How to Publish a Book: 5 Questions to Consider in Getting Your Book Published

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I'm often asked how to publish a book. After all, I help writers get published as my day job. And I can tell you it's as simple or complicated as a writer wishes to make it. In this post, I'm going to share 5 questions to consider in getting your book published.

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Your answers to these questions should help you figure out the best path to publication. So let's figure this out.

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How to Publish a Book

Question 1: Should I publish traditional or DIY?

Traditional publishing is the act of getting a book published and financed by an objective outside party. So not by your parents or friends...unless they own a traditional press. DIY is short for do-it-yourself and means that you're taking an active role in the printing, promoting, distributing, financing, etc., of the book project.

I can't answer any of these questions for you, but here are some things to consider:

  • Traditional handles a lot of the non-writing stuff for writers so they can focus on writing. Things like distribution, accounting, financing the project, etc.
  • DIY is usually faster. I mean, I self-published "books" of poetry in high school by collecting writing on 8x11 pieces of paper, taking them to the local copy shop, making copies, and having the pages folded over and stapled. Quick and dirty. But even nicer books with paperback or hardback covers can be done efficiently via the DIY route.
  • Both routes require some self-promotion and marketing muscle from the writer. Theoretically, a traditional publisher can publish your book without you lifting a finger beyond the writing. However, it's been proven time and time again that writers who help promote their books tend to find more success than those who don't.

If you want to publish a book to distribute among friends and family (or to do just for fun), then DIY may be the best route. It can also work for folks with a built-in target audience that they reach via online promotion and/or regular speaking sessions. However, traditional publishing is the goal for many writers who want to make it into bookstores or claim the authority of being published by an objective resource (ie, traditional publisher).

Question 2: Should I publish via print or digitally?

Or another question might be, should I publish both ways? Answering this question might be decided by whether you're going the traditional or DIY route. Then again, maybe you decide to go the traditional route for print publication and the DIY route for e-books. Or the other way around.

Also, only you know if you're in love with the idea of having a physical copy of your book. Some writers couldn't care less about format and just want to be able to share their content in the easiest way possible. That might be with an e-book.

Personally, I have published books that are only available in print, only available electronically, and available both ways. For each project, there were various factors involved in figuring out which option made the most sense.

Question 3: Should I get an agent or submit directly to publishers?

If you're going the DIY route, you do not need an agent. You also don't need to submit directly to publishers--unless you're using a self-publishing service. In which case, do your research. So yeah, I'm directing this question to the writers going the traditional route.

A good way to get to the answer for this question is to ask another question: Who do you want to publish your book?

If you want it published by a huge (or even medium-sized) house (especially if located in New York), then you may NEED an agent just to get your submission considered. There are many publishers that rely on agents to act as a type of filter to get to the better submissions. As such, they only accept work submitted to them by respectable literary agents.

That said, there are some smaller and academic presses that prefer to NOT work with an agent. Often, submission guidelines will outline publisher preferences. So make a short list of publishers you'd like to see publish your book and then check out their preferences when it comes to agents.

Question 4: Should I enter contests or only submit via open submission periods?

Book contests are sometimes controversial, because most contests charge an entry fee to enter. While paying one $20 or $25 entry fee may not break the bank, these fees can add up over time if you enter several contests, especially if you don't win the prize. That said, many writers have seen their writing careers take flight by winning a contest. Plus, there's a certain ring to being called an award-winning writer, no?

Again, you have to make these hard choices, but here's something to consider if you decide to enter book contests. Look for freemiums you may receive just by entering the contest. Some fee-charging contests will send a copy of the winning book to everyone who enters. Others offer a subscription to their magazine or journal. Others may provide a webinar or some other gift for entering. This can at least help ease the pain of paying money for the opportunity to lose a contest and receive nothing in return for your entry fee.

Question 5: Do you have more books to offer?

The press that published my poetry collection did so for a couple reasons: 1. They believed in the manuscript I submitted; and 2. They believed in my ability to write another book.

While it's always that one book that gets you in the door with a traditional press, everyone wins when a writer is focused on building a career out of their books. If you have more than one book in you, then chances are probably pretty good that you want to make a career (even if part-time) out of this whole writing thing.

And if that's the case, wonderful! But let that help inform the answers to the other questions above. Will it help or hinder your writing career to go the fast and easy DIY route when you're trying to get that first book published? Should you shoot for the big publishers right out of the gate? Enter book contests? Knowing your long-term goals can help shape your short-term priorities.

Of course, you don't need multiple books to go the traditional route. But ask yourself these hard questions in the beginning, and you're bound to find more success publishing your book. And being happy with the final result.

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Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, specifically working on the Market Books, WritersMarket.com, and maintaining the Poetic Asides blog. He is also the author of Solving the World's Problems (print only), Writer's Digest Guide to Poetic Forms (digital only), and the forthcoming Smash Poetry Journal (which should be available in multiple formats). And, of course, follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.