By Jacqueline Moore
There are five ways to get your book published. What are they and which is best for you?
It’s great that you have a choice, actually.
But if your ultimate goal is to get as many readers as you can, and perhaps to make some money for yourself or your cause, then there’s only really one answer.
You KNOW the book you’re writing is valuable.
You KNOW your readers will benefit from reading it.
So how do you get your words out of your notebook, or off your screen, and under the eyes of readers?
Well, although there are five main ways to do it, in our experience there’s far and away one single best way.
Let me tell you what it is and I’ll also explain why it matters to you. Deeply.
Finding the single best way to publish your book
My husband Steven and I have published a dozen books in a range of different ways – through traditional publishers, through a book packager (about which more in a moment) and by self-publishing.
Some ways have been more successful than others and we’d like to share our experience with you. I think you’ll learn something from the mistakes we’ve made. (And there have been plenty.)
Now, in a traditional article, I’d leave my recommendation, that ‘one best way’, until the end.
But if I’m going to help you to speed up the process of writing your book and of making a reasonable return from it, I’m going to jump straight to the conclusion.
The single best way to publish your book is… (drumroll please)
The single best way of publishing your book is – without a doubt in my mind – to self-publish.
It’s the fastest way you’ll see a book in print. And it will create the greatest value for your customers and – it has to be said – for you.
But at this point I need to issue a health warning.
DIY has its drawbacks
Self-publishing – doing it yourself – is not necessarily the simplest way.
In part because self-publishing is itself a broad field.
But also because there are so many routes to marketing your book once you’ve published it.
Despite that, we’ve found this to be the single very best way to publish our books, and for very many reasons. All of which I’ll go into shortly.
But first, the four traditional routes
Before looking at self-publishing, I’ll take you through the other four ways first, and then explain why DIY is far and away the single best method of sharing your message with the world.
Of course, I don’t know what your situation is or what your preferences are. So you will have to make your own decision, based on what’s right for you.
Method 1: Get an Agent
In the olden days, an author had to have agent – a person to act as the go-between between the writer and the publisher.
Actually, in some fiction genres it’s still the accepted way, and some publishers still demand you have an agent. (I think it’s to stop themselves drowning in oceans of manuscripts.)
But plenty of authors go without an agent nowadays, so do you really need one?
Well, there are advantages.
Pros of Getting an Agent
- You can leave it to the professionals. The agent submits your manuscript to publishers.
- Experience and contacts. A good agent knows editors and publishers.
- A good deal. The agent will negotiate a good contract for you, as they receive 10-15% of your earnings.
- Time. The agent handles all contact with the publisher, eg negotiating deadline extensions, book tour arrangements, film proposals.
Cons of Getting an Agent
- Delay. You probably have to complete writing your manuscript before finding an agent.
- Time. Getting accepted by an agent can be a lengthy process.
- Umm, time again. Your book may not be published for a year or more after they find the right publisher.
- Inappropriate. Agents usually handle fiction, general non-fiction and children’s books; if you write educational, academic, medical, scientific, technical or legal books you’re less likely to find an agent.
- Cost. The agent will take 10-15% of your earnings.
- Minimal control. You will have little say over the publishing process.
- Limited marketing. The agent will expect you to come up with a marketing hook that he or she can push to a publisher.
On the plus side, when you’ve been accepted by an agent, you can relax… a bit. Because your agent will handle some of the project for you.
The key point, though, is WHEN?
Did I mention the amount of time this can all take? (Finding an agent can take as much time as finding a publisher.)
But – if you’re still sold on the idea of finding an agent – here’s how.
How do you find an agent?
If you decide to find an agent, there are a few things you can do.
- take a look in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook
- go to publishersmarketplace.com
- attend a book fair (eg London, Frankfurt Book Fair or Los Angeles)
- go to a writers’ conference
- or look in the acknowledgement sections of published books to see if the writers name their literary agents.
It’s not over when you identify a possible agent. To get the best out of the arrangement (for you and for the agent) you need to match your title to an agent known for the sort of book you’re writing.
So what do you do?
Well, at the risk of sounding basic, go online and look them up.
If they say they don’t handle the type of book you’re writing, then don’t waste your time approaching them.
Who should you talk to at an agency?
In a large literary agency, you will need to identify the most suitable individual.
Sometimes the bios of all the agents are listed online. But not always.
If you can’t tell who’s who, then email the firm outlining what you have in mind and ask who is the right person to send your invitation or proposal to.
Once you’ve identified a suitable agent, someone relevant and who you like the sound of, then you do need to write a great pitch.
You’ll have some guidance on that from the agency, probably. So submit your material in the format they ask for. They might ask for three chapters and a synopsis, for example.
Some agents insist that you submit your work to them alone. They don’t want to get half-way down the track of working with you and then have you pull the rug out because you’re going with another agent.
However, if you do offer your book exclusively for an agent to think about, don’t just leave it with them in an open-ended arrangement.
Be assertive and confident about your work. Believe in its value and they will begin to believe it too.
So tell them you will wait a certain time for their response before offering your work to others. But do set a time limit. You should certainly stay in touch with them. Don’t wait for them to call all the shots. It’s your manuscript after all.
Some agents are less rigid and can be OK with you submitting to more than one agency at a time. If you do submit your work to more than one agency at a time, be honest about it.
What happens if they like your idea?
If you receive a positive response to your proposal, arrange a face-to-face meeting if you can.
Well, it’s a significant relationship you’re forming – there needs to be trust on both sides. If they are going to finding a publisher for you and if you’re going to trust them to do that, then you will be together for some time to come.
2. Get a Traditional Publisher
It’s possible to avoid working with an agent altogether. In which case you’ll be approaching the publisher directly.
You can, with a good proposal, cut out the agent and go straight to the publisher.
We did this with our book Leadership Unplugged, which is a practical guide for business leaders backed up with a lot academic research.
Steven spotted that the consulting firm McKinsey had just published Knowledge Unplugged with Palgrave Macmillan and so suggested to the publisher that Leadership Unplugged would sit neatly alongside it.
A senior director at Palgrave Macmillan agreed and they met shortly after at London Business School.
Though if I know Steven, it was probably the pizza restaurant on the other side of Sherlock Holmes’s home in nearby Baker Street.
A couple of weeks later Steven shared a fairly hefty proposal outlining the book and what it would cover, identifying a few competitor titles.
So when you’ve identified a publisher, you will need to contact them and be fairly assertive and confident about your proposal.
The publisher will want to know a few things –
- to know your book’s title and what it’s about in a few sentences,
- to know the book’s context: What genre? Who is the reader? What books are similar? What sets your book apart?
- to know about you,
- to read a chapter or more,
- to see there’s a marketing hook.
If they’re interested, they’ll also want to know you’ve completed the manuscript or that you can get it done fairly promptly. Though that won’t stop them taking a few months or more to get it edited and printed.
But to be honest it was Steven’s platform – a ready-made audience of executives and coaching students – that was most attractive to the publisher.
Lesson number 1 from the publisher – bring your audience.
Lesson number 2 was a little startling. You’ve got to fight for cover corrections.
The subtitle on our cover proof was wrong. But it fitted the concept of our book vaguely and we were told it was ‘too late to change’. We didn’t quibble.
Only later did we discover the same subtitle on a finance book published a few months before ours, where it made much more sense.
Despite this hiccup we were pleased we had a major publisher on our side. We knew the other benefits would more than make up for this glitch. (Or so we thought.)
Pros of Getting a Traditional Publisher
- Payment. You do receive an advance. It doesn’t really, though, cover the investment of time you need to make to see the book through production.
- Production. The publisher will design, edit, proofread, typeset and print the book. Though it’s possible your editor won’t understand the technicalities of what you write. (Be that fiction or non-fiction.)
- Basic marketing. It depends on the size of the publisher how much or little (maybe zero) marketing it does.
- Distribution. Your book will be distributed in some key bookstores and online retailers.
Cons of Getting a Traditional Publisher
- Delay. You probably have to complete writing your manuscript before finding a publisher.
- Time. Getting accepted by a publisher can be a lengthy process.
- Time again. Your book may not be published for a year or more.
- Payment. Your advance is deducted before the publisher pays you any royalties (a percentage of sales). You are likely to receive 10% of cover price.
- Minimal control. You will have little say over the design and editing.
- Limited marketing. Most publishers expect you to do much of the marketing.
- Rights. Depending on your contract, the publisher may hold rights to other forms of your book.
- Copies. You only receive a certain number of author copies of the book – maybe only three.
How do you find a traditional publisher?
If you want to find a traditional publisher, you need to find one that publishes books in your field. You can look in Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and at publishersmarketplace.com, go to a book fair or writers’ conference, look online or scan the shelves of a bookstore or library.
Once you’ve identified a suitable publisher, you need to make a pitch. An editor will accept or reject your book based on the pitch. If one publishing house rejects you, approach another.
The first thing the editor will base his or her decision on is the title. It needs to be compelling, intriguing and memorable.
Next the editor will look at the subtitle or strap-line. For a non-fiction book, the subtitle will nail what the book is about in 15 words or fewer. For fiction, a strap-line will convey the reading experience, like the strap-line for a film.
You need to provide a description of your book in no more than 400 words, encapsulating its best qualities. Think of this as the blurb on the book jacket. A useful shorthand technique is to compare your book with books by other writers, eg ‘It’s Robert Galbraith meets Agatha Christie’ (and then explain).
Finally, you can include a couple of lines about yourself, especially how you will use your contacts and author platform for publicity.
After making your pitch, you have to be patient. If you hear that an editor is considering your work, you can thank them by email and ask politely for an idea of when you might hear back. And then you wait.
It is reported that less than 1% of authors seeking to be published traditionally are successful.
3. Get a Packager
A book packager is a cross between an agent and a publisher.
Like an agent, a packager finds a publisher; like a publisher, a packager supervises the design and production. However, the packager leaves sales distribution to the publisher.
Packagers are often involved with specialist books, such as art and photography books. Publishers may not have the specialist staff required to produce them. They are also commonly involved in book series.
Steven wrote a book called Packaging Design, a highly illustrated book, with book-packaging company John Calmann and King. It’s packed with photographs – and the captions took an age to write!
You find and pitch to a book packager in the same way you find a traditional publisher.
The pros and cons are also similar, though there are a couple of extra pros:
- Production influence. As a writer, you can have more influence on the design and production process with a packager.
- Rights sales. Many packagers are experienced in selling rights to foreign-language editions.
You still have to do most of the marketing yourself.
4. Add to an Existing Series or Funded Biography
One way of saving yourself the time and heartache of finding an agent or traditional publisher is to fill a gap in an existing book series.
If you have an idea for a book in a series, such as the For Dummies help guides, you can go directly to the publisher of that series.
Steven did just that. My late father was a very keen ornithologist, travelling the length and breadth of the British Isles, as well as throughout much of the world, to spot birds. When Steven joined the family, he proved himself a dutiful son-in-law by becoming hooked on birding too.
He noticed that the popular Bluffer’s Guides – which have now sold more than 5 million copies – didn’t have a guide in that area. So he approached the UK publisher, at that time John Wiley & Sons, and pitched the idea of The Bluffer’s Guide to Birdwatching.
Related to this is the ghostwritten book or funded biography. Steven and I wrote a biography of Rami Makhzoumi, a remarkable businessman who died of a brain haemorrhage at the age of 33. Steven had known Rami for 10 years since he attended one of his leadership programmes at London Business School and they had remained business associates since.
Following his sudden death, Rami’s family commissioned us to write his biography. In the circumstances, we were paid a fee to write the book and the family retained rights to the book as part of his legacy.
In this kind of ‘official biography’, the person commissioning the book has some say over the content, design and timing of publication.
Pros of Adding to a Series
- Know who to approach. You know the publisher in advance.
- Marketing. You’re part of an existing brand.
Cons of Adding to a Series
- No control. The design and style are already set.
- Limited potential. Unless you’re able to pitch several books ideas, you may only be able to write one in the series.
- Marketing. You may have to work extra hard to market your own particular book within the series.
As I’ve already suggested, self-publishing is the fastest route to publishing your book. It can seem complicated, but with the correct advice – by following a step-by-step guide, for instance – you can work your way through it efficiently and successfully.
The biggest drawback in many writers’ minds is the financial investment you have to make to print and promote the book. It’s worth remembering, however, that you have to do much of the marketing yourself with the other methods of publishing too.
And with self-publishing, you’re in total control.
If you set up your marketing strategy while you’re still writing the book – or even before you start – you should be able to recoup your costs in Launch Week 1. And you can build on that with further book sales and sales of other services in the weeks and months that follow.
With a book launch strategy, The Seven Failings was an Amazon business bestseller. We’ve sold out of the first edition (as we have of the first edition of Leadership FM) and are about to produce a paperback edition and ebook version.
We’ve also published a couple of other books, for Steven’s brother and sister-in-law.
Pros of Self-Publishing
- Making money. You keep 50-60% of the cover price. And you can sell other services, such as workshops.
- Saving money. You can use print-on-demand (so you don’t need to print any books if you don’t want to).
- Control. You control the entire production process – designing, editing, proofreading, typesetting and printing. You can outsource as much as you wish.
- Speed. You can be as fast/slow as you wish.
- Copies. You can get as many copies in your hand as you wish (eg for workshops or giveaways).
Cons of Self-Publishing
- Cost. Ideally you need to pay for an editor. And you need to pay the printer.
- You will need to market the book entirely yourself.
- It’s tougher to get your book into bookstores.
- 6 Key Steps to Writing Your Book When You Have No Time to write (Fiction and Non-fiction)
- 10 Crucial Strategies for Writing Your Book Fast (Fiction and Non-fiction)
- The 12-Week Book Blueprint (186-step checklist)
Self-publishing is not an easy option. But then, nothing about writing and publishing your own book is easy. And it is the fastest.
And dare I say it, it is the most satisfying option.
In my opinion, it’s most definitely the single best way.
Now are you ready to get started self-publishing your book?
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