All The Ways to Get Your Book Published (And Some To Avoid)

All The Ways to Get Your Book Published (And Some To Avoid)

All The Ways to Get Your Book Published (And Some To Avoid)

So you wrote a book, and now you need to know how to get it published? Traditional publishing? Hybrid or vanity publishing? Self-publishing? Below we’ll define each of these and see how they compare.

So you wrote a book, and now you need to know how to get it published? Traditional publishing? Hybrid or vanity publishing? Self-publishing? Below we’ll define each of these and see how they compare.

So you wrote a book, and now you need to know how to get it published? Traditional publishing? Hybrid or vanity publishing? Self-publishing? Below we’ll define each of these and see how they compare.

Defining the Types of Publishing

Traditional Publishers

This is, as the name implies, the way things have been done traditionally. It means that a publisher, for example Random House, decides to publish your book. They pay you an advance, then they take a cut of all future sales. You never have to give a traditional publisher money, and they take a cut because they have put an enormous amount of money and energy into producing your book. You do not need to pay for things like illustrations, book covers, or printing, the publisher does all of that.

The traditional way to find a traditional publisher is to get yourself an agent, who in turn tries to sell your book to the publishing houses. Agents and traditional publishers have incredibly strict selection criteria. There is no guarantee that you will ever get an agent, and if you do, there is no guarantee that a publisher will buy your book. Statistically, the chances of your book ever going to market is extremely slim.

Self-Publishing

This is, again as the name implies, when you take on the act of publishing your book all by yourself. You do not have an agent, nor a publisher. You are both the author and the publisher... and the project manager, and the salesperson, and the marketer. 

You are in charge of your own timelines, and there is nothing stopping you from publishing your own book except you, yourself. You get to keep most of your sales royalties, though some of them will go to the distributors you’ll need to use to get your books in stores.

Vanity Publishers

Vanity publishers are a scam. They pretend to be traditional publishers and lure you in with flattery and the fact that they call themselves “publishers”, but then instead of paying you money as a traditional publisher would, they make you pay them. 

Vanity publishers, despite whatever flattery they may use to entice you, have no selection criteria. Zero. They will literally take anyone’s money. Usually lots of it. And the books they produce are sub-par quality because they don’t care about your sales: you’ve already paid them, they’ve made their profit.

Hybrid Publishers

In the traditional publishers definition, we used the example of Random House. There are, however, loads of smaller publishing houses. These are sometimes called small presses. Some small presses are traditional publishers. Others, however, are hybrid publishers. Think of hybrid publishers as traditional but they ask you to participate in the cost of producing the book alongside them. It’s unlikely you’ll get an advance, but your royalty rate will be somewhat better than you would get from a traditional publisher.

Like traditional publishers, hybrids do have a selection criteria and will not accept just any book. You do not need an agent to get through to hybrid publishers.

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

When deciding on a publishing path, there are several key factors to consider. We've written a detailed article on if you should self-publish your book, complete with a flow chart (because who doesn't love a good flow chart?). Here's a brief overview:

  • Control Over the Final Product: If you have a clear vision for your book, such as specific illustrations for a picture book or a certain tone and message for a business book, traditional publishing might not be the best fit. In traditional publishing, the publisher typically makes those decisions.

  • Timeframe: Are you in a hurry to see your book in print? The traditional publishing process can be lengthy and there's no guarantee of success. It might take years, or it might not happen at all.

  • Budget: Self-publishing requires an initial investment for book production. The budget to self-publish can vary widely, so it's important to do your research and crunch the numbers. If you don't have the funds to cover these expenses, traditional publishing might be the way to go, despite any reservations you have about control or timing. 

Self-Publishing vs Vanity Publishing

Paying someone to self-publish your book is not the way to go. This practice is known as using a vanity press, though sometimes these companies might label themselves as hybrid publishers to try and give themselves an air of legitimacy. Regardless of the terminology, the result is often the same: you end up spending money on a poorly made book, a disadvantageous contract, and a pile of unsold copies gathering dust in your garage. 

Here’s the comparison with self-publishing:

  • Control Over the Final Product & Timeframe: A vanity publisher may ask for your opinion on things, but don’t be fooled: you have no actual say in what they do or not. They will use the cheapest options available to them in order to keep as much of your money in their pocket as possible. With self-publishing, you have complete control over the final product.

  • Budget: Vanity publishers are very expensive, in the thousands of dollars. Self-publishing isn’t free, there are investments you’ll make, but the total budget is nowhere near what you’ll pay a vanity press.

The essence of self-publishing lies in the word "self." Although the idea of handing off the responsibilities to someone else might be appealing, trust us when we say that you're better off handling it on your own.

Writers Beware has a massive list of vanity publishers. When approached by a publisher, first check if they are on this list. And if so, run.

Self-Publishing vs Hybrid Publishing

It’s worth noting there are legitimate hybrid publishers out there that are not scams. However, vanity presses have started using this term as a disguise, making it difficult to distinguish between the two. That said, if you are considering working with a hybrid publisher, make sure they adhere to these hybrid publishing standards maintained by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).

Here’s how hybrid publishing compares to self-publishing:

  • Control Over the Final Product: Similar to traditional publishing, a hybrid publisher will make most of the production choices, but since you are participating in the cost of that production, they may choose to consult you as well. This is more control than traditional publishing, and less than self-publishing.

  • Timeframe: Similarly, the timeframe for a hybrid publisher will lie somewhere in between traditional and self-publishing. It varies a lot based on the publisher.

  • Budget: The jury is out if it costs more to go with hybrid or self-publishing. If you’re working with a legit hybrid publisher, it’s possible that your share of the production costs are similar to the investments you’d make as a self-publisher. Or it could be more, or less. Check the contract and compare it to this quick self-publishing budget estimator

Myth: You Need a Publisher To Be Taken Seriously

There was a time, long, long ago when this was true. Traditional Publishing reigned supreme, and the only alternative was vanity publishing. But those days are far gone. The self-publishing industry, also lovingly known as the indie authors or indie publishers industry, has grown considerably both in size and reputation.

Here’s some of the break-away self-publishing success stories:

  • The Martian, Andy Weir – Has been turned into a movie.

  • Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James – Like it or not, you’ve certainly heard of it.

  • Eragon, Christopher Paolini – Fantasy favorite, written by Paolini when he was a teenager.

  • Slammed, Colleen Hoover – Became a New York Times bestseller

  • Legally Blonde, Amanda Brown – Became a Hollywood hit.

Here’s the thing: readers don’t care who published the book. They don’t shop based on publishing houses. They shop based on genre or author. 

If, however, you are dead set on having a “publisher” appear on your book’s copyright page, then you can take the extra step to create a small company, or DBA (Doing Business As) and list that as your publisher. It is completely valid for your tiny publishing business to only publish your books. There. Problem solved.

But whatever you do, do not choose to go with a vanity publisher just so you can “have a publisher.” You’ll be guaranteeing the failure of your book because they will not do proper editing, and they will not open up the distribution channels that Traditional publishers will, and if by some miracle of your own marketing, it becomes a hit, you aren’t likely to see many royalties.

Self-Publishing Platforms

You may occasionally hear someone saying that Amazon KDP or IngramSpark is their publisher. This is technically not correct, though the mixup is understandable. Those are self-publishing platforms. Think of them as tools which help you, the self-publisher, get your book into the marketplace.

Technically, there are numerous self-publishing platforms, but the behemoths in the industry are Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), IngramSpark and Draft2Digital. Based on your goals, you’ll likely go with one or any combination of those providers.

  • KDP is the fastest way to make your book available on Amazon. This is true for eBooks, paperbacks and - to an extent - hardcovers. They offer POD (print-on-demand) printing.


  • IngramSpark is often used either in lieu of, or in combination with, KDP. They can distribute to Amazon, but also offer the options of distributing to bookstores, libraries, and other online retailers. They offer POD printing.


  • Draft2Digital is known as the “go-wide” platform for eBooks. Instead of offering your eBook on Amazon alone, D2D allows authors to distribute to numerous other digital storefronts such as Apple Books, Barnes & Noble and Kobo to name a few. They are also experimenting with offering POD printing, but it’s still early stages.

You’ll notice all three publishing platforms also offer printing. Keep in mind, a printer is not a publisher. These companies are simply wearing many hats.

Amazon KDP

The boom in the self-publishing industry over the last 20 years is thanks to the introduction of Amazon’s KDP in 2007. KDP is by far the fastest way to get your books into Amazon’s mega online store.

You can publish your eBook, paperback or hardcover directly to Amazon. Paperbacks and Hardcovers created in KDP will be printed on demand and shipped to users as they are ordered. Books printed through KDP are available for free Prime shipping.

Hardcover printing is a newer option and comes with some restrictions, namely less trim sizes (i.e. the measurements of your book) and a minimum of 75 pages. Due to the minimum page count, this is not a viable option for shorter books, for example children’s picture books which are typically only 24-48 pages.

If I Publish On Amazon, Can I Sell My eBook Anywhere Else?

There is often confusion about whether or not KDP requires exclusivity on eBooks that you publish through them. Exclusivity means that you can not offer the same eBook anywhere else except on Amazon, not even on your own website or as a free download. Here’s the full answer to the exclusivity question:

  • KDP does not require exclusivity by default.

  • If you opt into an additional program called KDP Select, then exclusivity becomes a requirement. 

KDP Select is the program which allows your eBook to be available in Kindle Unlimited (ugh, so many names of things!). It also allows you to schedule and run short, free or discounted price promotions.

KDP Select lasts a minimum of 90 days. After 90 days you can renew it, or opt-out. When you opt-out, the exclusivity requirement goes away and you can distribute your eBook wherever you want again.

IngramSpark

As with KDP, you can publish an eBook, paperback or hardcover via IngramSpark. So why would you want to if KDP does all that already? There are a few reasons:

  • You can distribute to more places than just Amazon, most notably you can sell to bookstores and libraries at wholesale prices. 

  • You can print shorter hardcover books, like picture books.

  • There are more and different trim sizes available, especially one horizontal one.

  • There is an optional “print only” option where you can order copies for yourself without ever actually publishing the book anywhere online.

eBooks distributed to Amazon via IngramSpark will not be eligible for the Kindle Select program or Kindle Unlimited.

A lesser known fact is that you can have your printed books uploaded into both KDP and IngramSpark and it all works out just fine. When someone purchases your paperback, for example, off of Amazon it will automatically send them the KDP version and ignore the IngramSpark one. This way you can make sure your books are available both with free Prime shipping on Amazon AND at wholesale prices for libraries and bookstores.

Will Bookstores Really Buy My Book Wholesale From IngramSpark?

Maybe, if you offer very specific terms.

During the setup process on IngramSpark’s website, you will have to choose if you will allow wholesale buyers to return any unused books, and also what wholesale discount to offer them. Typically bookstores want a 50% discount and the ability to return the books. But beware, doing so could wind up costing you more than you earned if they return many books. Many authors opt to offer the minimum wholesale discount (about 35%) in order to have better margins, and disallow returns to keep financial risks down.

None of these things are concerns for libraries. They don’t require returns and will support a smaller discount.

Draft2Digital

Draft2Digital, also known as D2D, is the place to go when you want to distribute your eBooks widely. “Going wide” is a technique that some authors choose to make sure that their eBooks are available in as many Online Storefronts as possible - not just Amazon.

D2D supports distributions to over a dozen different retailers. Amazon is one of those retailers, so you could theoretically not bother with KDP and manage everything from D2D’s unified dashboard. However eBooks distributed to Amazon through D2D are not eligible for the KDP Select program or Kindle Unlimited. And this makes sense because the Kindle Select program requires exclusivity, thus rendering it impossible to use any of the other storefronts available in D2D.

Which Path Will You Choose? 

So there you have it: the difference between traditional publishing, vanity publishing, hybrid publishing, self-publishing and publishing platforms. 

Hopefully this guide has given you some clarity on what your options are and what to look out for. If you’re leaning towards self-publishing, your next read should be this bird's-eye view of the steps involved.

NOTE: We used to also offer a spreadsheet that did a high-level estimate of the self-publishing launch timeline, but it just didn’t do the process justice. It’s way too nuanced for a spreadsheet. Instead, to get a complete strategy and timeline based on your specific goals, give Frontlist a try.

About the Author

Tara Kelly left a cushy Silicon Valley job to pursue writing. Since then, she’s published a book on UX design, as well as seven children’s picture books under the pen name Kelly Tills where she tackles topics like neurodiversity, gender, and why you shouldn’t steal bananas from a monkey. Tara is the co-founder and CEO of Frontlist.io where she helps other indie authors launch their books on their own, and without falling prey to the predatory underbelly of the author services industry.

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