Book publishing basics

By Mary J. Nickum
Publishing a book has become an increasingly challenging endeavor because there are now more choices. The Internet, and other online book sellers make marketing the book easier for anyone. If you’re considering writing and publishing a book for the first time, the following information is meant as a guide to help you make a decision when choosing a publication method.
Traditional Publishers
Tbook-publishinghese are the publishers that have been around for years and most of us recognize at least some of the names, such as Wiley, Knopf, McGraw-Hill, Simon & Schuster and many University Presses. These publishers have very specific subject interests and will only consider titles that fit within very structured guidelines.
If you decide to submit your book to one of these traditional publishers, you should first contact them via their Web site to obtain their authors’ guidelines. Next, almost invariably (unless you are a celebrity), you must submit a proposal. The book proposal is a detailed description of your idea, table of contents, two or three sample chapters, timeline for completion, your background and qualifications for writing on the particular subject and a marketing plan for selling you book. If your idea is to be considered, the publisher will respond to you, usually within six months. If they are not interested, they may not respond at all. This can be extremely frustrating.
At this point, many authors decide to find an agent to pitch their work to a publisher. An agent will require the same type of proposal and may be at least as hard to snare as a publisher. Agents do have more knowledge about the publishing world and individual publishers than most authors, especially new authors. They help negotiate contracts and work in the author’s favor in exchange for a percentage of the profits from the book.
If the agent wants to see more of your chapters, great! However, this is far from a publisher promising to buy your work or a publishing contract. Much more hard work is ahead, but, at least you have someone’s ear. At this point or even earlier, many authors look elsewhere to publish their work. The electronic age has provided many new alternatives.
Self-publishing as a business model is as all-American as it gets, but it carries a stigma in some people’s eyes. If you’re worried about how people will perceive your books, don’t use your family name as the publisher name or consider writing under a pen name. That’s literally the only difference between self-publishing and any other kind of publishing, at least as far as the public can tell. As is true for other self-employment ventures, you have to be honest with yourself about how hard you’re willing to work to start a publishing business and you have to be realistic about the probable outcome.
Small or Independent Publishers
What is the difference between a “small press” and an “independent press?” Many independent presses may also qualify as, but are not always, small presses. As a general rule, independent publishers are non-conglomerate, non-publicly listed publishers. As you can see from this, the demarcation line is blurred. The definition, in itself, is not that important. These publishers are often even more focused as to what subjects they will publish than traditional publishers. Being small, they publish fewer titles and therefore are more selective. These, of course, are generalities. To select a publisher, look at titles of books in the field in which you are writing in bookstores and libraries to see which publishers are active in your field. Most publishers have Web sites where you can find information about what they are looking for and how they require submissions to be presented.
Small or independent publishers may give you more immediate and personal attention than the large, traditional publishers. For some, royalties may even be higher. One reason for higher royalties is most use print-on-demand, publish-on-demand or share printers, all options that keep costs down. Storage and distribution costs are great for traditional publishers but nonexistent for print-on-demand publishers.
When publishing your book electronically your costs are incredibly low (relative to hardcopy publishing). You will need to get the software to create the eBook, but, depending on the software package you choose, you can even get that free of charge. Whether you sell or distribute 1,000 copies of your eBook or just one copy, your cost of producing the eBook remains the same fixed cost it took to produce the first copy. Actually, once you’ve purchased your software, you can produce any number of eBooks without incurring any additional cost.
No hassles with publishers accepting your work. You can say what you want, how you want. You can be your own publisher and distributor. It’s another form of self-publishing, but requires less investment and, perhaps, is more “socially” acceptable.
Here’s how:

  1. Get the software to create the electronic book.
  2. Write your book.
  3. Use the software to convert your document to the electronic book format.
  4. Make your eBook available from your Web site. Note that even if you wish to sell your eBook, you may want to have a few sample chapters from your eBook available freely to whet the appetites of your prospective customers.
  5. Publicize your eBook on social media including blogs.

In summary, book publishers of today are not your dad’s publisher. The Internet and all of the recent electronic capabilities have expanded the possibilities for publishing your book. You should examine all of the available avenues before deciding on the method best suited for getting your work into print. ◊
marynickumMary Nickum, of Fountain Hills, Ariz., has been an OWAA member since 2000. Her recent children’s chapter book, “Mom’s Story, A Child Learns About MS,” is available from and as well as her Web site: Contact her at


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