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Should self-publishing be your Option A?

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 will be releasing their first books in 2021.

First up is Caroline F., founder of a biotech company that is leading the way in neurological therapies. Even through the pandemic, Caroline has been in high demand as a speaker and commentator, presenting webinars and writing articles about women and minorities in science and entrepreneurship. She is backed by a publicity team that has experience in supporting thought leadership authors, so she is in a great position to try assisted publishing. The publisher she has chosen has a particular expertise in distribution, as well as a great track record in book creation (editing, design, print). Caroline wants to get her book on the market in 2021 to make the most of some opportunities she has to get the book in the hands of large corporate audiences. Because this is Caroline’s first book, she worked with me both on her manuscript and in navigating her publishing options. We laid out the pros and cons of various assisted publishers: cost of service, the team’s credentials, speed to market, quality of product. 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.

Then there’s Jessica S. and David P., two restaurant-industry analysts who are partnering on 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 want to get their book on the market promptly but without compromising production values. They are self-starters and exceptional project managers, so the idea of wrapping their heads around marketing, distribution, and publicity isn’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 have chosen a hybrid publisher to take on editing, cover design and page layout, proofreading, and printing their book. Jessica and David are paying for 2000 copies of a hardback edition plus an e-book edition. Their publisher will provide marketing support, focusing on media and review outreach (40-50 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 the big publishers, 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 of these books goes 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. 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, but 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, let’s talk. Email me at sally [at], or drop me a line via the contact form on my website.


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