Which Publishing Alternative is Right for You?

I feel for authors these days.

In days of yore if you wanted your book published, you put together a proposal or sample manuscript and mailed it to various publishers. It’s true that you then sat by the front door waiting for the post to come in – in most cases with form-letter rejections. It’s true that months and even years could pass in the process. But at least the ground rules were clear: authors submit, and publishers, except in the rarest of cases, reject.

Things aren’t so clear-cut, today. Courtesy of the digital revolution, print-on-demand technology, and the seemingly limitless room for books on amazon.com and other bookstore sites, it’s easier than ever for authors to get their books published. Authors can visit sites such as Lulu and Author House and opt for various services that will see their manuscripts take on flesh.

But wait a minute. I should say not that it’s easier to get a book published but that it’s easier to get a book produced. The word “published” implies “announcing” the book to the world. It means promoting the book and selling the book and getting the book reviewed. Sadly, no matter what the Lulus and Author Houses of this new age tell you, the books they produce are rarely actually published in that sense, even if they bear an ISBN and barcode and can be found on amazon.

So here’s a quick categorization of production/publishing options to help you cut through all the buzz and find the approach that’s right for you.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

If you have a story to tell or information to share, and the proper market for you is a broader public, and you are a very good writer, and having a name-brand publisher on the spine and on your C.V. is important, and being in the public eye through bookstores and traditional media interviews, you should go the traditional route. In large markets such as the US, your first pitch may actually be to agents not publishers. If you snag an agent, that person will refine your pitch and get it out to potential publishers. If you submit your proposal or manuscript on your own, you will want to research which publishers publish which kind of books and what their submission requirements are. Many are called, few are chosen. However, you owe it to yourself to try. And try again.

SELF-PUBLISHING

If your book is very limited in its audience – for instance, your own family, in the case of a family history – and you have your own means of selling the book, and it doesn’t matter to your audience or doesn’t hurt the image you’re trying to project if your book is not up to the best professional standards, then go with services like Lulu and Author House. They provide a great service for just such situations. Your book will be produced, and the onus will be on you to publish it for your audience. This is the least expensive route, which is the deciding factor for many.

COOPERATIVE PUBLISHING

If you want to submit your manuscript and yourself to the full publishing process, and can pay for that, and want the book to be promoted and sold through the book trade, in addition to your own sales, then cooperative publishing is the route for you.

Full disclosure: My list, BPS Books, is just such an approach.

We do not publish everything that is submitted to us. It must fit our list in terms of type of book and level of writing. If the idea is good but the writing lacking, we say so and offer to work with the author until the book is of publishable quality. We will not publish an inferior book, plain and simple. When we sign an author to a contract, we do include a list of fees for the services we will perform. These services go well beyond production. For example:

1. We first of all advise authors on building or strengthening their own promotional infrastructure so that they have a ready audience once their book is out. We want them to be good Internet citizens, finding and creating a community – making connections, meeting new friends, increasing the quality of their online presence. The book, when it comes along, will be fed into that system of connections, not simply for the purpose of selling books but also to build business opportunities, get a message out, make the world a better place. This is the atmosphere in which books are successfully sold on the Internet.

2. Meanwhile, we discuss the title of the book with our authors, the optimal format and page count of the book, the cover design and text design, the best price at which to sell.

3. Then we go through the intensive and very personal process of editing the manuscript, typesetting, and proofing. Such a process simply cannot be done well as part of a “customized” package.

4. Then we produce and publish the book. We come back around to the promotional infrastructure question and help authors to coordinate their websites, blogs, Facebook accounts, etc., so they can get word out about their book and make it easy for their audience to purchase it.

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