You’ve finished your book, and you’re ready to get it published. What should you do first?
If you’ve opted to get your book traditionally published, you’ll need to send query letters in order to land a publishing deal, but should you query agents? Editors? Publishing houses?
Before sending a query letter–before you even write a query letter–there are some important steps you need to take. Read more
We’ve talked about how to decide whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is right for you, but what if neither feels quite right? What if you want to do both?
The newest model of publishing to have emerged is hybrid publishing, a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing that empowers both authors and publishers.
Hybrid publishing is dynamic. While there are clear steps, benefits, and drawbacks to the distinctly separate models of self-publishing and traditional publishing, hybrid publishing allows authors and publishers to take what they want from each model in order to create a tailored, innovative approach to publishing, which offers mutual benefits to all parties involved.
How Hybrid Publishing Works
Hybrid publishing is difficult to define because there are so many possible variations. It’s safe to that say that it’s neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing but any combination of the two, and this approach can be applied not just to a single project but to an entire career.
Here are some examples of hybrid publishing:
- An author whose career started with traditionally published books decides to try self-publishing. From there, the author publishes some books traditionally and self-publishes others.
- An author who has self-published several books is picked up by a traditional publisher.
- An author might get a traditional book deal for print publishing but continue to self-publish e-books, retaining all digital rights and royalties.
These new hybrid models are changing the face of publishing. So what are the benefits?
Benefits of Hybrid Publishing
Publishers benefit from hybrid publishing because they can sign authors who have already self-published and established an audience. That’s a lower-risk investment for the publisher because they know the books will sell to existing readers and fans. Currently, every new author is a risk for a publishing house. There’s no way to tell which books will make the best-seller lists and which ones will bomb. Under this model, it’s less likely that a book or author will suffer low sales because there’s already an audience ready, willing, and able to buy.
When authors self-publish, they earn a larger percentage of royalties as long as they price their books accordingly. With Amazon Kindle, for example, if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, your royalties are 70%. That’s an awful lot compared to traditionally published authors, whose royalties are about 7-10% for a paperback and 25% for an e-book. Authors who have already published traditionally can leverage their existing audience by self-publishing a few books and enjoying larger royalties on their self-published titles.
Recently, breakout author Hugh Howey got a print publishing deal and was able to keep his digital rights, which means he will continue to collect larger royalties on his e-books (up to 70% for Kindle sales) than most traditionally published authors receive. The expense of printing, distribution, and storage is non-existent for e-books, so it makes sense for authors to keep a larger share of the royalties.
Is Hybrid Publishing the Future?
Think about the process of publishing a book by a new author from the publisher’s perspective: they have to hire a staff to read query letters, book excerpts, and full texts. They pay editors to review selected texts and decide whether they’re worth publishing. They pay a team of editors, cover designers, book layout designers, printers, and distributors, all with absolutely no way of knowing if the book will find its audience. From a business perspective, that’s a pretty risky model, especially when you consider the fact that most agents and editors admit they have no idea why some books make a splash while others sink to the bottom of the bargain bin.
There must be tremendous savings in paying someone to peruse self-published books online instead of using the traditional query process. Recruiters can sift through ratings and reviews, look at samples of texts, and determine the likely success they’ll enjoy with certain authors. Meanwhile, authors who self-publish are honing both their writing and marketing skills on a smaller stage, so if and when they’re picked up by a publisher, they have the proper experience to reach out to the broader audience that the publisher will expose them to. It’s a win-win.
Does it really make sense for publishers to continue footing the expense of publishing new authors? I don’t think so. Does it really make sense for authors to go through the grueling process of querying agents and editors when that time could be spent getting their books to market and building the foundation of a long-term career? Probably not.
Hybrid publishing offers authors and publishers the best of both worlds. By lowering the risk for publishers and raising the earnings potential for authors, it’s an ideal model.
If you’ve finished a book or are working on one, then you’re probably thinking about how to publish it. There are two obvious choices: self-publish or try to get it published by a traditional publisher.
There was a time when self-publishing was a last resort, a final attempt after an author had accumulated piles of rejections. In recent years, technology has made self-publishing easy and accessible. As a result, reams of authors have elected to self-publish without even bothering with traditional publishing.
The stigma of self-publishing has faded but many authors still diligently query agents and publishers, hoping to get their books published by traditional means.
The good news is that now authors have a choice. It’s no longer a matter of choosing the better option but choosing the option that is right for you.
There are many factors to consider in deciding between self-publishing or traditional publishing. Let’s look at the benefits of both forms of publishing.
Benefits of Self-Publishing
- Creative Control
- When you go with a traditional publisher, they gain certain rights to your book. Contracts vary but as an example, they’re going to decide what cover and title go on your book. I’ve heard from authors who hated their book covers and/or titles. If you get a great agent and editor or if you’re lucky enough to get a cover and title you like, this may not be a problem. Publishers also own printing and distribution rights for a specified amount of time. Under the self-publishing model, authors retain all rights and creative control of their work.
- Agents and publishers cost a lot of money. Everyone gets a cut from the editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout designers, distributors, etc… The list goes on and on. That means traditionally published books cost more, and that cost gets passed on to readers. The average self-published ebook novel is $2.99. Traditionally published: about $10-15.
- You’re sharing profits with everyone involved in producing your book, so you get a much smaller royalty. An average advance these days could be as low as $5000 and royalties are about 7-10% for a paperback and 25% for an ebook. When you self-publish, there’s no advance (in fact, you’ll incur some costs) but royalties are much higher. If you price your Kindle ebook at $2.99-9.99, the royalties are 70%. You set the price of your books, so you determine how much you make off each copy sold.
- I was sort of horrified years ago, when I learned that for most new authors, publishers don’t do a lot of marketing. You’re lucky if they send you on a book tour. Many traditionally published authors hire their own PR firms and marketing professionals and pay for these costs out of pocket. Again, this can vary depending on your contract but unless you have what they think is going to be a blockbuster (or if you’re already hugely successful), traditional publishers don’t usually invest a whole lot in marketing a new author. That’s not to say they won’t help with any marketing but from the authors I’ve heard from, when it comes to marketing, there’s not a lot of difference between traditional and self-publishing. Either way, most of the burden is on the author.
- After you finish writing your book, it can take months to get an agent (if you get one at all), and then it can take many more months to sell it to a publisher (if you sell it at all). From there, it’s usually about a year before the book hits stores. I’d say most authors wait 1-2 years (minimum) between finishing their book to seeing it in stores—and that’s if everything moves along on schedule. Some of that time is useful; you can start working on your next book and you can get your marketing plan going. Some authors don’t mind but others are frustrated, especially when that 1-2 years turns into 3-4 years or more.
- Up until a couple of years ago, agents and publishers acted as gatekeepers. They and they alone decided whose books got published. Some people say they prevented bad writing from hitting the market, but Harry Potter was rejected at least eight times, so they were obviously also preventing some good stuff from hitting the market. Lots of books that went on to be successful were originally rejected. What this tells us is that publishers don’t necessarily know what they’re doing when it comes to picking good or salable books. Also, and this is my personal opinion, I’ve come across some traditionally published books that I thought were terrible. Think about it: a book can get rejected because whoever read it that day was in a bad mood, didn’t like one of the characters, just read a similar story, or simply didn’t care for the tone, style, or voice.
Self-publishing has opened the gates and it’s true that a lot of low quality books have hit the market—poorly written manuscripts packed with typos and just plain bad storytelling (and awful covers). But readers are smart. They know how to read the first few pages, check the reviews, and filter the good stuff from the bad stuff.
Benefits of Traditional Publishing
- Even though they don’t always get it right, agents and publishers make a living choosing books that they think readers will embrace. Their job is to find the good stuff and get it to market. So traditionally published books do still have that extra stamp of validation and credibility. The question is: does the average reader check to see who published a book before they buy it?
- Editing, Design, and Formatting
- In the traditional publishing model, books go through several rounds of revisions as part of the deal whereas self-published authors take on the cost of hiring their own editors. The same is true for book covers: most self-published authors are not artists and have to hire someone to make the cover. As a rule, it’s fair to say that publishers know better than authors what cover or title a book needs. Some self-published authors also pay someone to format their books for print and electronic publishing. Many do it themselves (there are plenty of tutorials available online) but it’s pretty tedious work, especially if you’d rather be writing.
- Not only are publishers more experienced in the editing, design, and formatting steps in the book production process, they also have a team of professional editors and designers.
- Some authors, especially hugely successful authors, do get a marketing campaigns via traditional publishing. Marketing is half the work of selling books (the other half is writing them), so this is a crucial point: if your publisher helps considerably with marketing, it could save you a lot of time and money compared to self-publishing. But a marketing budget is not something new authors can count on. There may be downstream marketing disadvantages to self-publishing: for example, some reviewers who won’t look at self-published books and some bookstores won’t carry them.
- If you want to get your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores, it’s a lot harder when you self-publish. Traditional publishers already have a print-and-distribution system in place, so they’ll make sure your book is available wherever books are sold, online and offline. But if you self-publish, your books will primarily be available in the online space, which limits potential sales. Some self-published authors have successfully gotten their books into physical bookstores, but it requires a lot of legwork.
Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing?
Ultimately, each author has to decide which model is right for them. The decision between self-publishing or traditional publishing is fraught with considerations, mostly dealing with time and money. Are you in a hurry to get your book out? Self-publishing is going to be a lot quicker. Do you lack design skills and can’t afford to hire a cover designer? Traditional publishing would probably be a better option for you.
Have you ever published a book? Did you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing? Why? When you do publish a book, which model are you more likely to use?
Publishing used to be simple. A writer wrote a proposal or manuscript and then found an agent who was willing to represent the book. The agent shopped it around and sold it to a publisher. The writer received an advance and then the agent, publisher, and writer worked together until the book appeared in book stores about a year later.
That model hasn’t gone away. You can still find an agent to help you get published and you can still aim for selling your book to a publishing house, but technology has opened more doors for writers.
Terms get thrown around, like traditional publishing, legacy publishing, self-publishing, vanity publishing, and indie publishing. But what does it all mean? What’s the difference between self-publishing and indie publishing? Is there a difference? Why should we care?
Types of Publishing Companies
Most writers hope to eventually publish a book. While many writers already have their heart set on traditional publishing or have their minds made up to self-publish, it’s helpful to take a close look at all available options before making a final decision.
As a writer, the sooner you start studying the publishing process, the better, because the type of publishing you choose can affect how you write and what you do while writing. For example, if you decide to self-publish, you might want to start building your marketing platform months before your book is finished.
To get started, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the types of publishing companies that you can choose from. This isn’t an definitive guide; it’s meant as an overview to introduce various types of publishing companies and the options that are available to you as a writer.
Traditional publishing is exactly what it sounds like: the traditional way to publish books. Nonfiction writers submit a proposal (which often includes a few sample chapters) and fiction writers submit a manuscript to agents until they find one who is willing to represent them. The agent then sells the proposal or book to a publisher. Once the book is sold, the author receives an advance (sum of money). At this point, nonfiction writers write the rest of the book. Writers work through revisions with editors at the publishing house. The publisher handles the book cover, printing and formatting, and distribution. The publisher may also handle some marketing. Traditional publishers are also called commercial publishers.
Traditional publishing is sometimes called legacy publishing, a term that is slightly controversial because it has conflicting connotations. I’ve heard people describe legacy publishing as literary or highbrow, outdated and inefficient or dignified and respectable. I’d say the jury is still out on what legacy publishing implies, so my recommendation is to stick with the term traditional publishing for this model.
Further reading: Nine Reasons Authors Still Choose Traditional Publishing
Vanity publishing has a fairly bad reputation in the literary world. In this model, the writer pays to have a book published. Whereas traditional publishers pick and choose which books they send to market, vanity publishers don’t require an approval or editorial process. Whereas traditional publishers are in the business of selling books, vanity presses are in the business of printing books.
Some vanity presses may offer services in the areas of editing, formatting, and cover design. Vanity presses can be used for self-publishing; in this sense, the vanity press provides printing and binding. The author is responsible for all editing, design, distribution, and marketing. The bad rap comes from vanity presses presenting themselves in a somewhat misleading way, often making authors feel like their books are being published traditionally. Writers who are not knowledgeable about publishing have felt scammed by vanity presses. However, these publishers do have a role in our society. For example, many people use vanity presses to publish books of a personal nature, such as family trees and family bibles, works that would not be publicly distributed and would only have a small print run.
Futher reading: Where Publishing Gets Practical
Subsidy publishing falls somewhere between traditional and vanity publishers. Subsidy publishers enter a partnership with authors. Under this model, authors keep most (or all) rights and ownership of the work. Whereas traditional publishers pay authors an advance, in subsidy publishing, authors must make a financial investment in the cost of publishing. The publisher handles production and distribution and provides funding for sales and marketing. Authors start earning royalties immediately since the books don’t have to earn out an advance. It’s easier to get a subsidy publishing deal since these types of publishing companies aren’t as selective as traditional publishers. Whereas vanity presses earn profits from printing books, subsidy publishers (like traditional publishers) earn profits from book sales.
Further reading: Subsidy Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
With self-publishing, the publishing company is the writer. Self-published authors are solely responsible for writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, layout, distribution, and marketing. That’s not to say self-published writers do it alone. Self-published authors with business savvy know their own limitations and hire out different aspects of the production process. They may work with freelance editors and cover designers and will usually publish their books on platforms that include distribution. For example, Amazon provides print-on-demand publishing through Create Space and distributes e-books online. Authors are solely responsible for all publishing costs but also retain full creative control and all ownership and rights to the work.
Further reading: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (Joe Konrath is an advocate for ebooks and self-publishing; this site is packed with articles and information on self-publishing)
A Few More Terms You Should Know
There are a few other types of publishing companies and publishing-related terms that all writers should know:
Print-on-Demand Publishing: Once a book is completed, copies are printed as they are ordered.
Indie Publishing: Indie publishing has taken on two meanings. It can refer to a small press publisher or it can refer to self-publishing. I imagine that in the coming years, it will settle into one definition or the other, depending on how we all use it.
Small Presses: Most commercial publishers are big businesses or are owned by larger, corporate conglomerates. Small presses are small businesses that usually specialize in certain genres or topics and produce and distribute in smaller quantities than big publishing houses. Many small presses work directly with authors and don’t include agents in the process.
University Presses: These presses are nonprofit, usually print academic works, and are run by universities and colleges. They often publish literary magazines and journals as well as textbooks and creative works.
Publishing is an Evolving Business
The world of publishing is currently undergoing dramatic changes. The companies are changing and new models are emerging. There’s no telling what publishing will look like when the dust settles. In the meantime, we writers must do our best to stay informed about standards and trends so we can make the best decisions when the time comes to publish our own work.
One of the best ways to get published early in your writing career is to submit your work to literary magazines and journals.
There are publications for every form, genre, and style of writing, and most of these publications have fairly simple submission processes that you can complete online. Some are explicitly looking for young or new writers.
If you’re fiction writer, poet, or essayist, then these publications could be a great way for you start your career as a published author.
The Benefits of Getting Published in Literary Magazines and Journals
If you hope to build a career as a published author, starting with literary magazines and journals is a good way to prepare yourself for publishing books in the future. Even if you intend to eventually self-publish your work, something I suspect more and more writers are considering these days, starting with literary journals has some benefits.
- When you submit your work, you need to follow the publications’ guidelines, many of which force to polish your work and properly format your documents.
- Many publications require that you write a brief letter of introduction, similar to a cover letter, which builds your professionalism as a writer.
- You’ll probably have to include a personal bio, something all published authors need if they expect to establish a viable career.
- Your publication credits (also called clips) can boost your reputation and credibility among other writers, the publishing industry, and readers.
- All of these magazines and journals have readers, something you’ll need as a writer. By getting published in their pages, you are exposing your work to a broader readership. Some of these readers may become the first fans of your work.
- Through the process of submitting, you’ll (hopefully) read these magazines and journals. You’ll discover other writers. You may even develop relationships with your fellow writers or with the publications’ editors. In other words, it can be a networking opportunity.
- When your work gets rejected and you keep trying, it can strengthen your resolve and thicken your skin. The submission and rejection process is a test of your fortitude!
- When your work gets accepted and published, you’ll enjoy a sense of validation and acceptance.
- If you intend on building a career through traditional publishing, these publishing credits can help you land an agent or get your work read by editors at publishing houses.
How to Get Started
The first step is to find literary magazines and journals and familiarize yourself with them. You won’t find these publications in the checkout line at your local grocery store. You can find them in bookstores and of course, online. Here’s a comprehensive list with short descriptions and links to tons of publications.
Look for publications that accept work in your preferred form (poetry, fiction, nonfiction). Make sure that any publications you decide to target are a match to your genre. You wouldn’t want to send a science fiction story to a romance zine. Furthermore, you’ll want to read the publications for style and submit to the ones that are a good match to your style of writing. For example, some poetry journals prefer abstract while others prefer concrete. Do not randomly pick publications off a list and submit your work. You need to read through the publication, thoroughly. Chances are, if you are personally compelled by the work in the publication, it’s a good match for you.
If you do nothing else, read the submission guidelines carefully. This can’t be emphasized enough: make sure you review the guidelines carefully and follow the requirements to the letter. Failing to do so could mean a rejection that isn’t even based on the quality or substance of your writing!
Are You Ready to Get Published?
Getting your work published is not easy, but it’s well worth the effort. We’re writers, so we’d rather be writing. But the reality is that if we want our writing to be more than a hobby — if we want it to be a career, we have to learn to wear many hats, like marketing ourselves. Going through the submission process might feel like it’s taking us away from our writing, but it’s actually an integral step toward success.
If you’re ready to get serious about your writing, then check out these tips for submitting your writing, and then start looking for publications that are a good match for your poems, stories, and essays.
Have you ever submitted your work to a literary magazine or journal? Have you received a lot of rejections? Did you get published? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.
Your short story is finished. Your poem is polished. Your personal essay has been proofread. Now, you’re ready to submit your creative writing project for publication.
How do you do it? Where do you find the right publication? What materials should you send? Should you use email or snail mail? How long do you wait before following up? And what if your piece is rejected?
For many writers, the submission process is a big drag because it doesn’t involve writing, and let’s face it, most of us are in it for the creative writing.
But there’s more to being a writer than just writing, especially if you want your work to be read or if you want to make a living as a writer.
Tips for Submitting Your Creative Writing and Getting Published
If you approach the submission process strategically and professionally, you’ll increase the chances that your work will be accepted and published. Whether you’re submitting to agents or editors, here are some tips for submitting your work and getting published:
- Take some time to familiarize yourself with various agents, publishing houses, and publications in your genre. Send your creative writing to the ones that are a good fit for your work in terms of form, genre, and style.
- Use the library or visit a local, independent bookstore to get copies of print publications like literary journals. You can also try college bookstores. Peruse them in the aisles if you wish, but keep in mind that buying copies of these publications helps support them — and other writers.
- You’ll find submission guidelines on most agents’ and publications’ websites. Otherwise, they’ll be in the publication itself. Review the guidelines carefully as they contain instructions on how to submit your work. This is crucial because agents and publications have their own submission guidelines.
- Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. Agents and publications that are overwhelmed with submissions will toss out any that stray from the guidelines they’ve established.
- In some cases, the guidelines may refer to a style guide. If this is the case, you might need to buy a style guide and revise your work so it will be in accordance with the guidelines.
- Keep your query and cover letter succinct and professional. Same goes for a synopsis (if applicable). Don’t try any fancy antics to get agents’ or editors’ attention. They see gimmicks all the time.
- Once you’ve sent your submission, sit back and wait. Do not harass or annoy agents or editors by bombarding them with follow-ups.
- Many submission guidelines include information about how long it should take to receive a response. Once that allotment of time has passed, go ahead and send a single follow-up. Ask if they received your submission. Be professional.
- If there is no indication of how long it should take for you to receive a response, wait six weeks to three months before following up.
- If you receive an acceptance, great! If you receive a rejection, accept it graciously and get back to work. Don’t give up! If your rejection includes a critique or any helpful feedback, be grateful (most agents and editors don’t take time to provide feedback) and apply it to your future creative writing projects.
Ready, Set, Submit
Submitting your work is fun and a little bit scary. Hopefully you’ll get lucky, but remember that luck comes most frequently to those who have prepared for it with hard work. If your writing gets rejected, try again. Send the same piece to another agent or publication and keep producing fresh work.
Remember, creative writing is hard work. We writers have to wear many different hats. We must be artists, grammarians, and communicators. We require empathy and an understanding of the human psyche. We have to be publicists and marketing experts. And we have to become pros at submitting our work.
Otherwise it may never end up in readers’ hands.
Do you have any tips to add? Have you submitted your creative writing to agents or publications? Do you have any strategies for getting published? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
Today, I’m excited to announce a new category at Writing Forward: “Getting Published” will explore the many options available to writers who want to make their work available to the public.
We’ll look at different types of publishing, including self-publishing, traditional publishing, and publishing in literary journals and magazines. We’ll also explore digital and electronic publishing.
From its inception, Writing Forward‘s core focus has been on the craft of writing. I’ve avoided delving into the business side of writing, including submissions, marketing, and publishing, because craft must come first. All the business stuff comes later. However, it’s beneficial for young and new writers to start building an understanding of the business side of things, especially if they hope to become full-time, professional authors.
There are many exciting changes happening in the world of publishing, so the old rules and procedures don’t necessarily apply anymore, which means we all need to stay on top of what’s going on in publishing in terms of how new industry standards affect writers.
We’ll start our foray into the world of publishing with a simple look at the different publishing options available to writers.
Five Publishing Methods
1. Traditional (or Legacy) Publishing is when your book is published through an established publishing house or company, such as Knopf or Random House. Writers submit their work to literary agents first. An agent will then work to sell your book to a publisher (note: small press publishers may ask authors to submit directly instead of using an agent). Authors typically face a lot of rejection before landing an agent and again before the agent sells the book to a publishing house. Once the book is sold, it can be a year before it’s actually published. The author usually receives an advance (a chunk of money) when the book is sold then gets royalties once the book pays out (earns back the advance amount). The publisher may assist with or perform any of the following: editing, proofreading, book cover, distribution, book tours and other forms of marketing.
2. Self-Publishing is when you publish your own work. There are many available methods for self-publishing both electronically and in print. When you self-publish, you are not constrained by rejections, time limitations, or creative decisions imposed by second- and third-parties. You are in completely in control. You are also solely responsible for every element of publishing, including editing, proofreading, book cover, distribution, and all marketing. Whereas traditionally published authors share their profits with agents and publishing houses, self-published authors retain all revenues from their book sales.
3. Publishing in Literary Magazines and Journals is one of the most popular and best ways for young and new writers to get published. Literary magazines and journals exist electronically and in print and tend to publish short stories, poems, and essays. Some of them pay writers; others offer an issue of their publication or no compensation other than a writing credit. This method of publishing is ideal for writers who are starting out and trying to build a repertoire.
4. Print-on-Demand Publishing is a publishing method where copies of a book are printed as they are ordered. One of the drawbacks is that copies of the book do not sit on shelves, which is one way to attract new readers. On the other hand, there is no cost for printing thousands of books before they’re sold. Print-on-demand is mostly used by self-published authors.
5. Electronic and Digital Publishing is a publishing method where the work is published to an electronic platform. This includes ebooks (for Kindles and Nooks, for example) as well as anything published online (like the blog you’re reading right now). Electronic publishing has tremendous cost-saving benefits, which is why Kindle books are often a fraction of the cost of their print counterparts. Ebook publishing is undergoing tremendous growth and looks to be the future of publishing. Both traditional publishing houses and self-published authors typically publish work electronically.
Writing Comes First
If publishing is in your future, it’s important to remember that writing comes first. Before you can get published, you have to write something worth publishing. However, once you’re ready to think about getting published, there are a lot of options to consider. Will you go the traditional route or will you self-publish? Will you focus on electronic publishing or are you more concerned with getting copies of your book in bookstores? What’s in your publishing future?