There are a number of ways of getting your book published. I order them by technical skills required by the author below.
- Traditional publishing. If you get accepted, the publisher handles the technicalities of publishing once you send in a manuscript.
- "Author Services Companies". Originally known as "vanity publishing", you pay a company to publish your books. The amount of services you purchase can be variable; that is, you may be able to do some tasks yourself. These companies will refer to themselves as "self-publishing companies", but that is not accurate, as they are the publisher.
- Self-publishing. You become the publishing company, and either do tasks yourself, or hire people to do some of the tasks. For example, you need someone to edit your work before it is released. You may use a company to handle distribution, which blurs the line between this option and the "author services" option.
The catch with traditional publishing is getting your book accepted. Unless you are already famous, this is now a quite difficult task. The publishing companies have been under economic pressure, and they focus their efforts on star authors. Additionally, the delays before publication are quite long (two years after acceptance would be typical), which is why I am not interested in that option for my initial books.
As for "author services" companies, they make their money selling services to authors, not selling books. You need to do a lot of due diligence before trying this option.
With regards to self-publishing, you are on your own. You need to be careful about legal issues, and the technical skills required are impressive. At the minimum, you need to find someone to create a cover and to properly edit your book.
Marketing - You Are On Your Own
Historically, traditional publishing companies would handle the marketing tasks for their authors. Other than for a handful of stars, this is no longer true. No matter what option you choose, you are going to handle marketing yourself. Therefore, you need to do something like set up a blog, or start using social media like Twitter.
I am not an expert on developing a following online, but if you are reading this and you are not a close relative, I presumably had at least some success.
Fiction Versus Non-Fiction
Pretty much all of the rich and famous authors write fiction. If you can crack into the elite group of winners, writing fiction is quite lucrative. The catch is - your competition are those famous authors.
From an online marketing standpoint, fiction is in an awkward position relative to non-fiction. People who are searching for information on a niche topic can find your articles (or books) based on the keywords. If you write about a fantasy world with a name you make up, your web site will easily dominate the search rankings for that name. The problem is that until your book is famous, nobody will be searching for your world, as it they have never heard of it.
My discussions here are mainly aimed at writers of non-fiction. I believe that I know how to market my work (whether or not I succeed remains to be seen), but I have no idea how to market fiction.
One of the most comprehensive guides on self-publishing I have read is The Global Indie Author (Third Edition) by Michelle Demers. It discusses self-publishing from a global perspective, which sections for authors in a variety of countries. The book covers the entire process, including book formatting, legal issues, and distribution. She has an excellent explanation of how independent authors fit in amongst the financial clashes of the big players in publishing. Her web site on self-publishing is: mademers.com/globalindieauthor/
Other web sites are:
- Michael N. Marcus - bookmakingblog.com. An experienced author and publisher; has a lot of insight into independent publishing as a business, as well as how to format books. He has a number of ebooks on aspects of being an author or publisher.
- Chris McMullen. Chris writes mainly about publishing on Amazon.com. Amazon has a strong self-publishing platform, but there is a risk associated with having all of your revenue coming from a single company. (As a disclaimer, I have an affiliate advertising relationship with Amazon.com.)