(Excerpt from my new book “Write a Book!”. Get the whole book for free (this week only!) at Amazon.com.)

There are several ways to publish your book:

  • Self-published Author: The author writes the book and also manages the editing, layout, distribution, and marketing. He produces digital books or printed books. Distribution services may include Kindle, Lulu, Smashwords, Nook, and Amazon. This can also be a simple PDF file sent by email, posted on a blog or website, or sold at Amazon as a Kindle ebook or a printed book, both paperback and hardback.
  • Independent Publisher: These are small specialized publishing houses. They specialize in genre fiction (such as detective or science fiction), business topics, or academic publishing. These are generally led by people who love books. The author writes the book and the independent publisher does the editing, layout, printing, distribution, and marketing. The author gets a royalty. They also produce paperback and hardback.
  • Big House Publishers: The big publishing houses may employ thousands of people and have offices worldwide. These include Random House, McGraw-Hill, and IDG. Just like independent publishing, the big house publishers take care of editing, layout, printing, distribution, and marketing. The author also gets a royalty.
  • Vanity Press: These printing companies pretend to be publishers. You send your manuscript and several thousand dollars and they print it for you. You get a few hundred printed books with your name on it. These printers take advantage of the author’s desperation to be published.

The distinctions overlap and it depends on who is talking. Smashwords and Lulu use the phrase “independent publishing” and “indie publishing” to cover writers who publish their own work. Some talk about small publishers and large publishers.

The difference between independent publishing and big-house publishing is like independent film studios (indie films) and Hollywood film studios. Just as indie film makers specialize in documentaries or special movies, independent publishers also specialize in niche fields.

The author’s experience will depend on the type of publisher. The independent publisher collaborates with the author like a coach and shares knowledge and experience. The publisher is also more flexible with the content, the process, and the deadlines. With a big-house publisher, there is less personal attention. The author is expected to know how to write and deliver the manuscript. The text is held to a higher standard.

In either case, you have to collaborate with your publisher. You can’t just write a text and toss it over the fence. Publishers are working dozens or hundreds of other writers. The more you work with your publisher, the more attention you will get.

If we look only at the results (the printed book), there isn’t much difference. Technology allows anyone now to produce books at the same quality as large publishers and use Amazon to distribute worldwide.

The difference is in the selection and editing process. The publishers select the writers. Authors who work with publishers, whether small independents or big names, get guidance and feedback. The books go through content review and editing for grammar and style. For academic or scholarly books, the publisher’s editorial contribution is critical to ensure the book meets the high standard of quality for academia.

So, What’s Better? Self-Publish or Big Publisher?

So how should you publish your books? There is not a clear answer to that.

  • If you self publish, you have control over the production, profits, distribution, and marketing. You can use the book in many different ways for marketing and promotion. You can reuse your text for other books and formats. You can release each chapter as a separate ebook. You can give it away. You keep control over your text. This means if IBM wants to give a chapter of your book to their 400,000 employees, it’s up to you. If you gave the publishing rights to a publisher, the publisher makes the decision. It can take months for that to happen. The downside of self publishing is extra time and work.
  • If you work with an independent publisher, you’ll have a partner who has deep experience in your subject and profession. That can develop into a long-term relationship.
  • If your book is published by a big publisher, you’ll get the cachet and name recognition of a large brand. To be published by McGraw-Hill, IDG, Wiley, or similar is a mark of excellence.

Whatever you choose, one thing is common: you must do the marketing yourself. You must develop a long-term strategy of writing books for your career with marketing and promotion that includes a website, an email newsletter, digital advertising, speaking events, and more.

Don’t worry about the East Coast obsession with big publishers. People on the East Coast, especially in Manhattan, think they’re a real writer only if they’re published by one of the large publishers. However, the astonishing success of 50 Shades of Grey and many other self-published books has changed the industry.

Get the Whole Book for Free

Want the rest of the book? Get my book for free (this week only!) at Amazon.com.