Most of my editing clients aspire to publication. They often ask me about their options for publishing their work. In the modern publishing industry, authors have more choices than ever before. That can be amazing, as it allows authors to choose the option that best suits their goals for each specific project and for their career as a whole. But it can also make it difficult to determine the best route.
Let's break down the major types of publication and the pros and cons of each.
This is the traditional, time-tested publication process. Here's the breakdown:
Step 1: Write a book.
This should be a given, but it's worth mentioning that you should write and complete your manuscript before querying agents.
Step 2: Secure a literary agent.
Signing with an agent can be a long process. Personally, it took me six years. The process of securing a literary agent involves writing and submitting one-page query letters, responding to requests for your partial or full manuscript, having a discussion over the phone with an interested agent, and finally making the decision to hire a literary agent to represent you. Don't underestimate this process. It's not easy.
Read about how I got my agent here.
Step 3: Go on submission.
After signing with a literary agent and determining your manuscript is ready, your agent will submit your manuscript to publishers. Your manuscript needs to make it through several levels of the publishing house to be officially accepted. Once that happens, and you agree to the terms, you've got a book deal.
Of course, there are more steps in there. (Traditional publication is a complicated process.) But that's the gist of it.
It is possible to pursue traditional publication without an agent. While large houses, such as the big five, do not typically accept unsolicited submissions (i.e. manuscript submissions directly from authors, rather than from agents), many smaller houses do. These publishing houses are often called small presses or indie presses.
The process for publishing in this way is similar to publishing traditionally with an agent. First, complete the manuscript. Then, submit to publishing houses. Publishers may ask for a query letter or for the full manuscript.
Authors can also secure agents or publishers by pitching at conferences.
Here are the pros and cons of this type of publishing.
Self-publishing is the newest type of publishing and is changing the landscape of the publishing industry in big ways.
What it is: a way to publish your work in a manner that allows you complete control.
What it is not: a backup plan if you are not able to publish traditionally.
Self-publishing is a lot of work, and if you have your heart set on publishing traditionally, but your manuscript is not accepted, don't think of self-publishing as a consolation prize. If you are not sure self-publishing is the best route for your career, trunk the project and start a new one.
Self-publishing gives you all the control and all the responsibility. The author becomes the publisher as well, by publishing their book through a print-on-demand service such as Kindle Direct Publishing or IngramSpark. After finishing the manuscript, the author—either themself or by hiring professionals—completes tasks including editing, interior formatting, and cover design. The author is also responsible for all marketing efforts.