From time to time people ask me about how to publish a book. I have over twenty years experience in selling books at the wholesale and retail levels. My first publishing exposure came forty years ago from my Uncle Joe who ran a company publishing cookbooks as fundraising items. I also have three books available through online booksellers. Here are some of the things I have learned.

We live in a time where anyone can publish a book and have it made available worldwide thanks to online sellers. Check out the book The Long Tail by Chris Anderson for an overview of shifts in contemporary sales models.

There are two major categories of publishing: Traditional and Self Publishing, with some options in between. All of the nontraditional options are generally classified as self publishing. Until recently self publishing was considered a synonym for vanity-publishing. A vanity publisher would print and bind a book for anyone willing to pay the price. The book would be limited to a few copies. These texts received little respect within the world of merit-published (traditional publishing) books. That scenario is still available. However, automation in formatting, designing, printing and binding books have been combined with new retail outlets to evolve self publishing into an effective, accessible and affordable channel of information. When you look at a title in an online catalog of a major book seller there is little or nothing that distinguishes a self published book from one presented by a major publishing house. Average sales of a self published book are fifty copies. There are exceptions to that rule, but that number may be useful when projecting costs.

The variables in the process are:

  • Who edits and proofreads the book?
  • Who designs and formats the book?
  • What type of binding and size of book do you want to do?
  • Who pays for the costs?
  • How is the book promoted and distributed?

Traditional Publishing

In this model a manuscript is sold to a publisher by an author that is represented by a literary agency. The publisher often pays the writer an advance against sales. The publisher’s decision is based on the market potential of the book and the writer’s experience. The publisher provides editing, design marketing and distribution support. The publisher covers all of the costs. Not all traditional publishers pay advances and very few of them will deal with a writer not represented by an agent.

Subsidy Publishing

This is the middle ground between traditional and self publishing. A subsidy publisher combines the experience and resources of traditional publisher with the flexibility of self publishing. Based on your needs, most of these publishers allow you to pick from a menu of services. A subsidy publisher may provide design and editing support and arrange to have the books printed and provide limited distribution support. The writer subsidizes the costs. There are no advance payments made to the author against future sales. You may print a specific number of copies in advance and then work on selling them or use a POD (print on demand) model where books are not printed until someone buys them. Pawpress published my first two books. Having their skills and experience at my disposal was a godsend to work through the twists and turns of publishing.

Self Publishing

This is similar to the Subsidy Publishing option with the exception that you do the editing and design work yourself. Many of the printing companies have distribution programs that will make your book available through online sources. The two largest self publishing companies are Lightening Source and Lulu. The primary difference is that at Lightening Source you pay upfront costs for producing the books, but the cost of each book is less. At Lulu there are no upfront costs, but each book costs more. I have two books at Lightening Source (through Pawpress) and one at Lulu. You may also want to explore the hundreds of other companies. One option is to find an Espresso Book Machine location.


Electronic publishing is only a small portion of the book industry today, but it is growing. Ebooks are readable on ereaders like the Kindle or Nook, mobile devices like smart phones and on computers. recently reported that their ebooks out sold hardbacks. Ebooks can be compared to hard copy books in the way MP3s are compared to CDs. An ebook can be done as a standalone book or as an addition to more traditional publishing. I chose to publish my newest book as an ebook and later went with a hard copy version based on demand. There are many companies that can publish your ebook. I chose Smashwords (see below) because of the services, distribution and absence of costs. You may want to also Read Why Publish an Ebook at the BizPress Women in Business Blog.

Introduction to Smashwords – Ebook Publishing and Distribution Made Easy

With any form of publishing, do your homework and read the fine print.

Research your options online; it can take days to sort through hundreds or thousands of links, but it is worth it.

Also go to the reference section of the library or bookstore and review the Writer’s Market, an annual guide to publishing resources.

The important thing is writing the book.

Don’t worry about the sales or how good it is until you are finished. Feel free to write a really bad first draft.

There will be plenty of time to edit, rewrite and proofread after the first draft is done.

Gather a small team that can help you read it with objective eyes.

Also, let everyone know what you are doing.

Start you promotional campaign long before the book is published.