the book needs to attract readers, not to mention the marketing they’d be doing anyway, is all the reason not to share half their royalties with a publishing company.

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