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Friday, December 28, 2012

Publishing Options—What Kind of Publisher is Right for You?

Today’s marketplace has turned the publishing world into a new version of the Wild West. In some ways that’s good. But in other ways . . . well, not so good. For those wanting to publish book-length manuscripts things are especially rough. And the main reason is, even if the terms haven’t changed, some of the definitions have.

In this post I’m going to give you an up-to-date review of all your current options—from traditional print publishing to online to self-publishing. So it’s easier to understand, I’m breaking down the comparisons into several categories:
  • Author Investment
  • Author Advance
  • Royalties
  • Rights (who owns the work in question)

Traditional Publishers, (including print and eBook)—This option has always set the standard within the industry. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest is the fact that someone else judges your work to be so good they are willing to back the idea with money.

Author Investment – None. The publisher pays all the costs of publishing, warehousing and distributing the book. Generally print runs will be around 1500 or more. The books are warehoused in the publisher’s space.

Author Advance – Varies by publishing house. In addition to paying for the book to be published, the author is given an advance. This can vary in when the author receives it and how big it is. It’s called an advance because the author must earn it back in royalties before they receive additional money from royalties.

Royalties – This is the percentage of the purchase price given to the author. It also varies from house to house, but generally ranges between eight and fifteen percent of net for print and twenty-five to fifty percent on eBooks.

Rights – In traditional publishing, the publisher owns the rights. Frequently the contract contains a clause that allows for the right to revert back to the author or be purchased by the author when the book is no longer in print.

Important Note—It’s never considered a traditional arrangement if the author invests ANY money in the publishing of the book. This means if the publisher requires the author to buy books up front—even at a discount—it is NO LONGER a traditional agreement and has drifted into the murky realm of self or subsidy publishing

Independent Publishers, (including print and eBook)—This is a new breed on the publishing frontier and one that I personally believe is long overdue. The changes from traditional have more to do with the size of the house and publishing model or niche.

Author Investment – Still none. The publisher pays all the costs of publishing. A lot of independent publishers use a POD (Print-on-Demand) publishing model. This means they print the books as they’re ordered and not warehoused anywhere. Many independent also specialize in publishing eBooks.

Author Advance – This varies widely by publisher. When advances are offered, they’re generally much smaller than those offered by traditional publishers.

Royalties – These also vary by publisher, but on print books are generally around fifteen percent and as high as fifty percent or more on eBooks.

Rights – These are generally the same as traditional publishing.

Self Publishers, (including print and eBook)—This category is the most difficult of all to quantify. The publishers using this publishing model call themselves by various names—and seem to come up with new ones almost daily. One derogatory term occasionally still used in the industry is Vanity Press. Here are two of the more common ones you’ll see:
  • Subsidy Publishing
  • Partnership Publishing

Author Investment – With this publishing model, authors are expected to contribute to the cost of publishing their book. This can be required in many different ways, from an outright investment cost, to being required to purchase a set number of books in advance. Any time an author is expected to contribute to the publishing of their manuscript it’s some variation of self-publishing.

Author Advance – None. See reasons stated above.

Royalties – If the self-publisher retains the rights to the author’s manuscript, the author will be offered royalties and these can vary widely. But my thought is if I’m investing money, I should get the lion’s share of the profit.

Rights – This depends. But this is a very important thing to consider if you choose to self-publish.

It’s important for you to know that I am NOT against self-publishing—quite the contrary. There are many times when it’s the best option for the circumstances.  But I do think authors should be informed when they make a decision. 

What about you? Have you had any experience with any of the above models? What did you like/dislike about your experience?

Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the social media columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and social media coach for My Book Therapy. Connect with her through Twitter and Facebook.


  1. After two years of shopping my 9/11 novel, "Steps to Courage" around, I decided to self-publish for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It is out in print and e-book format. I had the cover, book trailer, bookmarks and business cards done by professionals. I published through CreateSpace. Since I was an established blogger I went back to bloggers I knew to get word out as well as having an agent who helped promote it. I am very happy and have plans to self-publish my next one as well. As a self-published author I do most of the promoting myself. I also retain the rights to my own book.

  2. Thank you for this, it is a great summary of the options open to authors.


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