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So you’ve written (or started writing) your book. What do you do next?

This is one of the top questions I get when people find out I’m in the book publishing business. The answer depends on a few factors, including what your goals are for the book, what kind of resources you have, and who your primary audience is. We’ll look at these factors, but first, an overview of the two primary publishing models.

Traditional Publishing

In this model, the publisher pays for all the editing, design, production, distribution, and marketing of the book, and hence is taking all the financial risk. The author may be offered money up front by the publisher (called an advance) for granting the publisher the right to publish the book, and the author later receives royalties from the publisher as the books are sold. Most larger traditional publishers (like Thomas Nelson or Random House) do not take unsolicited manuscripts; that means the writer needs to find a literary agent to represent him or her first. The majority of the books you find in bookstores are traditionally published books.

Self Publishing

Authors going this route are either paying an author services business (like Xulon or Amazon’s Create Space) a package price to handle all editing, design, production, distribution, and possibly marketing, or they are performing all these tasks themselves or subcontracting one or more of the functions out to others. But generally, the self-published author is taking the financial risk rather than the publisher.

How to decide which path is best for you

Either route can work well. To figure out which is best for your particular book, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who am I trying to reach with my writing (my target market) and where will my target market be looking for the information/story I’ve written? If your target readers only buy from bookstores, you’ll want to pursue traditional publishing. If your target readers purchase most of their books online, either model can work. If you expect most of your books would be purchased by people attending events where you speak, self-publishing may be the most profitable for you.
  2. Will it matter to my target market who the publisher of my book is? In some genres, like certain scientific or educational markets, you will have more credibility if you are published traditionally. Most readers do not pay much attention to who the publisher of a book is, as long as the book seems professionally edited, designed, and produced.
  3. How long am I prepared to wait before it is available to the public? Self-publishing usually has a much shorter timeline of getting the book to market, especially if going direct to ebook. Traditional publishing can take a year or two once the author has a contract, and that’s often after one or more years of manuscript submissions to agents. Self-publishing via ebooks or print-on-demand can be done well in a matter of weeks, depending on the readiness of the manuscript.
  4. Do I have the financial resources to hire an author services business, or do I have the skills to do a good job myself (for at least some of the publishing steps)? The costs for self-publishing vary, but basic print and ebook publishing with distribution runs from around $1,000 to upward of $5,000-$10,000 for those who write children’s books and need illustration services. But you may know people in your ministry or organization with at least some of the skills needed, and they may be willing to help you, or barter for services, or charge less than a typical service would.
  5. How much control do you want of the finished product? Self-publishing offers the most control of the editing, design, pricing, and marketing of the book, but also can result in a poor product if all parts of the process are not reviewed by an experienced publishing professional. And if you have non-traditional pricing ideas in mind (like offering free or ultra-low-cost books for missions, ministries, or fundraising purposes), self-publishing is the way to go.
Regardless of your publishing path

Books sell because people find out about them. Unless you already have a significant following, you will need to grow a base of readers and fans that will buy your book. Even traditional publishers rely heavily on authors’ efforts to market their own books, and often will not extend a contract to anyone who does not already have a large platform. So start today to expand your following. Lots of great resources show you how; one I recommend is Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson, one of the largest Christian book publishing companies.

More resources

No matter which publishing path you are considering, sign up for our mailing list (at right) and receive “Publishing Resources for Writers,” a free guide that includes some indispensable books on these topics as well as a few services to investigate. And take the next steps on your journey.