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Publishing 101: 5 Decisions You’ll Have to Make

3-11-15 pub 101 You’re ready to have your book published, but don’t know where to start.

Your head is cluttered with information. Do you need an agent? How should you go about getting one? Is it all even worth it? Should you self-publish? What are your other options?

One of the hardest things about writing a book is the never-ending parade of decisions you need to make. The same is true of publishing a book.

Whether it’s a question concerning the placement of a comma or that of submitting to a particular publisher, it’s easy to be intimidated by all these choices. For this reason, a lot of writers avoid thinking about these choices and just walk into publishing blindly.

But remember: The more you educate yourself, the better the decisions you’ll make.

Knowing the basics will show you this process isn’t so big and scary, after all. Try resources like Poets & Writers, which will help simplify the whole process for you. And prepare ahead for these decisions you’ll have to make: 

1. Major Publisher or Small Press?

The first decision you’ll need to make is what type of publishing you want to aim for in a general sense.

Major Publisher

By “major,” I mean the publishers responsible for most of what you might happen to pick up from a display in Barnes & Noble. Major publishers are generally looking for writers with a strong publication history, and you’ll almost certainly need a literary agent to get in contact with them.

If you’re interested in getting in with a large publishing house, you’ll want to work on building your literary resume first and foremost. Start by submitting work to smaller literary magazines and gradually work your way up to more well-known publications. Keep in mind that if you start with a small publisher and do well, you’re more likely to find success with a major one further down the road!

Independent Publisher/Small Press

Submitting your book to a small press is a good option to consider if you’ve never been published before or only published in lesser-known places. Publication by a small press isn’t any guarantee of fame or success, but they’ll offer you some resources in terms of promotion and distribution. Being selected by a small press also offers you the validation of making it out of the slushpile.

2. Do I Need a Literary Agent?

Deciding whether or not to hire an agent in the first place can depend on how ambitious you are when it comes to publication. If you’re mostly interested in major presses (or any that don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts), you’re going to need an agent.

If you decide to seek an agent, start by looking at which agents have represented writers you admire. Use a resource like Agent Hunter, which offers a comprehensive database on how to find a literary agent and interviews with successful new authors.

3. Should I Self-Publish?

As you probably already know, self-publishing offers you the most control over your own writing, and allows you to keep the greatest percentage of sales. It’s a great option to keep in mind even if you decide to try for traditional publication at any point. For some writers, self-publishing might be preferable from the get-go, or you may want to work with a traditional publisher and build a backlist first.

4. Where Should I Submit a Manuscript?

If you go with traditional publishing, but want to forgo a literary agent, you’ll be left with the decision of where to submit. There’s a lot of variety among presses accepting unsolicited submissions, and each has their own standards for publication and submission guidelines.

You’ll want to do thorough research to find a publisher who’s a good match for your writing. As with finding an agent, one of the best ways to do this is simply by reading what you like. Have fun with this part! Keep track of who publishes your favorite books, or sample previously published work from smaller presses to see which suits your tastes.

5. How Do I Know Whether to Sign a Book Contract?

A lot of writers may not even think of this as a decision. Being offered a book contract is the ultimate goal, so duh, of course you’re going to accept it, right? But watch out!

It’s important you understand everything stated in a contract before you sign it, including factors such as royalty amounts and when the book will be published. If you have an agent, they can help you with this part of the process. If you’re on your own, make sure you get outside help if you need it.

As with any legal document, you don’t want to sign a book contract until you thoroughly understand everything it says.

Self-publishing may seem deceptively simple compared with seeking traditional publication, but it comes with its own slew of pesky decisions you have to make. Just remember that whatever you choose, you don’t have to do it alone! Here and elsewhere, you can find all the support and resources you need for writers looking to publish on any track.

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