If you’re on this page, you’ve probably already written a book or will soon.
Congratulations on all your hard work so far!
Your journey is just beginning, and the next step is to find a way to get your book published.
There are more options today to get your book published than ever before in human history. That’s great for authors because it’s easier than ever—but it’s also more complicated because there are more options than ever and also more competition!
This blog post lays out all your different publishing options to help you find the right publisher for your book. We’ll cover everything from traditional book publishing to working with a small press to self-publishing and working with a publishing services firm.
Working With the Big Five Publishers
The Big Five Publishing companies are:
- Penguin Random House
- Simon & Schuster
They’re known as the “Big Five” because they are the largest mass market book publishers in the world, and they used to control most of the market for book sales in the US and in other countries.
However, the publishing industry has changed dramatically in the past few years with the advent of digital publishing, eBooks, and Print-On-Demand (POD) technology. Collectively, self-published authors and small presses (small to medium-sized publishing companies) actually outsell the Big Five publishers in many fiction and nonfiction markets and genres in the US and in some other countries.
That said, the Big Five still control a huge chunk of the market, and there’s still a sense of prestige for some authors that comes with getting a book deal with a Big Five publisher. These big publishers may be able to get you distribution into bookstores and retailers that other small publishers might not have access to. However, Big Five publishers invest most of their marketing budget in their top A list (platinum) authors. Debut authors and authors without large platforms tend to get very little if any marketing support, so you’ll have to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing.
If you want to work with a Big Five publisher, you’ll also have to get a literary agent. They do not accept open submissions from authors, so if you don’t have a literary agent, they won’t even consider publishing your book or responding to your email or phone call.
The good news is we created a detailed guide to finding a literary agent so you can use that article and our list of literary agents to get you started on the right track.
How to Get a Deal With The Big Five
If you want to work with a Big Five publisher, you need to understand how the process works.
- You need to find a literary agent who will represent you (This could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years to never. If you’re going to hunt for a literary agent, make sure to follow our free guide so you don’t make any rookie mistakes that will get your pitches ignored).
- Your agent will pitch publishers who might be a good fit for your book (This could take anywhere from a few months to a few years, and there’s a good chance you will never get an offer, even if you have an excellent literary agent).
- If you get an offer from a publisher, your agent will let you know, and your agent will negotiate the deal for you (This usually takes a few weeks once the offer is made).
- Once the offer is signed, you’ll go through the editing and publishing process, assuming your manuscript is complete. (This usually takes one to two years with a Big Five publisher).
How the Deal Works
With a Big Five publisher, you’re going to get an advance on royalties when you sign the contract.
An advance is a payment of cash you get when the deal is signed (usually half upfront and the other half when the final manuscript is delivered to the publisher).
This cash is credited as an advance on your royalties. If you earn a 12% royalty, that means you get $2.40 every time the publisher sells a $20 copy of your book. If your advance is $24,000, you would have to sell 10,000 copies before you “earn out” your advance—that means you won’t receive any royalty checks or payments until after the first 10,000 copies are sold. Royalties are paid every six months once you earn out your advance (at least 75% of authors never earn out their advance).
Major publishers often take ownership of the copyright for your book as well. That means they own all the intellectual property, copyrights, licensing rights, and other rights to your work. If you decide you want to take your book to another publisher after the deal is signed, you probably won’t be able to (unless they allow you to buy back the rights to your book). A good literary agent might carve out some of the rights to the book that you get to keep, but you most likely won’t get the print rights back for your book unless you buy them back from the publisher or the book just bombs and goes out of print.
Small Press Publishing
A small press is a smaller publishing company. Many are privately owned, some are publicly owned, and they range from tiny startup companies to one-person companies to multi-million dollar businesses that don’t seem as tiny as the name might imply.
Because there are so many different small press publishers, there are many different options, and they all operate differently. Because the contract terms, editing and design standards, royalty rates, and marketing support vary wildly from one small press to another, it’s much harder to write about the specific details of working with a small press. The Big Five publishers are all very much alike—you would barely notice the difference between working with one or another, but you would notice huge differences working with different small press publishers.
That’s why you really need to do your research if you’re going to work with a small press, especially if you don’t have a literary agent to guide you through the process and help you decide which publisher is the best fit for your goals.
How the Deal Works
With a small press, the terms of a publishing deal vary wildly. Some publishers pay advances with small royalty amounts (8-15%) while others pay no advances with much higher royalty amounts (up to 50% royalties like at TCK Publishing).
Most small presses will allow you to retain ownership of your copyright, so you don’t lose control of your work and all your rights.
A good small press will provide free editing, including developmental edits if they’re needed. They won’t charge you fees to publish your book or try to pressure you into signing a contract.
One great option to get your book published is to do it yourself.
You can start your own publishing business any time you want. Many self-published authors don’t use a corporate entity like a C Corporation or LLC, but you should get your own legal and accounting advice before deciding which legal and tax structure is best for you if you’re going to self-publish your book.
If you’re serious about considering self-publishing, we have a free self publishing training course that will help you get started. By the end of the free course, you’ll have everything you need to have your own book published and available for sale online in dozens of countries via Amazon.
Self Publishing Pros
Self-publishing is great because you’ll be in control of the whole process. You’ll have complete control over the editing, cover design, layout, and marketing. You won’t get that kind of control working with a traditional publisher or small press, so if you’re a control freak or very entrepreneurial, you might find self-publishing is the best (or only) acceptable option to turn your vision into reality.
Self Publishing Cons
Self-publishing requires a serious investment of time, money, and know-how. We offer tons of free resources to help you learn and even a step-by-step self publishing online course, but you’ll be the one who has to do all the work.
Most self-published authors never earn back their investment, so be prepared to lose all the money you invest in getting your book self-published. Never risk money on self-publishing that you can’t afford to lose, because you might not get it back!
That said, the #1 reason people fail at self-publishing is because they have no idea what they’re doing. If you check out all the free resources mentioned in this post and on our blog, you’ll be way ahead of the average self-published author.
Paid Publishing Services
If you don’t want to wait for a traditional publisher, literary agent, or small press, and you don’t want to do all the self-publishing work yourself, you can pay for publishing services from a publishing services company, sometimes called a subsidy press or vanity publisher.
Realize that these companies are incentivized to sell you as many services as possible for as much money as possible, and your chances of earning a profit on your investment are very, very low.
If you’re going to hire a publishing services company to do all the work for you, make sure you do your research so you know exactly what you need before you end up buying a big package you don’t need.
Recommended Publishing Services Companies
Two companies we have worked with before and have good experiences with include Happy Self Publishing and Archangel Ink. Happy Self Publishing has designed several beautiful book cover designs for us, and Archangel Ink has handled the narration, editing, and production for dozens of our audiobooks.
Both companies seem to have good customer service and respond quickly to questions and requests.
We can’t promise you’re going to get blockbuster results if you work with them, but we have personally had a good experience working with each of them on more than one occasion.
Publishing Companies to Avoid
Make sure you avoid working with any publishing scams or unethical companies. Of course, that’s easier said than done.
Just like every industry, the publishing industry has its fair share of folks who care more about getting your money into their bank account than providing a valuable service to society.
Here are some common signs that should raise red flags for you when considering working with a publisher or publishing services company:
- High pressure sales tactics or tight deadlines (if they offer you a special publishing deal that’s only good if you buy right now, that’s a bad sign). Deciding which publisher to work with is a big life decision, and you should take some time to consider your options and think it over before you say yes.
- Bad reviews (check the online reviews for that company and do your own research before signing a deal)
- Lack of references (you should always ask for a list of references and call up a few authors who have worked with that publisher to make sure they had a good experience and were treated fairly)
- No track record (make sure they have a track record of actually publishing books in a timely manner. If they can’t show you at least a dozen books they have published, you’ll be taking a huge risk if you send them money because publishing a book is hard work, and doing it well requires a lot of experience).
- Poor quality (Make sure the books they’ve been publishing are well designed. That means they have great book covers and well-designed print books. Great editing is important too, but publishing services companies don’t care about that unless you pay them to edit your book, so that part is going to be up to you. You’ll need to make sure you find a great freelance book editor to work with if you’re going to go down this route).
What To Do Next
There’s a ton of information in this article, and we want to make sure you leave with some clarity on your next steps instead of being overwhelmed by too much information.
Here’s what we recommend you do now
1. Write down your goals for publishing your book.
- How important is it to you that your book gets great editing and design?
- When do you want the book to be released?
- How much money are you willing to invest in editing, publishing, and marketing?
- Do you want an advance payment of cash upfront with a smaller percentage of profits on the backend, or do you want no cash upfront and more profits on the backend, or is money not an issue for you?
2. Pick a publishing option to research
- Pick the publishing option you feel is most likely to help you achieve your goals
- Use the links in this post to start your research and take action on your dreams now
If you have any questions, feel free to post your comments below and we’ll do our best to help.
Good luck on getting your book published!
P.S. TCK Publishing is a small press publisher now accepting open submissions from authors. You can read our submission guidelines and submit your manuscript for review. Our editors will review your manuscript and get back to you within 14-30 days.