You’ve done the hard yards and finished a manuscript. Way to go! You’re feeling good about it. This could be a best-seller. This could win all the literary awards. This could at least get a few 3 star reviews on Goodreads. You decide you want to publish your novel. But how? There are six main ways you could go about publishing your manuscript. Each has their own pros and cons, but they are all valid methods of publication. The important thing is to find the option that works for you.
Traditional Publishing with ‘The Big Five’
The ‘Big Five’ are Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan. These are the big guns, each with hundreds of imprints, which are smaller companies acting under the small umbrella. Having a contract with Penguin Random House might be a huge ego boost, but there are cons to being a little fish in a gigantic ocean-sized pond. AusQueerYA can find a place in these houses, but it’s not going to be easy. These houses receive thousands of submissions per year and several only accept manuscripts via an agent. If this is your dream, go for it, just be realistic about the time it may take for your manuscript (or the one after that, or maybe the one after that) to be picked up. With these houses, you should be offered a small advance, even as a first-time author, and then make a small percentage of royalties once you have earned back your advance.
Traditional Publishing with Medium-Large Press
A lot of AusQueerYA books that have been traditionally published have been through mid-large sized companies outside of the Big Five. This includes publishers like Walker Books (and their imprint, Walker Books Australia). The business model of these companies and the Big Five are similar, but they are often more open to new authors, ‘diverse’ content and a lot of the time accept unsolicited submissions (that is, you don’t need an agent, you can send your manuscript directly to them, such as the Walker Wednesday program). Each publisher will have their own ‘thing’ to distinguish them. Check out our publishers list, do some research and find a publisher who fits your genre and style. Think about your favourite Queer books. Who published them? Again, you should be offered an advance and then make a small percentage of royalties after you have earned your advance back. Authors are still expected to contribute effort to their own marketing with these houses and the Big Five.
Traditional Publishing with Small Press
Small traditional publishing houses can vary widely. Some are small because they are focused on a niche product and/or market, such as Pantera Press’s focus on finding new talent or Ylva’s focus on lesbian fiction. A company like Pantera may grow into a medium or large company as their ‘new’ authors become established and successful authors. Other companies like Ylva may remain small due to the small market of such a niche product. Then there are companies which were originally set up to launch a self-published book from (it’s quite easy to set up a publishing company, but not at all easy to run one), or they may be not-for profits, get-rich-quick-schemes or really amazing companies who are just starting out but who will take care of you for life. It’s very pick and mix. Research is your friend. We endeavour to list all publishers, no matter how small, who are publishing AusQueerYA here, but if you come across one we’ve missed who you are thinking about submitting to, let us know.
The pros of using a smaller press is that the turnaround time is usually shorter, your chances of being picked up as a new author are higher and you are likely to have a greater say in things like edits, cover design and marketing (though this is not guaranteed). The cons are that there is less money involved, less market reach and depending on the publisher, varying levels of professionalism (read: typos in your final copy!). Be extremely careful of any publishing house who asks to use your work for free. While it may seem tempting to take any offer and have your book out there, writing a book takes a HUGE amount of work. Do not under value yourself. The publisher will make money from your book. You should too.
Hybrid publishing is a mix of traditional and self-publishing models. There are a few different ways this can work, but basically you are paying to be published. With the hybrid model, you will usually only be published if you have a book that will sell, so while there is still a risk that you won’t make back your money, most hybrid models offer the confidence that you have a written a good book. Some publishers work on a curated model. This works like traditional publishing, in which the editorial team selects only certain manuscripts for publication. Unlike traditional publishing though, if your manuscript is selected, you must pay for the privilege. This cost is often thousands of dollars. The other common method of hybrid publishing is crowdfunding. This is where you upload your manuscript to a host site, and readers can pre-order your book or pledge money toward its publication. Whether your book gets published or not depends on if enough readers order it. The cost is often taken off the sales of the books. You may not have to pay anything upfront, but it can be a long time before you make any money either (if ever). For example, Inkshare offer 35% royalties, but only after you have sold 750 copies. As a first time author on a self-publishing site, 750+ sales is no small feat. There is a lot of variance in price and quality of hybrid-publishers, so do your research carefully before committing to anything. Some assisted self-publishers (see next point) label themselves as ‘hybrid’, so it can be a tricky space to navigate.
Assisted self-publishing is similar to hybrid-publishing, in that you are essentially paying someone else to publish your work for you. Assisted self-publishing usually works as a ‘package’ structure, where you pay a set fee for certain services. With assisted self-publishing, you retain all rights to your work and receive 100% of the net royalties. The main difference with this and many hybrid publishers is that they will publish pretty much anything if you have the cash for it and the quality of edits and design will vary widely. Be careful of any publisher who hounds you from the second you start enquiring. If you are getting high-pressure, used-car salesperson vibes from a publisher, RUN. This option is good if you have a book that you want published for a specific purpose (like a handbook for a particular niche industry, or if publishing for a small group of definite buyers) and if you have a bit of money that you don’t mind spending. It saves a lot of time using an assisted service rather than going completely DIY.
As the name suggests, this method is where you do it all yourself. Some people go hardcore DIY and literally do every piece of the publishing process themselves, from edits to design to marketing, but this isn’t advisable unless you’re really good at all these elements. All publishing houses use a team of professionals to create a final product. There are editors, cover designers, layout/formatting designers, marketing experts, distributors and probably a bunch of other people I don’t even know about working behind the scenes to make a great book. You can end up paying very little if you do it all yourself, but it will take up a huge amount of your time and energy.
Most people, including self-published authors who have gone on to commercial success, hire cover designers, editors and other professionals on a freelance basis to help them. With this method, you are still in control of how your book turns out. You can say no to a cover design, title or editing suggesting. You will have to pay these people, unless you’re lucky enough to know a bunch of publishing pros who owe you favours. The cost can vary depending on the level of experience and skill of the people you hire and how many people you hire. Unlike assisted self-publishing though, you have control over how much you spend. If one editor is going to break your budget, you can shop around for another. If that editor isn’t working for you, you can find a new one. You will retain full rights to your manuscript and receive 100% of net royalties (you will pay some fees to your host site, such as Amazon, iBooks etc, of which the amount varies). Self-publishing in digital form is the most cost-effective and easiest way to go. If you want your books physically printed, this will add another several layers of time/cost/stress. If you are just starting out, we would suggest publishing digitally first and only doing a print run if you have some success, for example, if you fill a pre-order of several hundred (or how ever many you need to make a profit after printing costs).
All these methods are valid forms of publishing.
Choosing to self-publish doesn’t make you a failure and using a traditional publishing house doesn’t make you a sell-out. All six methods have pros and cons. The important thing is to find the right method for you and for the book you are trying to publish. Maybe your current book is a best seller and would thrive in one of the Big Five houses, but your next book might be a small poetry collection that you’d rather self-publish. Unless you’re locked into a contract that secures the rights to all your future works (which you should never agree to), you can switch it up as you need.
Over the coming months we will be investigating these methods further, trying to get our heads around royalties, contracts, marketing and even trying our hand at self-publishing a book so you can all learn from our mistakes (and success, hopefully!)
If you have any questions about any of the publishing methods, let us know in the comments below.