This week I am answering a question from a writer about the different routes to publishing. The answer is quite long, but if you are starting to think about what to do with your story once you’ve finished it, Sally’s concerns in this area may well be yours, too.

So here’s the question:

Dear Janet,

A friend has suggested I contact you to see if you are able to offer me any advice please. I have written a young children’s story which a friend has illustrated for me. I have had hybrid publishing contracts offered by 3 different publishers, ranging from £1900 to £1600. I looked into self publishing, but it looked complicated & still expensive. I have also had an offer of £899 from a publisher, who would guide me through self publishing, but the only outlet is Amazon. Finally, there is a publisher who is not accepting new submissions until the autumn, but if a work is accepted, their offer is for the author to purchase a number of copies as their contribution. Please can you offer any advice for a way through this maze.

Grateful thanks, Sally

Firstly, congratulations, Sally, on finishing your book! Yaaayyyyy!!!!!

Many people think about writing a book, some start, but few finish… So well done.

And on to the question of what to do next.

Let’s first look at the basic publishing models:

  • Traditional, where an established publishing house turns your manuscript into a book
  • Self-publishing, where you do everything yourself
  • Hybrid, which is where a company does the work of turning your manuscript into a book, but you are expected to pay something towards the costs and/or buy books (usually several hundred)
  • Vanity publishing. This comes with a heavy warning.

So let’s have a look at all of these in more detail.

The first thing I need to say is say that publishing and printing are expensive processes. A publishing company will not just have to pay for printing, but for editing, typesetting, the cover, the inner book design, proofreading, and Illustrations if needed. They will also have to pay the author royalties. Plus there are all the other general overhead expenses that any business has – premises, IT, stationery, PO Box, website costs, shipping, insurance, heating and lighting… then there’s marketing and social media and staff costs and so it goes on. That’s all off the top of my head, and doesn’t include taxes!

So although it doesn’t cost a lot to write a book (I know, your time is precious!), it does cost a lot (of money and time) to produce one. These days, unless you have bestselling books, it’s challenging for publishers to meet costs, sometimes, let alone make a profit, especially if the market is niche, such as Christian children’s books, and the author unknown. Therefore, if a publisher takes on your book, they are taking all the risk.

This is where the hybrid model comes in. You, as the author, take some/all of the financial risk. But they do all the hard work of producing the book for you! You do need to check exactly what they will do and what is required of you. Make sure you have all the information before you proceed, and are happy with how the company works, and your part in it.

But what about all those books you have to buy? Yikes!!!

Well, whether you are traditionally published, or not, you are going to have to get out into the world and market and sell your book yourself, so getting a few hundred books yourself at a good price (possibly up to 50% off the RRP), will mean you can make your money back, at least, and get your work out into the world and into the hands of those people you long to touch with your story.

And if you work really hard, you can end up making a nice profit!

So the hybrid model can work well. In the UK I can recommend Instant Apostle and Onwards and Upwards. I know, like and trust the people who run both of these organisations; they won’t fleece you!

Of course, you have to have the money in the first place… eeeekkk!!!! Why not pray about it? It’s amazing what the Lord can do! You might even have the answer in your own hands… maybe you could sell some unwanted items on Vinted or ebay, or do a sponsored event? 🙂

As for self-publishing, this is a big learning curve. If you’re up for it, do go ahead. If it makes your heart sink, you might need to see if you can get someone to help you… only you can decide about that. And you’re absolutely right, it’s still not cheap, if you do it properly (and what’s the point of releasing a poor product?).

However, the phrase in Sally’s email “publisher, who would guide me through self publishing” makes me wonder if they are really a publisher at all? I’m not sure why a publisher would do this – it raises questions in my mind. Or is this publisher a friend or fellow writer, who is happy to help guide your through the process of turning your manuscript into a book? If you don’t know the ‘publisher’ personally, and are happy for them to have your cash, you should be extremely wary of parting with your money.

And so on to a BIG WARNING to everyone. Avoid so called ‘Vanity Publishers’ who expect you to pay for everything. Do not get a ‘publisher’ to publish your book for you, who is asking you to pay them a lot of money. Sadly, many so called ‘publishing companies’ are little more than thieves. They will take your money and run, often leaving you with a disappointing product, no customer service, and no sales plan. The internet is full of tragic stories of thousands of pounds lost by authors desperate to get their book out into the world, who end up with nothing. Check out independent reviews – they will make your hair curl.

In conclusion, as Sally says, it’s a maze.

BUT there is always a way forward. Keep praying! If the Lord has called you to write this book, he will make the way.

Just one final thought:

Could you start with a kindle/ebook? Kindle books are reasonably straightforward to create from a simple Word document, and the process is completely free. And at a later date, you can go on to publish a physical book. This is one way you could take the learning curve one step at a time. And you can probably find a young person from your family or church to help. (Or YouTube, of course!)

I’d like to finish by saying that everything I’ve said here is merely my opinion. I know Christian authors who have done very well at self-publishing, those who have had great success with kindle/ebooks and those who have successfully published with the hybrid model. Please do consider your options carefully. Just don’t pay money to unscrupulous people. If you think I’m being harsh, do a quick search online, or ask in writers groups. You don’t have to look very far to find horror stories.

I do hope this has helped Sally, and perhaps others of you, too.

If anyone else has any wisdom to offer, please do get in touch!

And if anyone would like support as they write their books and get them out into the world, we’d love you to join us in our membership group, Writers for a Reason Unite.

Hope to see you there!

Every blessing for the week ahead,


P.S. Zoom training on 31st July – save the date!

P.P.S. I have a course in book marketing. It’s not open at the moment, but if you’d like to go on a waitlist for when it’s available, let me know.

Publishing, Self-Publishing, Hybrid Publishing, Vanity Publishing: What should you do?
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