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Publishing 101: Publishing Options

There are three main ways of getting your book published: trade publishing, vanity publishing and self-publishing:

Trade Publishing

Trade Publishing is the accepted term for the traditional royalty-paying publisher (also referred to as a legacy publisher). You may receive an advance (particularly for second and subsequent books), and you will be paid a defined amount for each copy of the book sold. Actual terms will be outlined in a detailed contract, and for your own protection, you should have this reviewed by a professional before signing.

The Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, along with all their associated imprints) will almost always only accept manuscripts from a recognised literary agent. Unsolicited submissions are likely to be returned unread (or, worse, trashed unacknowledged and unread).

However, there are many small press publishers that still accept direct author submissions, particularly in Australia and New Zealand. They may suggest or request that all manuscripts have been professionally edited prior to submission. Even if they don’t, paying for your own professional editing may be a worthwhile investment, as the editorial standards at some small presses are low.

Small presses are a lot more likely to work with the author to develop the product, such as having a say in choosing the title of the book and the cover artwork (which means that your novel with a dark-haired heroine is less likely to appear with a blonde bombshell on the cover). However, they will not have the same level of marketing support, or the in-store brand recognition of Zondervan or other major Christian imprints.

Vanity Publishing

Under the vanity publishing model, the author signs a publishing contract with the publisher (just like if they were working with a reputable trade publisher). The difference is that subsidy publishers don’t follow the first rule of publishing:

Money flows from the publisher to the author

Vanity publishers get your money in one or more of a variety of ways:

  • Offering publishing packages for an all-inclusive fee
  • Publishing for free, but requiring authors to commit to purchasing a set number of books
  • Publishing for free, but requiring authors to purchase some form of marketing package
  • Publishing for free, but selling ‘special services’ (e.g. a ‘rush fee’ to get your book into print faster)

Of course, with all the bad publicity around, no one actually claims to be a vanity publisher. No. They will insist they are not a vanity publisher—they are a traditional royalty-paying publisher. Or a subsidy publisher. Or a  co-operative publisher. Maybe they are a partner publisher. Sometimes they will say they are a self-publisher (clue: self-publishing means you do it yourself).

Vanity  publishers should be approached with caution. They frequently feature at well-known blogs such as Writer Beware and Predators and Editors (or just Google ‘Publish America Scam‘, and think about the possibly apocryphal story that Publish America accepted a compilation of shopping lists for publication, despite claiming that their Acquisitions Editors will “determine whether or not your work has what it takes to be a PublishAmerica book“).

As an aside, PublishAmerica have recently employed the tried-and-true method of escaping bad publicity (such as that associated with class-action lawsuits): they’ve changed their name. PublishAmerica are now America Star Books.


Those who choose to self-publish will be responsible for everything. You will either have to do it yourself, or pay (or bribe or beg) someone else to do it for you. This involves a lot of decisions, and you would be wise to get advice from someone who has been through the process before (and recently – things can change very quickly, particularly when it comes to e-books).

In terms of the product, you will be responsible for decisions around whether to publish a paperback, an e-book or both, and for arranging external editing and/or proofreading, then formatting, preparing cover graphics and the back cover blurb, and getting an ISBN number, either yourself or with external assistance. You will need to arrange the e-book conversion, printing and distribution.

You will then need to consider where you are going to sell (online or through shops), price, and then get on with the hard work of building your platform and promoting your book at the same time as trying to manage your personal life and write your next book.  This can be a lot of work, but the rewards can be huge.

I will be going into greater detail on the advantages and disadvantages of each method of publishing over the next few weeks. Sign up to the email list on the right to ensure you don’t miss any posts.

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