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Publish a Book: Publishing Options

I Have A Dream...Now Where Do I Print It?

Sarah Cypher
October 6, 2003

What's the difference between traditional publishing, vanity publishing, self-publishing, and print-on-demand?

If you are a writer with a finished manuscript, these terms can make your head spin. All you want to do is get your work published, but now that the writing is done, you find yourself faced with some difficult questions:

  • Are you willing to run the submissions gauntlet to get your book on a New York editor's desk?
  • Or should you do the work yourself, and pay all your publication expenses out of pocket?
  • Or would you rather pay a print-on-demand company to print and market the book for you? If so, which one do you choose?

First, keep in mind that regardless of your reasons for writing a book -- love of storytelling, desire to educate, profit, whatever -- the process of turning it into a product is a completely different ball of wax. In effect, once the manuscript is done, part of you stops being a writer while you search for a way to get the words into print. This article is to help you think smartly about your next steps.

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING means that a publishing company accepts your manuscript and agrees to pay you royalties. You don't have to pay them a cent to work on your book. You receive a portion of each sale, and the rest of the profit covers the production costs and professional salaries involved in putting your book together. Many of these publishers are part of the New York circuit, but this category also includes small, independent presses and presses affiliated with universities.

VANITY PUBLISHING is like traditional publishing, except you pay all the costs yourself, and the publishing house does not market your book. Some writers choose to publish this way because they want to have a box full of books to sell or give to friends -- hence the name vanity publishing. The price tag on this option can soar to tens of thousands of dollars.

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