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6 book publishing models in 2017

There was an interesting discussion about book publishing models in a Facebook group for self-published authors that I co-moderate.

It started with a member asking for feedback about the fees a publisher was going to charge him. He thought it would be smart to ask around before signing a contract.

He got good advice — some in the group with relevant experience told him they thought the price was too high for what he was getting — but he also received advice that was just plain wrong.

Only one book publishing model? Huh?

In particular, several members insisted that there is only one book publishing model. It’s one in which authors spend no money to bring their book to the world.

One member wrote, “No… no…no… no… if they are publishing you then there should be NO charges. Sorry, but that’s bullshit.”

Another wrote, “No reputable publisher is going to ask for money up front.”

And yes, this feedback was in a group is for self-published authors. Ironic, yes?

Their advice reminded me of how little some people know about the book publishing industry today — versus even 10 years ago — and how careful authors need to be about who they listen to.

Book publishing can involve spending money

The group members who insisted that the only book publishing option available is one in which the publisher assumes the financial risk and the author pays nothing are just plain wrong. It’s one publishing model, but it’s not the only one.

In reality, most self-published authors are (or should be) spending money to publish their books. Most can’t publish a quality book without contracting with professional:

  • Editors
  • Cover designers
  • Interior designers for print
  • Printers for hard copies when desired

All of these services cost money.

What the “a publisher should pay you, not the other way around” people don’t understand is that most of today’s authors aren’t going to find a publisher that will underwrite their books.

Quite simply, there are more books than there are publishing contracts.

Because of that, authors-to-be with a book in them have to foot the publishing bill themselves. They can go completely D-I-Y (not recommended), they can contract with a collection of specialists for the services required, or they can outsource everything to a company that will manage the people and processes required.

Jane Friedman’s most excellent chart on book publishing models

But don’t take my word for it.

Publishing industry consultant and expert Jane Friedman recently updated her chart detailing publishing models. I reprinted the first one in my 2013 article, “5 models for today’s book publishing.”

Friedman’s revised chart, below, details six publishing models.

To quote the annoying Flonase commercial that suggests we aren’t good with numbers, “Six is greater than one.”

book publishing models 3

To see this chart in full screen format, click on this link: 2016 Key Publishing Paths by Jane Friedman.

As you can see, there are three traditional publishing models (green, left). With these options, publishers take on the financial risk and you are either paid an advance against royalties to write the book, or, as is increasingly the case, you get no advance, but don’t have to spend your own money to produce your book.

Under the alternative options, you’ll see that the self-publishing column (second from right) offers several different options within that model.

If you’re new to book publishing, study Friedman’s chart carefully so you know your options and potential expenses.

I also recommend visiting her site, subscribing to her twice-monthly newsletter (a message will pop up on the screen), and subscribing to her blog.

Who do you trust?

Which brings me to another point: Be careful about whose advice you take.

I wrote about something similar, vetting the people you hire, in “6 steps for vetting your vendors.”

Please consider reading that article. The people you listen to online aren’t necessarily going to be people you hire, but you want to apply the same thought process to those you might be drawn to online.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind as you monitor their contributions to groups and discussions:

  • Are they “one trick ponies?” By that I mean, do they keep repeating the same message, or is there depth and breadth to what they offer?
  • How do they present themselves? Are they confident, or is what you’re seeing actually arrogance? Are they open to differing viewpoints, or do they shut down anyone who mentions a different experience or viewpoint?
  • How do others in the group respond to them? When you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s hard to distinguish between quality advice and B.S., but if others seem to consistently validate their feedback, it’s likely they know what they’re talking about.

I shudder to think about how many people in the Facebook group I mentioned at the start of this article were discouraged by the loud voices saying that there’s only one way to publish a book. After all, they probably joined the group because they heard that self-publishing makes it possible for anyone with a story to tell to bring that story to the world through a book. And here was someone telling them with great confidence that everything they thought they knew was wrong.

If it doesn’t sound right, and especially if others are disputing it, do some independent research to either verify or disprove what you thought you knew.

Two more thoughts to keep in mind

I hope you’ll also remember two more things:

  1. The loudest voices aren’t necessarily the wisest ones.
  2. There are many ways to publish your book today. Learn as much as you can about the option that seems to be the best fit for your situation before proceeding.

There’s a lot of noise out there. I wish you luck finding the wisdom in all that sound — but there are a lot of wise and talented people — like Jane Friedman — sharing what they know. You just have to find them.

How do you decide who to trust, whether you’re looking for advice or someone to hire? Please share your advice in a comment — I’m sure it will help all of us. 

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  1. Excellent summary. The other thing is, those six models? Changing all the time! Another resource I find helpful is Victoria Strauss’s Writer Beware! website: http://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/ Because in amongst all those publishing options are scammers and marginal providers. We want to avoid those. Another source of info on agents, publishers, etc. is the Absolute Write website’s “water cooler,” where writers trade information and experiences, good and baaaaaad. Thanks, Sandy!

  2. This is a fabulous article Sandra, thank you for sharing! 🙂 It’s indeed enlightening and validating. I also get very frustrated when I hear “experts” announce that “there’s only one way” to publish a book. I’m like thinking to myself: “seriously?” You referenced your article with one of the best sources in publishing: Jane Friedman. She’s a Powerhouse when it comes to the book publishing industry. I appreciated how you shared that there is more than one model to publish, that book publishing does involve spending money for a professional looking book and that those looking to publish should be careful who to trust and get their advise from. My suggestions would be similar to what you shared: With so much “noise” out there, the loudest voices are not always the ones with the most accurate information, so folks should do due diligence and educate themselves with the book industry by following and listening to individuals who’ve been in this “space” a long time and have a great track record of solid experience and sound advice. — Eric

    1. Thanks, Eric. I feel bad for people who are new to this because it does take time to not only learn all that’s involved, but to also figure out who to listen to and who to tune out. Many times, when they’re at the point where they’re starting to learn, new authors also want to make decisions so they can move forward. But it’s better to wait and acquire knowledge first — it could prevent expensive mistakes.


    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Ian. All of Jane’s information is topnotch, so you’ll want to follow her.


  3. I agree completely with your assessment of people in groups giving advice. To meet with people on FB is the worst way to have a meaningful discussion because there are always those people who seem to have an emotional need to dominate a discussion. And worse, they’re usually wrong, too.

    Having been the marketing and advertising business for more than 35 years, I learned that Focus Groups are the least dependable way to learn about a client’s product or service. All it takes is one (or two) dominant personalities to overwhelm the whole discussion, thus making the findings invalid.

    1. I like how you expressed this, Douglas — “an emotional need to dominate a discussion.” That’s perfect. And what an interesting observation about focus groups. It certainly makes sense. I suspect that would apply to juries, too. What do you think?


  4. Good stuff Sandra! I self-published my first two books, but ended up with books stacked in my bedroom. Now I am considering hybrid publishers for my 3rd book who have fulfillment – w/ POD,

    One is Christian Faith Publishing, who gives the author 100% of proceeds from sales, then author pays them 50 cents per book sold. Are you familiar with this company?

    1. Robert, I’m not familiar with that company (there are SO many!). Did you have to pay to get the book produced?


  5. Thank you for this excellent article that I’m sharing. I’d just add that for new authors it’s essential to take your time and decide what is right for you, while researching the different ways to go and what is required for each way. And also keeping in mind that change is quick and constant in the book publishing world nowadays. Since I belong to groups and teach classes I see so many times when new authors jump into a way of publication to their later regret. When I was an acquiring editor at a small publisher that did not take reprints time and again I’d get an author saying, “But my self-published book never sold, won’t you take it?” No.

    1. Thanks for this helpful feedback, Conda. I’ll add that the irony of that whole self-publishing-to-getting-picked-up-by-a-traditional-publisher situation is that the book won’t get picked up without an impressive sales track record. At that point, do you really need to go with a publisher?

      I love your advice about taking the time to learn. I want to cry when I hear from authors who spent 5 figures to get a book produced. They end up with boxes and boxes and boxes of books and then ask, “Now what?” It’s so unfortunate.

      Thanks for stopping by — and please come back!


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