Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How and Why to Independently Publish Your Book

In the final installment of my “publishing crash course,” I will be discussing independent publishing, also known as “self-publishing.” If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity publishing.

Lay-Person Definition

Independent publishing is a publishing model in which the author does not seek the assistance of a publishing company or press. Instead, the author takes on the role of the publishing company by managing the book’s production and distribution, often with the help of professional contractors. Because the author does the majority of the work by herself, independent publishing has been called “self-publishing.” However, many authors in the this model prefer the name “independent” or “indie,” for short, because they do not produce the book entirely by themselves, but rather, as an independent/non-affiliated business with the help of contracted professionals.

independent writerFor some, independent publishing does carry a stigma in the publishing world. This is because independent publishing has its origins in vanity publishing. Before recent technological advancements, such as the e-reader, photographic design software, and print-on-demand services, the independent author could not produce books of the same quality as traditional presses and were dubbed “vanity” publishers. However, nowadays, most independent authors are entrepreneurs and professionals who can produce the same caliber of books as traditional publishers and have entirely separated themselves from anything resembling the “vanity” model of publishing.

The Steps to Independent Publication

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. I would argue revision is most necessary for independent authors.

3. Start your business. This step is optional. As an independent author, you can choose to operate as a sole proprietor (essentially, just as yourself), or you can opt to start an official business for your products, the most common choice being a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I will cover the pros and cons of each of these options in a later post. For immediate assistance, do a quick search or read “Section 1.5 Should I Start a Company?” of Joanna Penn’s book Business for Authors.

4A. Find beta readersBeta readers are people who will read your manuscript before it is published and critique it for you. They can be anyone from your mom to a retired editor, but it is best to find individuals within your target audience. Beta readers should tell you how your book will be perceived by the reading public, hence the desire for them to be your target demographic, and leave more intensive editorial critiques to you and your editor(s).

4B. Find editorial services. Because you will not have a publishing company to assign an editor to you, you must find your own editor. If you don’t know where to start, read this post. There are plenty of contract editors out there as well as websites to help you find freelance editors. The main thing is that you must determine which types of editing your book needs. I discuss editing types more in this post, but the three main types are:

Content editors — Help you refine your story by examining its character growth, plot arc, plausibility, etc.

Copy editors — Check to make sure that facts are correct, details are consistent, and grammar is sound.

Proofreaders — Hunt down typographical and grammatical errors.

5. Find a Cover Designer and/or Formatter. Once the content of your book is perfected, you need to find someone to make it look good. Again, because you will not have the assistance of a publishing company, you will be responsible for finding someone to design a cover for you book as well as format it for e-book and print forms. As with vanity publishing, you do have the option to take care of this yourself, but it is not recommended unless you have design education or skills.

e-book and print books6. Distribute your novel. After your book is edited, designed, and formatted, it is time to distribute. Most independent authors have their books available in e-book and print format on online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, etc. It is important to note that, since you do not have a publishing company representing you, your chances of getting into a bookstore (especially a large chain store) or library are slim-to-none. Therefore, if that is your big dream, independent publishing may not be for you.

7. Market your novel. You are entirely in control of gaining attention and attracting sales for your novel. This gives you a great amount of flexibility in your strategy, but it also means that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, social media, active blogging and podcast communities, and myriad other strategies exist to make this task surmountable  for independent authors.

Pros of Independent Publishing

  • You retain ALL of the rights to your creative product.
  • You are not locked into long-term contracts and receive much higher royalties (35-70%, depending on retailer and book format) than traditionally published authors (10-20%, depending on contract with publisher).
  • You have complete control over every stage of production and distribution.
  • You can hire contractors who best fit your business and branding model.
  • You have a more direct relationship with readers.
  • You have the pride of knowing you organized every stage of your book’s life.

Cons of Independent Publishing

  • You do not have any help from a publishing company.
  • You may face stigmas associated with vanity publishing.
  • Others may pre-judge your work because it has not been “approved” by publishing authority figures.
  • There are upfront costs that authors who are traditionally published do not have.
  • If you choose to start your own business, there are expenses and risks associated with it as well.
  • Your chances of your book being sold in physical bookstores, available in libraries, or made into a movie are slim-to-none.

Who Should Independently Publish?

Independent publishing is the best option for authors who want to have a full-time career as a writer. It is also best for writers who enjoy both the artistic side and business side of being an author, and who feel comfortable making final decisions in each field. Likewise, independent publishing is for authors who want to retain the rights to and control over their product and who are willing to put in intensive amounts of labor to compensate for the lack of assistance provided by a publisher.

If you would like a more personal look into the reasons behind independent publishing, read Why I Will Independently Publish.

What are your feeling about independent publishing? What other process steps, pros, and cons of indie publishing would you add? Let me know!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How and Why to Vanity Publish Your Book

For this edition of my “publishing crash course,” I lay out the different approaches “vanity publishing” and discuss when it may actually be a good publishing option for someone. If you missed the other days, I strongly encourage you to check out my posts on traditional publishing and independent publishing so you have all of the information you need to make your publishing decisions.

Lay-Person Definition

Vanity publishing refers to a type of publishing that lies somewhere in between the traditional model and the independent publishing model. With vanity publishing, an author can pay a publishing company, usually referred to as a “vanity publisher” or “vanity press” to publish her work. Or, she can do all of the work herself, in a less collaborative model than independent publishing.

vanity publishing
“Talent Optional. The Customer is always write.” via Tendence Coatesy

Vanity publishing gets its somewhat negative name from the idea that many authors who choose this route are “vain:” they only care about seeing their work printed and either do not care about quality or do not realize that the quality of their novel is lacking. Also, it may be derived from the fact that these books are not verified as worthy of publication by the authority figures of the publishing world. Of course, this is simply the stigma attached to this form of publishing, and it is important to note that there are fantastic and horrible books produced in every form of publishing.

The Steps to Vanity Publication

Traditional-esque Model

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. As always, this is an optional step, but one that is highly encouraged.

3. Find a publishing company to publish your book. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vanity presses out there that will be willing to publish your book. Unlike in the traditional model, where the publishing company pays the author to publish his book and then shares the profits, a vanity press (usually) takes its entire cut up-front and does not share in the majority of a book’s profits. However, each company is different. Some will want the author to give over his rights entirely, while some will simply want a publishing fee and allow the author to retain the rights. It is important to be careful when selecting a publisher, as some of them may be scam artists who take your money and do not produce a quality product — or any at all.

4. Production of your novel. Depending on the contract you sign, the vanity press will most likely handle the production of your book. Likely, there will be no editing process or the editing will be far less intense than that of a traditional publishing deal. Again, as with a traditional publisher, the press will probably handle the cover design and formatting of your book, leaving you little to no say in the process, but also little work to do. These services will vary based on which packages the press offers and how much you are willing to spend for your book’s production.

5. Distribution of your novel. If you go with a vanity press, it will distribute electronic and physical copies of your book for you. The extent of this distribution depends on the particular package that you have purchased.

6. Marketing your book. Again, the vanity press is more a mechanism to produce a book, and once it is produced, the author receives the responsibility of marketing the product. In other words, just because the vanity press has distributed your book, this does not mean your book will sell or that the press will help you sell it. There are some vanity presses that may assist with marketing, for a fee (in the same way that they charge for production), but this is not likely.

Independent-esque Model

1. Write your manuscript. Noticing a pattern yet?

2. Revise your manuscript. Again, optional, but encouraged.

3. Determine how much production help you want. By this, I mean, do you want a professional editor, cover designer, format designer, etc.? Typically, authors going the vanity route do all of this work themselves, even if they lack education or skills in the area.

books in boxes4. Find a printer. There are dozens of printing companies to which you can submit your manuscript purely to be printed. In vanity-independent publishing, the author will likely pay a company to print copies of the book in bulk to be sold later. Alternatively, the author can choose the “print-on-demand” option. In these programs, the author will list her book on an online retailer, and copies will be printed only as they are purchased. However, this model is more typical to independent publishers.

5. Distribute and market your book. If you have chosen to have a large batch of books printed, then you are responsible for marketing and distributing them to retailers and individuals. In contrast, if you have chosen the print-on-demand option, the online retailer will cover distribution for you, you simply have to market your book well enough for individuals to find and buy it.

Pros of Vanity Publishing

  • Instant gratification – there are no hoops to jump through; you can publish almost immediately after your book is written.
  • You can keep most (if not all) of  the rights to your creative product.
  • You retain more control over the production, distribution, and marketing of your product.
  • If you use a vanity press, your book’s ISBN will be associated with a publishing company, which may protect you from some of the stigma associated with purely “self-publishing.”

Cons of Vanity Publishing

  • The stigma associated with vanity publishing will cause others to take you less seriously and pre-judge the quality of your book.
  • You have little-to-no help in publishing your book, and the help you do receive may be low quality.
  • Vanity publishing can be a big financial risk: you pay a lot up-front to a publisher, have little control over quality, and may receive little profit from sales.
  • Because of the lack of professionalism involved, authors who vanity publish have a very little chance of making a full-time income from their writing.

Who Should Vanity Publish?

Vanity publishing is the best option for authors who simply want to see their artwork in book form and are not looking to make a living from writing.

What are your thoughts on “vanity” publishing? What process steps, pros, and cons would you add? Tell me in the comments section!

On an unrelated note, my follower count surpassed 200 yesterday! Thank you all so much for your continued support. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to answer your questions, entertain you, and generally enrich your experience here. Much love, Kate.


Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How and Why to Traditionally Publish Your Book

Hello, everyone! In this three part blog series, I want to give you all a “publishing crash course” and go over the three main publishing options available to modern writers: traditional, vanity, and independent. For each one, I will give a basic overview of how the publishing process works as well as the pros and cons of each. In this edition, I discuss the most common form: traditional publishing.

printing pressLay-Person Definition

Traditional publishing is the most widely known form of publication, and it tends to have the “best” reputation in the publishing word. In traditional publishing, an author writes a novel (or story, poetry anthology, etc.) and sells her rights to the book to a publishing house, usually with the help of an agent to act as a middle(wo)man. The publishing house takes care of the product’s production and distribution for the author, but the author still shares most of the marketing burden (unless he is a huge name author).

The Steps to Traditional Publication

1. Write your manuscript. Need I say more?

1A. Revise your manuscript. This may or may not involve the help of a professional freelance editor. However, whether you seek professional help or not, you need to edit your manuscript to the best of your ability and make it as attractive as possible to the people to whom you are trying to sell it.

2. Figure out your target market. If you are planning to traditionally publish, your goal is to sell your product to a higher power, so to speak. Therefore, you need to source out publishing companies and/or agents that sell books in similar genres to yours. A horror publisher will not want your young adult romance book. Likewise, you need to have a clear idea of your target audience so that you can convince potential agents and/or publishers that your book will sell, and therefore, make you both money.

3. Find an agent. An agent is a person who will represent you and your book and help you sell yourself and it to a publisher. In order to get an agent, you will need to write a query letter. This is basically a “sales pitch” detailing what your novel is about, why and to whom your novel will sell, and what credentials you have as a writer. An agent is not 100% necessary in traditional publishing. However, many publishers (especially “The Big Five”) will not take manuscript submissions unless they come from an agent. Small and micro-presses are more likely to take unsolicited manuscripts.

4. Find a publisher. If you have an agent, he will take care of this process for you. However, if you do not, you will undergo the same basic process as searching for an agent. You will send query letters to try and attract a publisher to publish your novel. Again, this is much more difficult without an agent, but it is still achievable, especially at smaller publishing houses.

publishing deal5. Sign a contract. Once you are accepted by a publisher, you will be given your publishing “deal.” This will be different for each publisher and each author. In short, the author will give away some (or all) of the rights to her book, and in return, the publisher will give the author an advance and a portion of the royalties from the book’s sales. It is important to note two things here:

“Rights” constitute many aspects of a book; the “right” to publish it in e-book format, print format, audiobook format, and in foreign countries.

Also, the “advance” is not a signing bonus. It is merely an advance on your royalties, and it will likely be paid out in several payments. You may get a $10,000 dollar advance given in two payments (for example, $5,000 upon signing and $5,000 upon completion), but you will not see a cent more from your book until it sells enough copies for your percentage of the royalties to surpass $10,000. Your percentage will likely be 10-20% (depending on format). Note that if you hire an agent, she will get a percentage of your advance as well as a percentage of the royalties.

In other words, if your royalty rate were 10%, your book would have to gross $100,000 in sales before your $10,000 advance would be “paid out” and you could start receiving royalty payments.

6. Edit your novel. Once you have agreed upon a deal, your publisher will likely assign you to an editor to help you refine your novel. Once editing is complete, your book will move into the production stage.

7. Cover design. The deal you sign with your publisher will determine your control over the cover design and book formatting. Most publishers either have in-house designers or strong relationships with design firms or freelancers. And, most of the time, your publisher will determine the design of your book, based on what other books in the genre are like and what will be most marketable to your target audience.

bookstore8. Distribution. Again, your publisher will handle this process for you. Your book will be sold to bookstores and placed on online retailers like Amazon. It is important to note that bookstores have the right to send back copies of your book. If this happens, it means two things for you:

A) If your royalty payment was figured before the return, it may decrease once the books are returned and not actually sold.

B) If bookstores return copies of your book, it will make your publisher less enthusiastic about publishing you in the future and the bookseller less likely to buy your next book.

However, risks aside, if you have the dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf, traditional publishing is virtually the only way to have this vision realized.

9. Market your book. Unless you are J.K. Rowling, your publisher will not spend much time marketing your book. At the very least, they will do a press release, maybe set up a few in-person promotions for you, and possibly do a bit of social media coverage. Therefore, you must help your book sell by doing your own social media marketing, maintaining your author website, and connecting with your readers. Additionally, while traditional publisher’s marketing efforts may be fewer, they are substantial, and they can give you better chances at opportunities you would not have on your own, such as foreign publication and movie deals.

Pros of Traditional Publishing

  • Most “respected” form of publishing / Comes with prestige
  • Once you get an agent, you have a teammate to help you get published.
  • Your publisher will connect you to a professional editor.
  • Your publisher will handle cover design and formatting.
  • Your publisher will handle production and distribution (allowing you to see your book IN a bookstore).
  • Your publisher will do at least some marketing for you.
  • Traditional publishing gives you the best chance of seeing your books in bookstores and on the big screen.

Cons of Traditional Publishing

  • You lose the rights to your creative product.
  • You have a lot of hoops to jump through, which can take years.
  • You lose control over much of the editing, design, production, and distribution of your book.
  • You still have to do some of the marketing yourself.
  • The royalty rate is extremely low, and you have to share the profits with your agent, publisher, and book retailers.
  • Related to royalties, you have no control over the pricing strategy of your book.
  • If your first (and second, third, etc.) book does not sell well, the chances of you getting subsequent deals decrease exponentially.

Who Should Seek Traditional Publication?

Traditional publication is best for authors who want to have a career in writing, but want to focus more on producing art and have someone else help them handle the “business” side of being a full-time writer. Additionally, traditional publishing is the only avenue for those who want the prestige of being tested and approved by publishing authority figures and want to avoid common publication stigmas.

What are your feelings about traditional publishing? What process steps, pros, and/or cons would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section!