You wrote a book, and now it’s time to find a book publisher…
Where do you start? With the big 5 publishers? With an indie publisher? What about self-publishing?
If you're an author looking to get your book out into the world, it's natural that you might have some questions about book publishers.
The good news is that you have a ton of options when it comes to book publishing companies.
The bad news is that there are so many options in today’s publishing world, it can be difficult to choose your path.
We’ve gathered together everything you need to decide if a book publisher is the right option for your next manuscript.
In addition, we’ll be addressing common questions that pop up when considering traditional publishing vs self-publishing a book, such as…
Is a traditional book publisher still the best way to find an audience for your writing? Are there any downsides to publishers that you should know about? And what about alternatives to the traditional publishing model?
While a traditional publisher might have a certain level of prestige and credibility associated with it, there are also plenty of drawbacks that might not be obvious at first glance.
Don’t blindly assume that the traditional publishing model is the right way forward. Instead, read on to get a full understanding of what traditional publishing entails, why it might not be the best option for your book, and alternative pathways to pursue instead.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide to book publishers:
- What Are Book Publishers?
- How Do Book Publishers Work?
- Working With a Book Publishing Company
- The Pros and Cons of Traditional Book Publishers
- Traditional VS Hybrid VS Self-Publishing
- What Do Book Publishers Look For?
- Book Publishing Company Directory [LIST]
- Are You Ready to Publish Your Book?
What Is A Book Publisher?
A book publisher is a company that transforms an author’s manuscript into an actual book, including print and eBooks.
Book publishers can either buy or commission an author’s written work, and oversee the book publication process.
In today's publishing industry, there are several ways to become an author – and whether you're writing a nonfiction book or learning how to write a novel, publishing a book is no longer a far-off dream.
Related: How to Publish A Book
The definition of a book publisher can vary depending on the type of publishing:
- In traditional publishing, the book publisher often owns the rights to an author’s work, and completely oversees the book production process.
- In hybrid publishing, the book publisher often provides publishing services to the author, such as editing, cover design, book printing, and more.
- In self-publishing, the author is the one that is considered the book publisher. However, self-published authors hire professionals for publishing services, such as editing, cover design, printing, and more.
How Do Book Publishers Work?
Before the self-publishing revolution opened up access to the world of books, there were only two ways to get your writing out there.
The first way was to get noticed by a traditional publisher. This required authors to get their book on the radar of the elitist companies that used to dictate what did or did not make it to market.
The second was known as vanity publishing. This involved authors paying money upfront to get their book printed.
Of the two, traditional publishing was seen as the only respectable option. If you had your book picked up by a traditional publisher, you’d truly made it as an author. At least, that’s what many people thought.
But was traditional publishing all it was made out to be? When you dig deeper into the business model of an old-school publisher, you soon see it's flawed.
When a traditional publisher chooses to publish an author’s work, they are taking on a lot of risk. How so? First, the author is paid an advance. This is an amount of money paid by a publisher to an author in exchange for the right to publish their book. Second, the publisher shoulders all the costs of production and publicity. The cost of physically producing a book and promoting it soon adds up.
When a publishing company agrees to publish an author's work, they are effectively making a bet. They are betting that they will be able to recoup the costs of their investment and turn a profit through book sales. As you can imagine, this leads to publishing companies picking up books that are seen as safe bets. Books that are likely to have mainstream appeal.
While on the one hand, this makes sense from a commercial point of view, on the other, it stifles creativity and uniqueness. If a book is seen as risky or different, it is unlikely to garner the attention of a traditional publisher.
Now that you have a basic understanding of how the traditional publishing model works, let’s consider its advantages and disadvantages from an author’s perspective.
Working With a Book Publishing Company
Although most authors will never work with a traditional book publisher, for those that do, the following stages typically occur:
- Editorial changes. The editorial phase of working with a book publisher delights and frustrates authors in equal measure. When it works well, the editorial team will help your book become its best self. When it works badly, you end up resenting the changes imposed upon your original creative vision.
- Book design. As a traditionally published author, your book publisher will handle cover design and typography. While this results in a professional product, it also provides less freedom than is the case in self-publishing.
- Marketing analysis. This stage involves calculating sales expectations for your book in various regions and other ways of determining its financial outlook. Some books are dropped at this stage!
- Book printing. The physical production of your book. This used to be a great reason to work with a traditional publisher. Nowadays, excellent books can be created on a print on demand basis, cutting out the need for a publisher.
- Book distribution. Once your book has been printed, a traditional publisher will help get it into stores. Again, distribution is something self-publishers are more than capable of, although if you want to be stocked in brick and mortar stores it might be easier to have a traditional publisher in your corner.
The Pros and Cons of Traditional Book Publishers
Like anything in the creative realm, traditional book publishing is neither entirely good nor bad. Anyone who says otherwise probably has an agenda.
In reality, there are positives and negatives to traditional book publishing. It’s important not to form a viewpoint on book publishers before weighing these up. After all, a pro for one author might be a con for another.
So, what do you need to know about the positive and negative sides of traditional book publishers?
- Prestige. Whether we like to admit it or not, as authors, we’re creatures of ego. At least most of us are. There’s something that feels good about having our work validated by other people. And who better to give us the literary thumbs up than a book publisher? There’s no denying that getting on the radar of a major publisher gives you a certain set of bragging rights you wouldn’t otherwise have.
- Advance. The advance payment authors receive from a book publisher in the traditional model is a large part of its appeal. This takes the form of a lump sum payment that authors get when a publishing company agrees to take on their book. What many authors don’t know is this amount must be paid back through book sales, and the time from advance payment to publication is often lengthy.
- Connections. One of the major plus points to a traditional book publisher is the connections they provide. It's a lot easier to get your book into stores if you have a major publisher backing it. Traditional publishers also have a lot of names in their Rolodex when it comes to promoting and publicizing your book.
- Support. While self-publishing doesn't mean you have to do everything on your own, it requires you to take a lot more on your shoulders than traditional publishing does. If you shy away from the thought of marketing your book, you might find traditional publishing appealing. Authors will typically get a team of people to help their book find its feet.
We don't deny there is a range of benefits that come with working with a traditional book publisher.
But they are only one side of the story! To get a balanced picture, let's consider the downsides.
- Lack of control. As an author, creativity runs deep in your veins. But when you sign up with a book publisher, you might find your creative freedom is stifled. You're subject to the judgment of their editors. The book cover chosen for your work might not be to your liking, What's worse? There's nothing you can do about it. Once you've signed with a book publisher, it's very tricky to get out!
- Slow process. We live in an era of speed and convenience. However, it might not feel like it if your book is picked up by a traditional publisher. The entire process is incredibly slow and many authors find this frustrating. Also, a book publisher will only publish your books every so often. If you want to publish more frequently, and at a pace that suits you, traditional book publishers should be avoided.
- Lack of diversity. The lack of diversity in traditional publishing isn’t a secret. Many authors have felt frustrated by the tightly knit network of publishers who tend to have a similar background and demographic makeup. For example, 79% of the book industry is white. More children’s books are released that feature animal characters than people of color. This becomes a self-perpetuating cycle as book publishers gravitate towards white privileged authors.
- Elitism. Aside from race, book publishing is an elitist industry in many other ways. Disabled people and women are vastly underrepresented. Many publishers rely on a small number of agents to find new authors. The result is frustration and difficulty for outsiders to get a foot in the door. This limits the diversity of publishing.
- Failure rate. Many authors have the romanticized view that once you've been picked up by a traditional publisher, you've made it. That's far from the case. Of the small percentage of authors who get their work picked up by a publisher, a small number go on to succeed. Many authors fail to pay back their advance and don't even get picked up for a second book.
As you can see, traditional book publishing is far from a land of milk and honey. It’s an elitist, prejudiced industry that might pay off for a small number of authors, but is far from enjoyable or profitable for the vast majority.
Thankfully, the days of having to rely on a traditional publisher to make your book a reality are long gone. You now have an abundance of ways to get your book into the hands of readers without the permission of a traditional book publisher gatekeeper.
Let’s look at some alternatives to traditional book publishing.
Traditional Publishing VS Hybrid Publishing VS Self-Publishing
One of the biggest disruptions to the publishing world was the rise of self-publishing.
Originally, self-publishing had a less than desirable image. Many people confused it with vanity publishing. Also, a lot of self-published authors didn’t do the industry any favors. A lot of self-published books came complete with editorial errors, amateurish book covers, and other signs of low quality that simply wouldn’t happen with a traditionally published book.
However, slowly but surely, self-publishing is shaking off its former image. If you’re in any doubt about its desirability, you only need to look at the many traditionally published authors who now choose to self-publish and espouse the benefits.
If you’re unsure about self-publishing and hybrid publishing, and how these models compare to a traditional book publisher, read on for a brief insight.
What is self-publishing?
Self-publishing simply refers to the model of book publishing that gives the author the maximum level of control and creative freedom.
When you choose to self-publish, you take full responsibility for every aspect of your book. It’s on you to find an editor, get a book cover designed, and market and sell your work.
Of course, self-published authors can outsource any part of the process they wish to. Just because you're a self-publisher, it doesn't mean you have to do it all.
Given the amount of work and responsibility that comes with self-publishing, what are the positives? Does self-publishing have any advantages over the traditional way of publishing a book?
- Control. One of the major advantages of choosing to self-publish is the level of control and freedom you experience. You can do things entirely your way and on your own schedule. You won't have to endure the battles with book publishers that many traditional authors grow to resent over the years.
- Finance. Is self-publishing better for authors financially than working with a traditional book publisher? Overall, yes! While a traditional publisher might offer an advance, this has to be repaid through sales. Self-publishing requires a higher upfront investment, but after your book starts to sell, you’ll keep a lot more of its royalties than you would in a traditional publishing situation.
- Pace. Working with a traditional publisher is a very slow and frustrating experience. With self-publishing, you can move as quickly as you want to. There is no waiting around for the slow bureaucracy of a traditional publisher to creak into gear. Write, release, and promote books at a pace that suits you.
- Diversity. Traditional publishing is an elitist industry that shuts out authors of color and other minority voices. Self-publishing has made it easier than ever for authors of color and disabled authors to get their books out into the world.
For authors who want to enjoy the maximum level of creative freedom and financial reward, self-publishing is the way to go. And don't for a moment think it's inferior to traditional publishing. The number of traditionally-published authors who now prefer to self-publish through is proof of that.
What is hybrid publishing?
Hybrid publishing represents a different pathway than self-publishing or traditional publishing. But what exactly is it?
When you opt to hybrid publish, you pay a company upfront to produce your book for you. They may also carry out other publishing services such as marketing and promotion, depending on the company in question.
So why do authors go for hybrid publishing?
When it works as well as possible, hybrid publishing is a little bit like the best of the traditional and self-publishing worlds. Authors retain the freedom of self-publishing but also get some of the support that a traditional publisher would provide.
However, hybrid publishing isn’t without its drawbacks. Paying upfront to get your book created often represents poor value for money. Typically, authors are better off taking a self-publishing course and paying for the services needed to create a book, such as cover design and editing.
Also, many vanity presses have simply hidden their services under the disguise of hybrid publishing. It’s difficult to know exactly what you’re getting in a lot of cases.
How do self-publishing and hybrid publishing compare to traditional book publishing?
Should you pursue traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing for your next book?
For many authors, this isn’t even really a valid question. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of authors will never get noticed by a traditional publisher. This isn’t anything to do with the talent these authors have. It’s entirely down to the conservative and impenetrable nature of the publishing industry.
Authors who want to enjoy the maximum amount of creative freedom, as well as higher royalty rates, should opt for self-publishing.
The right hybrid publisher might be a good choice for authors with money to invest, but be wary. Many hybrid publishers are nothing more than vanity presses who have rebranded. Also, hybrid publishing typically involves a worse financial picture for authors than if they had self-published.
What Do Book Publishers Look For?
If you’re an author reading this, allow me to share a small piece of good news.
You’re not limited to a single way of getting your book into the world! It’s entirely possible to build up a self-publishing career while also trying to get noticed by a traditional publisher.
If you’ve read carefully so far, you’ll know that most book publishers will reject your work without giving it a second glance. The odds are stacked against you. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to improve your chances.
To boost your chances of getting noticed by a traditional book publisher, there are some tips to keep in mind.
Here’s what book publishing companies look for:
- Suitability. Typically, book publishers will only work with a certain type of book. Before you submit your manuscript to a publisher, make sure it’s of a genre or type they work with and want to receive. Otherwise, you’re condemning your book to the nearest trashcan.
- Personalized query letter. When you submit your book to a traditional publisher, be sure to add a personalized query letter. Think of this as a little like the cover letter when applying for a job. It should be persuasive and personalized.
- Commercial viability. Traditional publishers invest a significant amount of money and other resources to get a book to market. Any book you submit therefore needs to have good commercial potential to have a chance of being picked up. Tried and tested genres or books that fit with a current trend are good bets.
- An existing platform. Many book publishers are inclined to give more attention to an author with an existing platform and following. If you can demonstrate people are already interested in you, a book publisher is likely to view you more favorably.
- A marketable author. Of course, as an author, your book is the most important thing. However, if a book publisher sees you as being marketable and interesting, your work is more likely to get picked up than it would be otherwise.
- Endorsement from an agent. It’s a sad truth that many book publishers are only willing to listen to authors represented by an agent. This is another level of gatekeeping you have to contend with.
To be completely honest, even if you meet every one of the above criteria, you are still unlikely to get noticed by a major publisher.
It’s a sad fact that traditional book publishers are elitist and exclusionary. For the vast majority of authors, self-publishing is the smart way to go.
Book Publishing Companies Directory
Even though we feel that self-publishing is the right path for the majority of authors, we know you might be curious to see how your book does in the hands of a traditional publisher.
To point you in the right direction, here are some of the traditional publishers operating today, broken down by genre.
Big 5 Publishers
The most prominent names in publishing form what is commonly referred to as the big five. The big five consists of:
Business Book Publishers
There are many publishing houses dedicated to business books. Here are three of the best.
Young Adult Book Publishers
Young adult fiction is one of the most popular genres, and these publishers specialize in it:
Travel Book Publishers
A good travel book lets you explore the world without leaving your home. Here are some of the best publishers of travel guides:
Cook Book Publishers
If you’re looking for a book full of delicious recipes, these companies specialize in cook books:
Poetry Book Publishers
Poetry is often published by specialist companies. Here are three:
There are a lot of self-publishing companies out there, but here are the top industry-known companies:
Book Publishing Services
If you’re less interested in book publishing companies and more interested in the companies that provide services to self-published authors, here are some resources:
Are You Ready to Publish Your Book?
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how book publishers work, the pros and cons of this type of publishing, and some alternative options for you to consider.
If you’re looking to get your book out into the hands of readers as quickly as possible, you know that working with a traditional book publisher is not the way to go.
Instead, we advocate self-publishing. Why?
When you self-publish, you retain full control. You have complete and total creative license over every part of your book. No book publisher will be there to water down your creative vision.
Also, when you choose to self-publish, you get a much better royalty rate.
If you’re ready to take action, it’s easier than ever before!
We’re proudly affiliated with Self-Publishing School. You can learn more about the company in our full review here.
Ultimately, while traditional book publishers are the right route for a small number of authors, the vast majority are better off publishing independently.
Why not enjoy the creative freedom and financial rewards that self-publishing represents?
Your book deserves to find its place in the world and book publishers are simply not the best way to make that happen for today's modern author.