Get Published or Self Publish?

Get Published or Self Publish?
Getting Published or Self Publishing?

Determining the Motivation for Your Book Project

I love getting the opportunity to speak to artists, illustrators, photographers and other creative types who have a book project in mind. We work with a wide variety of these projects.  If we get to talk early enough in the process, I will try as best as I can to help them determine their motivation for wanting their book project to see the light of day. As simple as that sounds, many of us are unfamiliar with the various ways you can get published or self publish a book these days.  It’s to be expected as even with recent disruptive world developments, the whole industry of book publishing through book selling is changing all the time. What was status quo last January will most certainly  not be the same today.

While no two projects are ever exactly the same, they may fall into a few categories with different solutions. Some of the motivations could be:

  • Establishing yourself as an authority or accomplished artist or photographer
  • You have seen some books of similar topics and feel yours would be better
  • You want to use this book as a tool for self promotion/notoriety
  • You want the project to create an additional revenue stream
  • Your book project covers a historic event that has not been published before
  • You are doing this pro-bono to fund raise  for a charitable cause

Should I pursue a traditional publisher for my project?

A traditional publisher will handle the financial burden of  design, editing printing, binding, warehousing, shipping, marketing and distribution of your project and pay you a royalty. Sounds good right?  So how do you find a publisher?  Many of the people I speak to may already have some connection to the publishing world, which is a plus.  Perhaps they know specific publishers who would be good for the their book topic, or maybe they have worked on assignment for other books for publishers.  If that’s the case I would suggest networking through those  companies to try to find the acquisitions editor and find out how to submit a proposal.  Books like we do (heavily illustrated and photographic editions) are generally not the same type of submission as a work of fiction. Keep this mind as we discuss some solutions later in this article.

If you have no connection to the book publishing world, you’ll need to start fresh with introductions and networking. I always suggest a trip to a few bookstores to search out any similar books in the subject matter you are pursuing and note the publisher’s names you find producing books like you would want yours to look like. In this day and age of Covid 19 you unfortunately  may need to do the browsing from the comfort and privacy of home! Hope that will change sometime soon ! You’ll usually find there is  a cross section of the top tier publishers and you also may encounter some local/regional publishers you never knew about before. Once you have narrowed down a list of around 10 publishers that seem to fit, go to their websites and search out submissions guidelines.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  This is the reality that happens more often than not. You may have a great book project and you may be feeling a great sense of urgency to publish your book right away, but  even if a publisher is willing to form a deal, they may be on a completely different time frame or publishing schedule than meets your inner needs. Your project gets accepted but won’t be published until 2023…. can you wait??

Secondly, with traditional publishing houses, many of the bigger names will only publish books submitted to them through book agents they have long standing relations with. If you go try and find a book agent, they will want to know where you have been published before and are often reluctant to accept submissions from first time authors.  this is more prevalent in the fiction  and children’s book genres but can run across all sectors depending on the publisher.  If you have fame or name recognition of some sort within your industry, this may be helpful to add some credibility to your project. It all depends!

But at the end of it all, let’s say you do get a contract with a traditional book publisher who will pay all expenses of production, marketing and distribution.  You get paid a royalty on sales. Beware of advances as that could seem enticing but at the end of the deal, if your sales do not exceed the advance they have given you, then you could technically owe the publisher part of the advance back.  Read the fine print and make sure you know what you agree to.  When I say that a publisher typically handles marketing of the book, that’s only partially true. In order for your book to be successful you may need to commit to book store signings (hopefully they open back up!), speaking engagements, radio interviews and other publicity type events. Most publishers expect the author participates in these things for the book to be successful.

OK, So What About Self Publishing? 

Self publishing can be the fastest route to the marketplace for your book project, but you will need to be responsible for the entire financial burden of  design, editing, printing, binding, warehousing, shipping, sales/marketing and distribution. Whether you are just producing one book or you plan to publish a series of titles, it literally becomes a separate business by itself!  So I ask you now, are you prepared to deal with all of the tasks associated with this?  I see some quite willing to be responsible for these tasks as self publishers, and they reap the total profits of their book vs only a royalty.  For some people, the traditional publishing path is not even a consideration, they see self publishing as the way to go.  For others, it may be time to pause and consider the options ( don’t worry there’s options!).

In recent years, with changes in printing technology, the cost of self publishing is within reach for the masses like never before. The trick here is to make sure you follow all the ins and outs of each of the publishing production steps  and avoid disastrous mistakes that have often fallen upon other first time self publishers.

The approach I like to offer to anyone who is at that crossroads, unsure of either traditional publishing  or self publishing is what I call taking a few baby steps, explained below.

Getting Feedback Pre-Publication. 

Lets say you have a list of book publishers who you might think would accept a submission. Build a database on them and add to it the other other perspective of who would be the buyers of your book if you self publish?  Would it be museum book stores, local regional independent bookstores or possibly special co-op  type arrangements whereby your project is published in conjunction with any larger organization such as a hospital, museum, gallery or local venue.

Once you have that list of an average of 30 names, you should reach out to them individually and explain that you have a book project in the works and see if they are willing to receive an advance  “sneak peak” at the project for any feedback they might be able to provide.

Marathon Press can help guide you through printing a short run of Galley Proofs, Sales Blads, or Advance Reader Copies. Advance Reader Copies (ARC) are a bound copy of your book, but may not be completely edited or finalized.  The cover or back cover can clearly be marked ” Advance Reader Copy” Not for Sale, or “For Review Purposes Only”.

unbound advance galley text proofs

Galley Proofs  and Sales Blads are unbound, perhaps with the printed cover or dust jacket wrapping around.  ARC’s are generally soft cover versions- but could be hard cover as well. The point being it is clearly not intended to represent the  final project – but offers the reviewer a glimpse into it before anyone else can see it. So we can make a less expensive prototype of the book for review/feedback. If you are seeking an advance 1-off complete bound book proof, this is also available, but usually used a bit later in the process of the book.  Many reviewers who receive these feel quite privileged by the experience and will be generous with feedback.  Along with this, you’ll create a cover letter explaining your project.  You can even give us the mailing list and we can do the mailing of all this for you! Naturally we will send you 1 copy first before sending out to your list.

Books with dust jackets

Summing it all up, it’s vital to be honest about your motivations for publishing your own book. Take the time to analyze and answer this yourself.  It’s the beginning part of a new business plan. Hopefully I have provided a few things to think about here in regards to options for publishing. We’re here to make you the hero in this journey! There’s a lot more in terms of all the options out there, so I hope you come back to the blog frequently as we go more in depth on this topic!

Stay creative!


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With over 30 years of Book Publishing experience, Marathon Press has helped thousands of clients self-publish anywhere from 20 to 50,000 copies of their book titles. Marathon has worked with several of the top names and organizations in the photography and photobook industry.

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Let us help guide you to the most appropriate paper options for your book project. We have 9 standard text options and 6 standard soft cover weight options for paperback books.

We have a long track record of award winning quality work for some of the most demanding artists and photographers in the industry!

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