Once a manuscript is completed, usually as a Word document or PDF or both, the next question is “What publishing platform should I choose?”
Many writers dream of traditional publishing. They envision a big enough advance that’ll give them at least a small monthly stipend while they write their book. They imagine the prestige and sense of “you made it,” that comes with a traditional publishing deal with a well-recognized publisher.
But for most writers, traditional publishing is not a realistic option. It is an unlikely option for a relatively unknown writer; takes a long time to get published; advances from small publishers even if you get an offer are miniscule; publishers do little to market and promote you unless you are already famous; and you may be expected to contribute towards your book’s publication with many publishers.
So that leaves the various self-publishing platforms -- primarily CreateSpace or IngramSpark for print books; Kindle or IngramSpark for e-books; and ACX or other audio producers for audiobooks. Or call it independent publishing, where you create an identity as a small publisher -- and you publish yourself.
To help you decide what to do, here’s a more detailed look at the various publishing options.
Saying No to Traditional Publishing
Sometimes writers still hold out a hope of traditional publishing. But this is unrealistic for most writers for several reasons:
- Traditional publishers and agents typically want an author who already is famous or has a large following as a speaker or through a social media platform. So unless you have a great novel that is so powerful and unique it speaks for itself, you are unlikely to get a publishing deal with any major publisher or publishing imprint. This is especially true if you are writing in the more popular and competitive genres today -- self-help, popular business, and memoirs.
- You might still get an offer from a smaller publisher, but then you are likely to get a very small advance -- about $1000-2000. Or you may be offered a co-publishing or hybrid publishing deal, which can work if you can come up with $5000-10,000, sometimes more. Then, the publisher can help by marketing your book through its distribution network, sending information about your book to trade publications and reviewers, and including your book in its catalog. But often small or hybrid publishers don’t do much with additional marketing and publicity. So sales are likely to be small, unless you do a lot of the publicity yourself.
- Your book won’t come out for a year or two -- commonly in about 18 months. So if you want a book to build your credibility and help you get speaking engagements or more customers or clients, you won’t have your book to help you now.
- If you later become unhappy that the publisher isn’t doing enough for you, you will be locked into an agreement for that book, and you may have to pay the publisher to get out of it, or write another book.
- Unless you have written or revised the contract to permit you to have control over audio rights or dramatic rights, you won’t be able to turn your book into an audio book, develop videos for courses based on your book, or negotiate the rights to a film based on your book.
- The publisher will have control over your book, which can be fine if you have a major publisher that will back up your book with a big campaign. But with a smaller publisher, you still have to give up control, which might become a problem if you disagree with some of the publishing decisions, such as for the cover, title, and positioning. You might have the right to provide some input, but after that, the publisher has the right to decide what to do, even if you have gotten no or very little advance.
- You commonly have to write a longer books, such as for 250-350 pages, and you may not have the time, interest, or information to write that much. But traditional publishers generally don’t want smaller books, since they can’t charge enough for them to make a sufficient profit.
Using Self-Publishing to Build Your Platform to Get a Traditional Publishing Deal
Thus, given the problems that can occur with traditional publishing, a good strategy which many writers use is to self-publish -- or independently publish -- a shorter book now -- say 50-150 pages. Then, they use that to build their platform -- essentially by increasing their following and media presence, so after a year or two of platform building, they can go to a traditional publisher or agent, who may feel they finally have enough of a platform to take a chance on their book.
But if you do seek out a traditional publisher at this stage, the key to success is not to pitch your original book, unless you have a large sales track record, say at least 5000 or more in sales in a year. Otherwise, if you have only a small number of sales, most publishers and agents will consider that book dead in the water. Instead, you can pursue one of these two strategies, which I and many authors have done successfully.
1) You pitch what you have already written as a small section of the larger manuscript, and you point out in your proposal that you have used this mini-book to help you build your audience through speaking, the social media, and other methods. For example, I did this in selling The Battle Against Internet Book Piracy to Allworth Press, which published it as Internet Book Piracy.
2) You pitch your complete manuscript as a new manuscript, which is a follow-up or sequel to what you previously wrote. And in this case, you revise what you previously wrote, so it is an updated section of the new manuscript. Then, as above, you explain you have written this first book to build your platform. For example, I sold Lies and Liars: Why and How Sociopaths Lie and How to Detect and Deal with Them to Sourcebook, based on using this approach, after I had written The Truth About Lying.
If you still are set on trying to find a traditional publisher, even after publishing a book, you need a proposal for a non-fiction book. This proposal consists of about 15 pages, with an overview and sections on the appeal of the book, the market and competition, your past publicity and media presence, your plans to promote the book, your author’s bio, and a chapter by chapter outline, plus an introduction and chapter or two of your proposed book. Figure on about 25-40 more pages for your sample chapters. Or for a novel, you need a synopsis and the completed manuscript.
Deciding on How to Publish a Longer Book - One Book or More
Alternatively, if you have your completed manuscript ready to go, the next decision is whether to publish it as a single book, if it is a long book of over 150 pages, or break it into smaller books.
If it makes sense, you can divide a longer book into two or three shorter books and publish those separately, rather than combining those two or three parts into the complete book. This divide and conquer approach works well for a self-help or how to business book, where each part of the larger book becomes a stand-alone book. I’ve done this myself with several books, such has The Complete Guide to Email Marketing, Make More Money with Your Book, Make More Money with Your Product or Service, and What’s Your Dog Type? In this case, each smaller book has the full title, plus a subtitle that begins Part I, Part II, and so forth. Or I have come up with titles for the smaller books, such as Discovering Your Dog Type, Getting Help from Your Dogs, Getting Even More Help from Your Dogs, and Using the Dog Type System in Your Everyday Life.
You can then publish the smaller books as you complete them or publish all of these books at the same time. Once all of the books are complete, you can publish all of the parts together as a single book -- which is a bargain for a reader who wants to get all of the parts, so the cost is now about $20 to $25 for a 350 page book instead of about $10 a book for each of eight parts. But then the cost is only about $10 for someone who just wants to read one section.
So now you are ready to publish and ready to decide which of the self-publishing platforms are best for you. That’s what I’ll describe next.