Congratulations! You've finished your book and want to have it published. Now what?
The first thing you need to do is determine what sort of author you want to be:
someone who anticipates selling their family memoir or cookbook to a relatively small group of people?
someone who wishes to sell books commercially on the internet?
someone who wants to be a blockbuster author with a 20-city tour, an appearance on Oprah, and a movie deal? Well, we all can dream, can't we?
OK, if you're in the first group, you're almost certainly going to be taking the initiative to publish your baby, because a traditional press such as Random House won't be interested. Unless you are a desktop publisher (not an unreasonable solution), your best option is probably to go to a vanity/subsidy press that will walk you through the publishing maze, give you a certain number of books, and maybe even get your book available on the internet so your friends can purchase it easily.
There are a few types of companies:
Lulu.com -- if you're handy with the computer, you can set up your book for no cost; charges are taken from the sales price only when and if you sell a book. You keep ownership of your own files. This is a great deal! The books you produce will be somewhat higher in price than the typical market prices, but this won't matter because you're only selling to specified people anyway.
A comprehensive company -- I have no personal experience with these, so while I'd like to recommend some I don't feel I can. These companies will help you with a variety of tasks that may include: some editing, typesetting, cover design, ISBN purchase, online availability, etc. I would simply advise that you check out several before you sign with one. Mark Levine HERE has compared a number of companies and ranked them; I highly recommend you read this book to get a feel for what these companies can and cannot do, and what you need to look out for.
If you are in the second category, you need to be more careful about how you will publish. This is NOT an easy decision: there are significant positives and negatives to each option. Broadly, your options are:
1. Traditional Publishing
2. Vanity/Subsidy Publishing
Let's look at some advantages and disadvantages today.
Traditional publishing is a difficult field to break into, but if you can make it, it offers significant advantages over other types of publishing. Some positives I can think of are that your manuscript will have been edited multiple times, and therefore your published book will be something to be very proud of. You will have a beautiful cover, and the backing of a company that will help to launch your book. Furthermore, your book will automatically be considered *worthwhile* because you have a name behind you. Your book will be available in brick and mortar stores, and you may even be able to wrangle a book tour or other publicity opportunities out of your publisher. You will have been paid advance money, and will not have to pay for anything else for the book.
The biggest drawback to traditional publishing that I can think of is that you no longer own your book. If the publisher wants to change text, or discontinue the run, or do anything else, you can't prevent them. I've heard a few horror stories: one friend was upset because she'd been told her editor was changing the ending of her book about 24 hours before it went to press. "I don't want my name on it," she said. Fortunately this snafu was resolved to everyone's satisfaction before the book was printed. The nephew of another friend sold a manuscript to a publisher that then decided not to publish it. He had planned a series but was unable to do so without the first book, and couldn't get the rights back. I have two friends who wrote a wonderful Christmas book. They sold out their first printing quickly and were on a roll with appearances when the publisher informed them another printing would not be done. These are perhaps not typical stories, but they do happen.
Vanity/Subsidy publishing varies quite a bit in quality and cost. Some advantages are that final books can be produced within a matter of weeks, and they usually look pretty decent (although covers often leave much to be desired). Often the book is available for sale on amazon and/or other online venues. However, if I wanted to sell books beyond a small group I personally would not consider this type of publishing. There is a stigma, the books are expensive, the author usually pays more than he should to get the book produced, the author often gives up some rights to the book that he may want later, and on and on. Publishing this way will not allow you to be commercially competitive.
A special subset under this group is Publish America. I've already written a blog entry about this company HERE. PA tries to look like a traditional publisher because they pay $1 advance and don't charge the author anything, but the company also buys ALL rights to the book for seven years. There are so many complaints about PA that I would personally never consider going here. You've been warned.
Your final option is self-publishing, where you form your own company. The major advantage of self-publishing is that you have complete control to produce an excellent product and keep all rights to it. The downside is that you've got to coordinate everything yourself, and believe me there are a lot of details. It can be expensive; although it doesn't have to be, you WILL spend at least some money. Furthermore, you are dependent solely on your platform and marketing contacts in order to get the book sold, because there is no one else.
I'll be looking at how to go about traditional publishing tomorrow.
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