Dreaming of a book deal with Penguin Random House, Macmillan, or HarperCollins? You’re not alone. SO not alone.
Before you join that long line of hungry, hopeful authors, consider this: a big publishing house might not be the best choice for you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love big publishers. My first job out of college was with a small publisher that was later taken over by HarperCollins, so I suddenly found myself working for one of the biggest publishers there is. I went on to spend a couple of decades as an editor, commissioning editor, and head of nonfiction with various book publishers—and later as an author for them too. Big publishing is in my blood.
But increasingly, I am persuaded that for some authors, it can be better to self-publish: specifically, to choose a hybrid or assisted publishing model (where the author funds publication in exchange for assistance in some or all of the areas of editing, design, printing, marketing, and distribution).
Let me tell you about two authors I’ve worked with recently who decided on quality self-publishing as their Option A. I’ve changed names and some details to protect their identities, but both released their first books in 2021.
First up is Caroline F., founder of a biotech company that is a leader in neurological therapies. Even through the pandemic, Caroline has been in high demand to speak on topics related to diversity in science, paths to entrepreneurship, and the power of intellectual property. She is backed by a publicity team that has experience in supporting authors, so she is in a great position to try assisted publishing. Caroline wanted to get her book on the market in 2021 to make the most of some opportunities to get the book in the hands of large corporate audiences. Caroline worked with me both on writing her manuscript and navigating her publishing options. It mattered to her to find a publisher who was aligned with her in values: perhaps a woman-owned company, or one with a commitment to cause-driven books. The publisher she chose has particular expertise in distribution, as well as a great track record in book creation (editing, design, print).
Then there’s Jessica S. and David P., two restaurant-industry experts who co-authored a book about the future of their industry. Such a topic is very time-sensitive: what is true today may be old news in a year’s time, so they wanted to get their book on the market promptly but without compromising production values. They are self-starters and exceptional project managers, so wrapping their heads around marketing, distribution, and publicity wasn’t daunting to them. Unlike Caroline, Jessica and David had already produced a first draft of their manuscript before bringing me in to complete a deep-level developmental edit. They chose a hybrid publisher to take on editing, cover design and page layout, proofreading, and printing their book. Jessica and David paid for 2000 copies of a hardback edition plus an e-book edition. Their publisher provides marketing support, focusing on media and review outreach (targeted media outlets plus review publications, a GoodReads giveaway, and awards submissions) and retail support (Amazon ads, along with support for readings, signings, and other events).
Caroline, Jessica, and David all considered pitching their book to trade publishers via literary agents, and I believe both books would have had a solid chance of success. But in the end, they preferred the greater speed and control of a hybrid or assisted publishing model.
Who knows? If one or both books go gangbusters, maybe Penguin Random House or one of the other big publishers will be knocking down their doors to do a deal for their next book. (Jessica and David’s book is already in reprint for the hardback edition, and was an Amazon category bestseller on release.)
As I’ve said before, publishing is no longer an either/or proposition. Not only do some authors partake in both traditional publishing and self-publishing at different points in their careers, there are also now so many flavors of publisher to choose from. The biggest publishers sit alongside excellent mid-size publishers and small houses with niche expertise, as well as companies specializing in assisted and hybrid publishing, and excellent service providers who will support your DIY efforts.
If you’re stuck choosing the best publishing path for your nonfiction book, my good friends at Gotham Ghostwriters are running a free educational webinar on that very subject on Wednesday, February 16, at 1 PM EST. Hear from insiders Jane Friedman and Brooke Warner, along with Gotham’s CEO, Dan Gerstein. Click here to register. I’ll be in the room to pick up some insights, so I’ll see you there!
If you need writing or editing assistance for your non-fiction book proposal, please check out the “Services” tab on my website.
Coming in 2022: my new online course on writing book proposals! In the meantime, check out my course (with co-presenter Lari Bishop) How to Write a Successful Nonfiction Book:
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