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Book Publishing: Self-Publish, Subsidy, or Traditional Publisher?

Many of my valued clients ask me how they should publish their manuscript. Whether you’ve written a novel or a self-help book, it can be difficult to decide how to market your new creation.

Broadly speaking, you have three choices.


When you self-publish, you control every step of the process. In effect, you act as your own project manager. You write the manuscript (or have it ghostwritten), you hire the book designer, you upload it to a platform like Createspace, and you handle promotion and distribution. You pay for all of these things yourself.

The advantages are that you control the process and you retain full ownership of your book. You are both the author and publisher.

The disadvantages are that you are less likely to reach a broad audience, and you won’t get major reviews. But many of my business clients don’t care about that because they want to use their book as a calling card, not as a money-maker.

Subsidy Publisher

In the old days they were called “vanity publishers,” but that’s changing. A subsidy publisher is a hired project manager. For a fee, the subsidy publisher will do all the things a normal publisher would do, and more. You can hire a subsidy publisher to ghostwrite your book, design the cover, print it, and promote it. At each step of the way you pay them. Most subsidy publishers sell “packages” that can cost up to tens of thousands of dollars. You need to be careful because the goal of the subsidy publisher is to “upsell” you and get you to buy more and more services.

The advantage is that you’re paying a provider to do what they’re good at. The disadvantage is that you’re also paying their hefty profit margin. In addition, most subsidy publishers require a contract that gives them an ownership stake in your book. They want exclusivity.

Traditional Publisher

A traditional publisher, such as Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins, will invest in your book. They will agree to assume all the costs of production and distribution. In effect, the publisher becomes your business partner and investor. In return, they’ll pay you a royalty for each book sold.

For non-fiction, a traditional publisher will consider your book only if you have a platform – that is, if you have an audience ready to buy your book. The publisher will generally not invest in finding buyers for your book. So if you are Susie Expert, the publisher will say, “We know Susie Expert can use her blogs and TV appearances to sell 10,000 books, so we’ll sign her to a deal, and we expect to sell 10,000 books.”

For novels, it’s anyone’s guess. There are no rules, except in genre fiction, such as romance novels, in which there are very strict rules. But unlike self-help books, it’s unclear whether the author’s platform is relevant. In fact, many authors of fiction use pen names or pseudonyms, which pretty much means their platform is irrelevant.

In any case, most traditional publishers require that you submit through a literary agent. There are a few that accept submissions directly. You have to do your research!

The obvious advantage to a traditional publisher is that they pay for everything. They invest in your product. The disadvantage is that they control the process. You become a hired employee. They own your book. And if your publisher is lazy, your book can easily vanish into a murky pit of obscurity from which there’s no return.

The direction you take can be a big decision, so get the very best advice you can!

Thomas A Hauck
Thomas Hauck is a professional book developer and author.

Posted in Advice on Hiring a Ghostwriter, News, Self-Help Books, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

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