Book Writing and Publishing FAQ – What Types of Publishing Options Are Available to Me?

After reading Robin’s great post last week about writing ebooks and publishing my comparison of traditional vs. self-publishing, I wanted to take a step back to further explain the types of publishers that are available to aspiring book writers.  Bottom-line, I don’t want anyone to be confused about the options available to them to get their manuscripts turned into books.

There are three primary types of book publishing — commercial publishers, vanity publishers, and self publishing.  Each type is described in more detail below.  Keep in mind, the descriptions below are generalized, and of course, there are exceptions to every rule.

Commercial Publishers

Commercial publishers (sometimes referred to as traditional publishers) are at the top of the publishing food chain.  These publishers pay writers an advance to write a book as well as royalties on sales of the book.  They handle editing, marketing, printing, distribution, cover design, and so on.  Some commercial publishers leave the copyright of the work in the writer’s name while others hold the copyright.  Commercial publishers ensure your book is available through and other online and offline booksellers, and provide the writer with a supply of author copies as well as a discount on additional copies.  Commercial publishers include well-known companies like Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and so on as well as many smaller publishers.  Writers are not required to pay fees of any kind to work with a commercial publisher.

Vanity Publishers

Vanity publishers may or may not be print-on-demand publishers (meaning they print copies of your book as they are ordered).  With a vanity publisher, you cover all of the actual expenses to print and distribute your boos, and those books may or may not be available through major booksellers.  Furthermore, vanity publishers may or may not leave the book’s copyright in the author’s name, and they may or may not offer editing, cover design and other services for a fee.  Vanity publishers also take a percentage of sales earnings to cover their overhead and other management expenses.  When your book is published through a vanity publisher, it may or may not be distributed to major booksellers such as but it’s unlikely to get the level of widespread distribution that a book published through a commercial publisher can get.

The majority of vanity publishers are not very particular when it comes to choosing books to print that are submitted to them.  There are many reputable vanity publishers (many romance novels are published by vanity publishers) out there, but unfortunately, there are also many dishonest vanity publishers.  Avoid vanity publishers that don’t disclose fees up front, instead presenting themselves as your “partner” or labeling their service as a “joint venture” or “co-op” because those descriptors are often used to make fees sound more palatable.

Self Publishing

When you self publish a book, you retain all control (including copyrights) and pay all expenses.  You must find a company to print and bind your book, create the cover design, ship it, and so on.  There are some print-on-demand services that can help writers self-publish and sell their books (such as by providing the equipment and technology to do so in return for a percentage of sales.  It might also be possible for you to have your book listed on when you self-publish, but getting it into other book stores is unlikely.

There are pros and cons to each form of publishing, and each writer must decide for himself which option will best help him meet his goals.  The important thing is to understand the differences between publisher models and know what to look for, particularly if you’re choosing to go the vanity publishing route.


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