Once upon a time, the only option to publish a novel was what we now refer to as ‘traditional publishing’. You write your novel, and you take it to a publisher. They give you a nice fat advance, publish your book for you, and then the royalties roll in. Right?
Whilst I doubt the monetary part was the same for every author, it’s certainly true that traditional publishing represented the only way to get a novel published for many, many years.
These days, it’s one option in many. The main publishing choices are:
- Traditional publishing (agented/non-agented)
- Small press publishing
- Vanity publishing
- Hybrid publishing – a mixture of the above for different books.
Traditional publishers these days generally don’t accept manuscripts unless they come through an agent. It’s not definitive – but do check their websites. If you send a manuscript to a publisher who doesn’t accept them, it’ll go straight in the bin.
These are the publishers most likely to give an advance (although it may not be large), and will provide most of the services an author requires – editing, cover, proof-reading etc. Marketing may or may not be provided, or may be provided up to certain limits. I understand that most traditional publishers these days require authors to have, at the least, some social media and internet presence.
Many traditional publishers are looking for books that will be bestsellers, rather than anything risky. You may have a short window of opportunity over a low number of books to prove that you can sell. The better you sell, the more of their attention and budget you will get.
Small press publishing
Small presses often take unagented submissions, but they will be less likely to provide advances and they will have lower budgets in terms of the services they offer. The author will probably be expected to do a certain proportion of their own marketing.
However, they are more likely to take opportunities that may not fit directly with mainstream markets. They will be open to diversity (for example, sub-genres, LGBT/POC works), and they can cater for niche markets. They are more likely to take creative risks because they don’t have the huge financial outlay of the big publishers. Although this may mean lower payments and smaller print runs.
If you are writing short story collections, novellas or anthologies, a small press may be a good place to try, although you will need to do your research.
Small presses may also give you a few books to find your feet whereas a mainstream publisher is more likely to push a debut to see if it sinks or swims.
They can also have greater deadline flexibility and a more personal approach. If you struggle with your health or pressure, it can be a more supportive environment
The downside of small presses is that their budgets and finances may not be as flexible. Amazon are not kind to small presses (I have that from the horse’s mouth – the owner of a small press in my town) and they are more likely to struggle financially, particularly in an uncertain economy. If you get a small press contract, bear that in mind when you are reviewing it.
Self-publishing is the ‘do everything yourself’ option. You pay for everything. You choose what services you pay for. And any money you recoup (subject to Amazon royalty payments etc) is yours to keep.
If you like to control things, are impatient, love to learn how to do new things, and have a decent head for business, self-publishing is worth considering. (Yes, I’ve just described myself there!)
But all the marketing falls on you, all the editing, all the design, all the business side of things.
This is a niche option that used to mean you paid someone an awful lot of money to publish your book. And for the next ten years, you had 1,000 copies sitting in the garage.
That is no longer the case. Many outfits out there will offer different kinds of publishing services that fit this category. If you write a family history book, or a book on local walks – something of interest to a limited market of people, it may be worth your while investing some money in a publisher like this. The will simply produce a limited print run of the number of books you require.
Not all authors stay with one publisher for all their contracts. Small presses may publish novellas for authors already published by large traditional publishers. A self-publisher may decide to try a small press to get a bit more support.
These days, no type of publishing comes out as a winner. Look at what you want, and decide on the best way to achieve it. Assess the process as you continue to produce books, and change your method if needed. Whatever you need, the option is out there.
Note: part of this post was based on the panel ‘SF&F on the Margins’ at BristolCon2016