Today’s Publishing Options

Last week I wrote about “Publishing Then and Now.” This week I want to focus on “Now.” Writers nowadays, both published and pre-published, have three basic options. Writers can go with traditional publisher, print-on-demand publishers, or Independent self-publishing. Each choice has advantages and disadvantages.

First Option

Let’s assume you’ve written a fantastic book. If you decide you want it published by a traditional publisher. You may or may not need an agent. (Smaller publishing houses usually don’t require an agent; the Big Five do.) If you need an agent (or want one) and don’t have one, it may take you months to find one to represent your book. The agent may then ask for some changes in the book to make it, in the agent’s opinion, better. This can be good or bad but usually takes time. The agent is then going to submit the book to editors. This again can take time, but, hopefully, the agent will get you an offer with good perks and a large advance. (This is an advance on royalties that the publisher believes you’ll earn.)


  1. You have the reputation of the publishing house behind you.
  2. You receive money up front, money you don’t have to pay back if you don’t earn enough royalties to equal that advance.
  3. Your book is professionally edited
  4. Your cover is created by a professional with input from the publisher’s marketing department on what sells best.
  5. Your book is professionally formatted and printed.
  6. Your book is given wide distribution and is sent to major reviewers.
  7. Your book will be publicized. (But this might be minimal unless they see the book as a big money maker.)


  1. The publisher sets the price for all versions (printed, electronic, audio…) Decides if there will be any discounts and if bookstores can return unsold books.
  2. The publisher will probably ask for all rights (Foreign, audio, bookclub, movie, etc.)
  3. The marketing department doesn’t always know what sells and you may get a rotten cover and no publicity.
  4. Strikes, miscommunication, and other problems sometimes keep your books from being delivered as promised.
  5. Your book may only be on the shelf a short period of time before being discontinued, limiting the amount of time it may take for word to spread and sales to increase.
  6. You will only receive a small percentage of the earnings for your book. (25% for most e-books)
  7. Your contract might limit how many books you can publish each year under the same name or in the same genre and might have a “right of first refusal” option.
  8. Getting your rights back may be almost impossible.

Second Option

Print-on-Demand publishers are ones where you will pay up front for the services offered by the company. They usually have various “packages” with each package offering certain services (editing, formatting, cover design, distribution, etc) for different prices.


  1. You can get your book published quickly (no searching for an agent or publisher).
  2. You have more control over the cover design and what goes on the cover.
  3. The POD publisher takes care of formatting, the cover, printing and some distribution.
  4. You can pick the “package” you feel will work best for your book. Can focus distribution to certain areas or groups you feel would be most apt to buy your book.


  1. There are POD companies that are basically scams. (Be sure to check  Writers Beware)
  2. Read your contract carefully. Some POD publishers promise to edit and print your book, but you, the author, must buy X number of copies.
  3. You pay up front to get your book published and the publisher also takes a percentage of each copy sold.
  4. Some of these publishers do not have good reputations and booksellers may not do business with them.
  5. Reviewers may not review books published by some of these POD publisher.
  6. Distribution may be limited and you may have to pay for shipped books.

Third Option

Self-publishing/Indy Publishing is growing in popularity because YOU are the publisher. You will hire the editor (maybe 2 editors if you have one for line editing and one for content). You will hire a cover designer. You will either format the book yourself or hire someone. You will upload the e-book and will select a publisher for the printed book (CreateSpace or others.) You will either hire a publicist or will do the pr yourself.


  1. You are in control of how the book will be formatted, what the cover will look like, what will be on the cover, etc.
  2. You set the price for print, e-books, audio, and you can run discounts if and whenever you wish.
  3. You will receive a larger percentage of your book’s sales.
  4. Indy books are now being reviewed
  5. The only contracts you need to worry about are the ones you set up with those you hire.
  6. You maintain control of your rights.


  1. You have to pay for everything: editing, formatting, cover design, etc.
  2. You have to market the book, and that’s going to take a lot of time away from writing. And if you’re not good at marketing, you’ll hurt your sales.
  3. If you’re not already a known name, chances are your book will be lost amid the two million already on Amazon, BarnesandNoble, and others.
  4. If you want a review from the big name reviewers, you’re going to have to pay.

Finally, there is no one way that is right for everyone. The choice depends on the topic or genre of the book and how much you, the writer, want to do. It’s also a question of how much control are you willing to give up, and/or how much money you have available to pay for services? Choose wisely.

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16 Responses to Today’s Publishing Options

  1. So much information!
    Thanks for sharing, Maris.

    Good luck and God’s blessings

  2. Diane Burton says:

    Good post, Maris. Your lay out of the options, pros & cons, is right on target. I’ve done both–traditional (small press) and self-publishing. My preference is self. For small presses (and even big ones) you have to do the marketing. No getting around that. I can’t stress enough, though, that if you go the self-pub route, hire a professional editor and book cover artist. They are worth the money and you’ll have a professional book.

    • Maris Soule says:

      I totally agree, Diane. One advantage of hiring a cover artist is you can ask for a different design if you don’t like the one they come up with. I can’t tell you how many covers I had that I disliked. I’m sure a couple really hurt my sales.

  3. A clear, informative look at an author’s options for publication. A good balance of pros and cons. I have to say I prefer self-publishing to traditional for two reasons: higher royalties, more control. I also think authors have to do as much of their own marketing whether self- or traditionally published. I agree with Diane Burton that if you self-publish you still need professional editing. Nice post.

  4. Maris,

    An excellent article. You lay out the options pro and con honestly and thoroughly. There are no easy answers.

    • Maris Soule says:

      You’re right, Jacqueline. Each of us have to decide what will work best for us and for each book. There’s no golden wand that will take away the work or the risk.

  5. Melissa Keir says:

    Wonderful post but readers keep in mind that there are always unique situations to each of the choices. For example some of the Big 5 do require you to pay back advances. And if you go with self pubbing and a book store puts your book out but then returns it, you will have to pay the royalties back.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Good points, Melissa. I hadn’t heard of any traditional publisher requiring authors to pay back advances (except when the author pulls a book or does something to jeopardize sales), but I should have mentioned the part about self-published authors having to take on the burden of covering returns.

  6. Thank you for this thorough and helpful article. I’m saving the information. All the best, Annette

  7. Lucy Kubash says:

    Lots of good information. The best part is that there are more options for writers today, but we need to know the pros and cons. Thanks for laying them out.

  8. Excellent post Maris. Good evaluation of our options today. But next year, things may be different. The constant change and instability of the market wears me down. And as an Indy now, the marketing details are a battle. Writing a compelling story each time is my goal but how to do that when we’re expected to use all aspects of social media to market our books?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Mary, I agree with you. What I want to do is write…write a story others will enjoy, a story that I can be proud of. What I find myself doing is searching for ways to promote my work, learning new ways to make my books stand out from others, and paying others to promote my work. It’s expensive both in time and money and exhausting.