How Do You Publish A Book?

When it comes down to it, there are only two ways to publish a book.

  1. You do it yourself
  2. Get someone else to do it for you.

Most people are familiar with 2. You find a literary agent willing to represent you, with luck get a contract with a publishing house, put the manuscript through the editing process, and launch book. It’s time-honored and tested (?). If you want your print book in a bookstore, the publishing houses have the power. There’s prestige. Plus, All of the current top ten selling famous authors are traditionally published. FOR NOW.

What about 1? For some, this means vanity press. Others, it’s Indie publishing. They are not the same thing. Amazon, the seller behemoth, has Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). It allows authors to load their ebooks directly to their platform to sell their books. You can even distribute print books through their Print On Demand (POD) services, too. Note: KDP covers about 40% of the ebook market. The rest goes to Kobo, Apple Books, Google Play, Nook, etc. More on that later.

Independent Publishing has grown exponentially since KDP’s launch. Nowadays, you can hire a cover designer, a topnotch editor, and book formatter without going through a publisher. There are services dedicated to hooking you with such people. There are people who specialize in online book marketing. There are hundreds if not thousands of author facebook groups. It’s a ten-plus-year-old industry, so now there are best practices and stuff.  

Since being an author is being a small business owner, you can utilize all the tool online marketing tools available. At least, all the stuff that’s within your budget. You can go as pricey as Google ads, as middle as Facebook ads, or free blog promotions if you have that kind of connections.

So which one to choose?

My Thought Process

There are a lot of ways to make a decision. For me, it was all about production speed and creative control. Simply:

  1. What will get me a finished product the quickest?
  2. What will give me the greatest amount of creative control?

Creative Control is particularly important since this whole experiment is about turning a fanfic into a book. I could perhaps compromise on production time, but not what I am going to write.

It also puts traditional and hybrid publishing off the table. Right off the bat, you give up your copyright to your creative work when you sign up with a publisher. Even if it were not so, when you work for someone else, you are an employee. You do what the company wants. Sometimes, what you want agrees with what the company wants. More often, they are not. Besides, time spent looking for a publisher who wants to publish a fanfic turned book is time not spent on faster production.

Even if I did find such a publisher tomorrow, the average production time from manuscript to published work for traditional publishing is 18 months to 2 years. Whereas indie publishing is 2 months. Moreover, “publish for you” doesn’t mean all you have to do is write and edit. You have to do the marketing, too, as this bestselling author tells me from this interview…

(27:32 she talks about marketing her publisher expected her to do)

Sooo… regardless of which publishing path I choose, I have to do the heavy-lifting of finding readers, creating awareness, and generating interest. And write a manuscript that sells. I have to maintain my own website, social media presence, do online advertising because only the top brass authors get that kind of treatment. Do I get more bang for the time-buck at least?

The Math and Money of Traditional Publishing

The typical advance of a new author is between $1000 and $10000. After paying the agent fees, which is around 15%, assuming $5000 advance, you’re left with $4250. For which you owe taxes. Most authors don’t sell more than 150 books, because that’s the max number of personal connections most people have. Even at an optimistic 300 books, which is still quite the effort if Tumblr activity is anything to do go by, the total sales range as low as $1797 and as high $7500. 

Math detail: $5.99 ebook price, $15 softcover, $25 hardcover. These are averages taken from Amazon for novels. Prices vary depending on genre and publisher and book length.

The lower range is 300 x $5.99 = $1797 (all sales are ebooks)

The higher range is 300 x $25 = $7500 (all sales are hardcovers)

Needless to say, selling only hardcovers is tough.

You only get royalties after you sell enough books to match your advance. Most authors don’t sell that much. As you can see from above, even at our most optimistic, it’s unlikely a new author can sell enough to get royalties, which is an average 9%. (For comparison: I get better long-term returns buying stock index funds for the same money, with less risk.)

Returning to our scenario, you could end up with $2500 * 9% + $4250 =  $4475 before taxes. But only if you sell hardcovers. I think most new authors are facing the “all ebook, maybe a few print books” scenario. If you sold that much via self-publishing, using the same numbers and KDP’s royalty structure, the pre-tax income is between $1257.9 (all ebooks) and $5250 (all hardcovers).

In short, traditional publishing requires the same amount of effort as self-publishing, but has more uncertainty (no guarantee you’ll find an agent, let alone a publisher), and longer production time in exchange for the loss of creative control? For the possibly higher payout? Even if I didn’t care about the payout, and I don’t except that it indicates the number of readers, that’s quite the burden.

Self-publishing it is.


I will have you know setting up a small business is not for the faint of heart. Not if you’ve never done it before, and are quite happy to stay an employee. I hemmed, hawed, procrastinated, cried in the corner many times before I got it set up. 

At least indie publishing is heading towards a mature industry phase. There are best practices. Established practices. This means you can learn from the trailblazers. This is the facebook group I joined and found to be the best. (It’s a closed group. But I got in when I asked politely).

Next post: the process of choosing which fanfic to publish

Got any questions? Leave them in the comments below!


Traditional Publishing Process

Self Publishing Process


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