Publishing 101

Publishing is a complex and multifaceted industry. From the outside it can seem glamorous and sophisticated. However, at its core, publishing is much like any other business. There are numbers to crunch and quotas to meet. And though the end product is creatively-based, the ultimate goal is to sell that product. We’ve broken down the ins and outs of publishing you need to know. Let’s get started.

Traditional publishing

If you want to go the route of traditional publishing, first you will need to secure a literary agent as most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. If you are planning on submitting your manuscript directly to a publisher that does accept unsolicited manuscripts, as many romance publishers do, here are some tips:

  1. Research all publishers you are interested in before submitting your manuscript. 
  2. Know the brand and list (past publications) of the publisher. Make sure they have past experience publishing other books in your genre or relating to your subject. 
  3. Craft a succinct, compelling query letter to accompany your manuscript or book proposal when you send it and be sure to indicate why you have specifically picked that publisher to solicit.
  4. Anticipate rejection. Publishing is a tough industry and you have to have a thick skin to take the many rejections you’ll likely receive. 
  5. Lastly, perseverance is key. If being published is your dream, be prepared to fight for it. When your manuscript is rejected, try again. As Victor Hugo once said, “perseverance, secret of all triumphs.” 

In the event that your pitch is successful and the publisher is interested in your manuscript, the next step is the acquisition process. During the acquisition process contracts are negotiated and signed before the manuscript moves into editorial. Once your manuscript is in the editorial phase, editors work through several rounds of substantive and structural editing before sending the manuscript onto copyediting. Copyediting then checks the manuscript for style, consistency, grammar, and syntax.  

After copyediting is complete, the manuscript is typeset and sent to design. Designers read the manuscript early in the process to determine which layout, interior elements, and cover design best fit the tone of the book. The design elements are then approved by the editor and other key in-house colleagues before being finalized by the designers and sent to print. Simultaneously, sales, marketing, and publicity are making sales projections and strategizing how best to create buzz for the book leading up to publication and beyond. 



While it takes a village to make a book in traditional publishing, self-publishing relies entirely on the author. All of the elements that go into making a book—editing, design, print/digital production, and marketing—are costly and time consuming. Generally speaking, most authors have jobs other than writing and cannot afford the amount of attention needed to produce and promote their books. 

The cost of hiring someone to design the cover and the interior of a book (more than likely two designers since most freelancers specialize in one or the other) can be relatively affordable, depending on the quality desired by the author. But is investing money in a book prior to publication a smart investment? In her article, “Many authors’ earnings fall below $500pa, survey finds,” which appeared in The Guardian on January 23, 2015, Alison Flood writes that most independent authors earn less than $3000 annually from their writing. 

Marketing and publicity are huge jobs within the traditional sphere of publishing and a considerable  amount of time is invested into launching a book. Unless a self-published author is looking to hire a publicist, it will take a significant amount of time for an author to execute a good marketing and publicity plan for their book. A good marketing plan generally includes: regular posting on multiple social media platforms, google ad words and search engine optimization, promotional tie-ins with other blogs/sites, and advertising.  Although there are many resources available to independent authors, they typically come at a personal expense to the author upfront. Some authors may be willing to invest in their work upfront, but is the investment worthwhile if it results in a personal loss? In traditional publishing, the house eats the loss. In self-publishing, the loss falls to the author. 

Yet despite the financial risk, self-published authors get complete creative control over their work throughout the entire process. Independent authors also retain all profits minus the cut online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble take for providing a sales platform for self-published titles. Self-publishing is not always a lucrative venture, but it can be profitable for some individuals. For authors who are simply seeking publication, but don’t want to deal with the potential for rejection or the many steps involved in the traditional publishing process, self-publishing can be a great alternative. And although the average self-published book does not make much initially, if authors are persistent and diversify by producing more titles, the numbers can go up.


Hybrid Publishing

Hybrid publishing is a lot like traditional publishing in that hybrid publishers provide editorial, distribution, promotional, and sales services to contracted authors. However, because hybrid publishers tend to be small, independent presses, they typically work more one-on-one with their authors, collaborating on everything from cover design to publicity. This process enables authors to have more creative control over their work.

In conclusion, if you are looking to become a published author, there are many avenues to explore. Knowing your goals as an author and the audience you want to reach is a great place to start when figuring out which path is the right one for you.


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