This seems like a funny, no duh kind of question, but seriously, when I was 14 and looking for publishers, I thought that writers wrote their book, sent it to a publisher (i.e, paid the publisher), and then it’d show up in bookstores after the publisher made the word document into an actual book.
Not even close.
I was aware enough to know that there were fake publishers/scammers out there, so I searched for publishers who didn’t cost a lot. (Also, I was 14. I had no money.) When I found a publisher who would PAY ME for my book, I was so thrilled! And then because I’m a procrastinator and my family moved halfway across the country, I never sent them my book.
*Current me wipes relieved sweat off face*
Turns out, there are different types of publishers beyond scammers and legit publishers. Forteen-year-old me had found what is called a vanity press. Technically, yes, that particular publisher would have paid me, but only after I had covered the cost of printing. More on that in a bit.
What I really wanted is what is referred to as traditional publishing. A traditional publisher takes submissions, decides if they want to publish that book, and if they decide YES, then they will contact the author with an offer. The author can then accept and sign the publishing contract as-is, negotiate for different rights/more money, or reject the offer. The publisher will then edit the book, design the book (both the cover and the interior), market the book, print the book, and get the book into bookstores. While an author has some input once a traditional publisher is working on their book, they actually don’t have that much control over most of what happens, (like the design and marketing of the book).
In a later post I’ll cover contacts and payment. But for now, this is the basics of what a traditional publisher does. At no point does the author ever pay a traditional publisher.
Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette, Penguin Random House, and HarperCollins are known as the “Big 5” US publishers, but there are many other legitimate traditional publishers out there.
Next is self-publishing. There are so many ways to self-publish now that I’m not even going to attempt describing all of them, but essentially self-publishing means that the author is paying for and/or actually doing the work to publish their book. Self-publishing gets a bad rap since a bunch of authors either don’t know how to produced quality work (whether it’s the actual writing, the editing, or the design) or can’t/won’t pay someone else with the appropriate skills. Fortunately, that’s not the case for a large number of self-published authors. The upside to self-publishing (compared to traditional publishing) is that the author has complete control over every aspect of the publication for the book. It’s just more work for them.
There is something called hybrid-publishing. Essentially it’s a combination of the previous two. The vanity press that I found when I was 14 is a great example. They would have done much of the work of a traditional publisher, but I would have had to pay the costs of printing and done the marketing myself. There are various combinations to hybrid publishing and there’s a debate on whether or not it’s a separate category from self-publishing.
Whew. That’s a lot of info and I’m really just skimming the surface of what publishing is. For the majority of this series, I’m going to focus on traditional publishing since that is what I’m most interested in. I may touch on self-publishing a bit, but I’m not particularly familiar with it.
Let me know if there’s a specific publishing- or writing-related question you and I’ll do my best to answer it in another post!