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Publishing Options

Traditional Publishing

  • Traditionally, most authors submitted their manuscripts to large publishing houses with the hopes that the publisher will accept their book for publication. Publishing firms bear all the costs and risks of publishing your book. You pay nothing.

  • Depending on the size of the publishing house and your history of producing successful books, you may be paid an advance. Stephen King gets something over $1,000,000 for his books. A first time author may get $5,000, possibly more if the book has won an award.

  • Once the publisher recoups the advance money, you will be paid a royalty of 6% to 12% of what the publisher receives, which may be about 50% of the selling price of the book.

  • Publishing firms are becoming increasingly more selective in their choice of which books to publish. It is extremely difficult for first time authors to have a manuscript accepted.

  • Most large publishers do not accept manuscripts directly from authors. They will deal only with agents.

  • It is almost as difficult to find a good agent who will add your book to the others they are handling.

  • Publishing firms may hold your manuscript for many months before looking at it.

  • Artistic control is lost to the author when publishing firms decide to change the contents, title, design or whatever they like in order to make the book more marketable, in their opinion.

  • Publishing firms will not promote your book. Authors are expected to set up and carry out their own promotion of the book.

  • If the book doesn’t sell quickly, it will be removed from the publisher’s availability list in one year.

  • If a publisher does accept your book, and you are willing and able to promote the book effectively, then you will be free of financial commitments and, if the book sells, you will receive royalties.

  • Publishers rarely offer an advance on royalties to first-time authors.

  • Publishers costs are high, and since only about 10% of books are profitable ventures, authors who do get an advance are unlikely to get anything more.

Subsidy Publishing

  • As opposed to vanity publishing, some kinds of subsidy publishing are legitimate.

  • Subsidy publishing ventures are usually not expected to make money, or even cover costs.

  • Examples of subsidy publishing:
    -Investment counsellor publishes books at his own expense to hand out to potential clients.
    -Academics may receive some assistance from a university to publish a book whereby the reputation of the university and academic are enhanced
    -A manufacturer will subsidize a how-to book in order to gain promotional benefits. The author may also possibly expect to make money on the book.

  • Local historical society or community may subsidize the production of a history book.

Vanity Publishing

  • The vanity press is the publisher on record. They own the ISBN and printing files. They earn the publishing profits.

  • Vanity publishers claim to provide the same services as publishing companies, but you pay all the costs. Since they get their money up front and are risking nothing, they will publish virtually anything submitted to them.

  • In addition to the excessive fees, the author loses rights to their book and receives only a very small royalty if a few books are ever sold.

  • Vanity publishers claim to provide publicity, but they have a very poor record for delivering what they promise. What they promise is often very appealing, but since they get paid well for producing a few books, they have little incentive to distribute and sell your books. Unfortunately, many unsuspecting and disappointed authors are paying much, much more for services they could obtain on their own with not a great deal of effort.

  • Reviewers are reluctant to accept books from vanity publishers because they know very little effort has gone into screening for quality. Book distributors and buyers are even more reluctant to take them. In fact, if it is known that a book has been published by a vanity publisher, you can count on it being a financial and critical loser.

  • Generally, the advice from everyone in the book community is to avoid vanity publishers.

  • Some vanity publishers have expanded into the Electronic Vanity Publishing (EVP) business. If you really have to deal with them, be very cautious.

Electronic Vanity Publishing (EVP) or Publish-on-demand
Often mistakenly called “print-on-demand,” EVP is a form of subsidy publishing which uses print-on-demand technology. EVP has had a rather bad image, but some authors who are well informed of the services ESP companies provide may benefit.

Advantages of EVP:

  • EVP offers a relatively easy way to self-publish a book, and most EVP companies are helpful in providing authors with needed information.

  • EVP services offered by some companies are similar to vanity publishers, but require much less up-front cash.

  • Once the registration fee is paid, authors may order any quantity of books they desire, avoiding the worry of boxes of unsold books in the basement.

  • Most vanity publishers will accept any manuscript. Some will draw the line at excessively offensive material.

  • Most EVP contracts can be terminated or renewed by either party after a specified length of time.

  • Royalty payments are higher than that paid by traditional publishers – 20% to 30% versus 6% to 10%. Royalty for e-books (see e-books on page ) is higher still.

  • Where it may take a year or two for a book to reach the market through a traditional publisher, EVP books can be ready for market in as little at one month.

  • EVP books are always “in print”, as long as the author continues to pay the file storage fees (and the company stays in business).

  • Some provide complete fulfillment services by printing and shipping to major distributors, wholesalers and retailers. They may also provide some marketing services at a price.

  • The services some EVP companies provide may be ideally suited to your needs if small quantities of books (less than 500) are required for:
    -advance reading copies
    -market testing
    -family history books
    -order fulfillment of traditionally published books that have run out
    -books that require periodic updating

Disadvantages of ESP:

  • The ESP is the publisher on record. They own the ISBN and printing files. They earn the publishing profits.

  • Authors have mistakenly believed (or have been led to believe) that their books would be marketed and sold with little participation or involvement by the author. On the contrary. Authors are responsible for publicity and marketing of their own books. Virtually all the services provided by ESP companies can be obtained by the author or a publishing services provider at a much lower cost

  • There is little quality control for content. Because nearly all books are accepted for publication, poor books are grouped with good books. Buyers (including book stores) with one bad experience with an ESP are unlikely to risk another. The publishing industry, bookstores, commercial book buyers, writing organization and much of the general reading public don’t have much respect for ESP books.

  • ESP books will be printed “as supplied”. That is, they will be un-edited and un-proofed. A book that has not received professional editing is destined to quickly sink into oblivion. Some ESP companies offer editing services at a rather high cost, but an author would be better to have this work done before approaching an ESP company.

  • It takes talent and time to design a good book cover. The generic covers supplied by some ESP companies may be just what you want, but keep in mind that the cost to produce a reasonably good book cover is about $400 to $800. You get what you pay for. The same applies to inside design and layout.

  • Bookstores and other volume book buyers will only buy and hold stock of books that are returnable for refund. That’s the way the book publishing industry has worked for decades. ESP books are generally not refundable, and therefore shunned by bookstores.

  • Bookstores rarely order ESP books because they are usually sold at too small a discount or too high a price to be profitable

  • Be careful of who you are dealing with. Most ESP companies are reputable, but, as with many new electronic industry sectors, some will try to rip you off. Watch out for these signs:

  • Deceitful sales pitch – They won’t sell your book for you. Having your book listed on their web site is unlikely to produce more than a very few sales. Book selling venues such as are available to anyone. Authors can list with them free of charge.

  • Bad contract – Acceptance of the sample contracts posted on some ESP web sites stating that some aspects of the contract are left to “further negotiation” may lead to unpleasant surprises relating to royalties, rights, maintenance costs, etc. Contracts should not extend beyond one or two years, and should not include transfer of ancillary rights (translation, movies, etc.)

  • Unlike traditional publishers, ESP publishers are receiving a fee from you to publish your book. You should therefore expect a much higher royalty for your book – 20% to 50%, depending on what other services they provide.

  • Registration fees vary among ESP companies. Some with low fees may expect more for “required” or “highly recommended” services such as cover design, formatting, web page, etc. Fees should include the cost of obtaining ISBN, CIP data and copyright registration. Know what you are getting.

  • Beware of excessive renewal fees. It costs almost nothing to maintain a web page and keep your book on file.

  • Authors often find that the high cost of low-run printing plus the registration fee charged by ESP companies makes it virtually impossible to break-even.

  • The technical specifications and file submission requirements of some ESP companies is such that authors may need assistance from someone familiar with book and cover file setup procedures. Mistakes can be costly since charges to correct submission errors are usually quite high.


  • The self-publisher is the publisher on record. They own the ISBN and printing files. They earn the publishing profits.

  • A self-publisher is an author who takes on all the responsibilities of publishing his or her book – writing, editing, proofing, evaluation, design, printing, marketing, promotion, sales, etc. as well as all the costs involved.

  • Unlike with EVP, a self-publisher keeps all the rights to the book as well as all the profits.

  • Apart from the actual writing, most functions will be contracted out by the self-publisher to those who can best do the work.

  • Publishing services providers can be contracted to provide some or all the services required to publish your book. As the publisher, you maintain complete control of all aspects of the project relating to the design, content, marketing, pricing, distribution and sales.

  • Self-publishers are entrepreneurs. You take the risks and you reap the benefits (or suffer the losses). As an entrepreneur, you should have a well thought-out business plan. Even if it is not your intention to make money from your publishing venture, a business plan will help prevent costly surprises.

  • If the book is marketed properly and becomes somewhat successful in the first few months after printing, self-publishers have the freedom to sell the publishing rights to a large publisher at any time. If your book proves to be successful, the same people who once turned you down may come knocking at your door, and you will be able to negotiate terms from a position of strength and experience.

  • Self-publishers may contract with some EVP companies for print-on-demand (see Printing Options but generally stay away from those that require a substantial registration fee and who pay the author a “royalty” for books produced.

  • Self-publishing is a risky business, but it can be very rewarding if approached properly and with confidence gained from knowledge. The more you learn about it, the better your chances of success.

  • Join local writers and authors groups. Most people in these groups share the same needs and concerns as you.

  • Contact published authors in your area. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that they are published authors. At one time they were also unpublished. Most are quite willing to talk to aspiring authors.

  • Contact self-published authors. Learn from their experiences.

  • A search for “self-publishing” on the internet will provide hundreds of links to self-publishing related sites. It will be well worth your while to read what others have to say about self-publishing.

Why Self-publish?

  • Commercial publishing houses employ professional editors, designers and printers with the expectation that their books will be of the highest quality, yet only one out of ten books by first time authors return a profit. One out of ten for the bottom-line-conscious big publishers – so why would an author risk getting into this business?

  • Very, very few manuscripts are accepted for publication by publishing houses. The costs to produce and distribute a book are high, so unless you are an author with a proven track record or a celebrity, your chances with commercial publishers are slim.

  • It is almost as difficult to find a literary agent as it is to find an accepting publisher.

  • Publishers may take 6 to 12 month to get back to you with an answer, and IF they accept your manuscript for publication, it may be another year before the book is in print. If you don’t want to wait that long, and knowing that your chances are slim to start with, you may choose to publish yourself.

  • By publishing your own book and quickly selling 500 or so copies, you will have a much better chance of having your book accepted by an agent or publisher.

  • If your book has appeal only to a very small but very interested readership that you can access, self-publishing may be the way to go.

    More reasons for self-publishing:
    - family history or autobiography
    - unpublished poetry and short stories
    - promote your business

  • If you have great publicity and marketing skills, and you want more than the 6% to 10% you can expect from a publishing house, self-publishing may be for you.

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