Traditional Publishing: To be traditionally published, the author finishes the manuscript, writes a query letter or a proposal for the manuscript, and submits it to a publishing house (or you can have a literary agent do this for you, if you can find one). The proposal goes into what’s called the slushpile, where it often sits with hundreds of other manuscripts for months before an editor reads it, considers whether it’s right for the house, and decides either to reject it or publish it. If you hire a literary agent, the proposal goes into their personal slushpile before they decide to work with you. Traditional publishers often choose proposals from literary agents rather than authors themselves, so it’s best to have a literary agent, but this extra step does mean more time. If the house decides to publish the book, the house buys the rights from the writer (the literary agent would take a cut, if you have one) and pays him or her an advance on future royalties. The house puts up the money to design and package the book, prints as many copies of the book as it thinks will sell, markets the book, and finally distributes the finished book to the public. This is the best deal for the author, but it’s also the most time consuming and least guaranteed way to get published due to the high volume of authors who are trying to get noticed by a small amount of traditional publishing houses.

Independent or Indie Publishing: An independent publisher is a small press not affiliated with a traditional publishing house with annual sales that are much less than traditional houses. Independent publishers typically publish less than 10 titles in a year, although they typically make up half of the publishing industry market. Many indie publishers rely on a specialization in fiction, poetry, or niche non-fiction markets. To be published with an indie publisher, the author can submit a proposal with or without a literary agent (one is not usually needed), and the publisher will determine whether or not to work with the author. Once a contract with the author is agreed upon, indie publishers will provide editing, interior and cover design, printing, distribution, and marketing. They also pay royalties to the author for being allowed to sell the book. Indie publishers own the copies they have printed, but they usually do not own the copyright to the book itself.

A few things to note: indie publishers are not just printers. They do not require a minimum purchase of copies by the author, and they make profits by selling books to consumers rather than selling services to authors or selling a small number of copies. Bee Creative, Inc., is an indie publisher, but I do things a bit differently. A large number of sales with an indie publisher will attract the attention of a traditional publisher (in much the same way as a literary agent), and since the author retains control of the copyright, he can choose to move to a traditional publisher.

Self-Publishing: An author who decides to self-publish basically becomes the publisher. The author must handle the editing and creation of the interior design and cover himself, providing the funds required to publish the book. The author is also responsible for finding a way to print the book (or convert it to an ebook), in addition to distributing it, fulfilling orders, and marketing it. Most authors choose a service to help them accomplish these tasks, such as Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords, Xlibris, etc., which offer packages that can include editing, interior and cover design, ebook conversion, printing, distribution, and marketing. But the issue is the quality of self-publishing can often be very poor and the amount authors pay to self-publish and take advantage of all these services can be high. In addition, authors who don’t have experience with self-publishing don’t always know what to look for in a good self-publishing package or service provider. However, the upside is that the author retains complete creative control over the book, the copyright, and can sell the book in whatever way he chooses. And if an author gets a good deal with a self-publishing service and manages to sell a lot of copies, he can be picked up for a contract with a traditional publishing house. However, self-publishing is a full-time job for the author because all the burden of book production, marketing, and sales rests on his shoulders.

Book Production Terms and Definitions

Here are some terms authors need to know before choosing a method of publishing. If you’re going with an indie publisher or self-publishing, these will be especially helpful.

Helpful Websites and Articles I Think Authors Should Read

Bowker, your ISBN purchasing resource.

The US Copyright Office, the only way to copyright your work.

BISG, or Book Industry Study Group, helps you establish a genre and category for your book.

An article by PBS about the real costs of self-publishing.

An article by Hugh Howey about the reality of author royalties.

An article by Patrick Wensink about publishing on Amazon.

Book production: This refers to the process of obtaining an ISBN, PCIP, copyright and copyright page; editing the manuscript; providing it a cover and interior layout; converting it into an ebook (if you’re making an ebook); and printing. Traditional, indie, and self-publishing all handle book production differently, but the following elements listed below are what goes into the process of making a manuscript into a book:

ISBN: Stands for International Standard Book number. It’s a 9 or 13-digit number assigned by Bowker to your book that identifies it for catalogers and retailers for sale. You need an ISBN for every version of the book you sell, including ebooks. 

PCIP: Stands for Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication. It’s a cataloging block of text created at the request of a publisher (me). PCIP gives librarians and retailers information needed to quickly add a record for the book to the database or card catalog. It makes your book easier to categorize and find by retailers and librarians.

Copyright and Copyright Page: Just before your book is ready to print, you’ll need to file a copyright with the US Copyright office to make sure that your work is not infringed upon by others. The copyright information includes the year of your copyright, information about your book, where it’s printed, who it’s published by, the edition of print, and categories/genres it fits into for retailers and librarians.

Ghostwriting: Creates a new manuscript or parts of a manuscript on the basis of content and research supplied by author. Includes any additional research and also writing original material.

Editing: This is divided into two steps:

-Developmental Editing: Takes a manuscript from proposal form or rough draft to final manuscript. When developmentally editing a book, I measure the effectiveness of the following elements and coach authors to improve the title of work, story arc and plot, style and tone, organization, character development, dialogue, and consistency of genre.

-Copy Editing: Includes evaluation and correction of the following items within a manuscript: grammar, usage, spelling/typos, punctuation, mechanics of style, internal consistency of facts/anachronisms, and system of citations.

Cover: The front image for the book; this is created by a designer in Photoshop and is used to market the book by retailers.

Layout: The interior of the book; this is created by a designer in InDesign and includes layout of the pages along with any photos or graphics.

Backmatter/Promotional Copy: The text on the back of the book or the dust jacket that acts as a synopsis or hook for readers and also for retailers to promote sales.

Distribution: The process by which your book is taken from a publisher to a customer. This is a behind-the-scenes process that works like this, for example: Customer orders book on Amazon > Amazon informs publisher/printer of order > printer produces order and ships to Amazon > Amazon sends order to customer. I promise this is way faster than it sounds.

Retailers: Any business entity that sells your book. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, independent bookstores, etc., are all considered retailers. Amazon is the only entity that functions as both a retailer and a distributor via its CreateSpace program.

Marketing: Methods used to inform the public about your book. This can include blogging, giveaways, book signings, webinars, and pumping up your social media and web presence.