Would-be authors are under the impression that there are only two routes to bringing their book to market: traditional publishing and self-publishing. But there is actually a third route. It’s a subset of the self-publishing route. Call it “vanity publishing.” Let’s take them in turn, since I’m familiar now with all three.  

Traditional:  We all know this route and how hard it is. My nonfiction book, The Ultimate Startup Guide, cowritten with my business partner Carol Broadbent) went the traditional route. We found an agent who in turn found a publisher (Career Press). And here came Surprise #1. When we asked how they planned to market and promote the book, they asked us the same question, including what PR firm we’d engaged. Surprise #2 was financial: from a list price of $17.00 we would get $2.50. You get the idea.

And that’s nonfiction, which is the easier path to travel in the Traditional category. If you hope to go that route with your novel, be aware that finding an agent is ten times more difficult. You’ll see the stories about the first-time novelist whose book grabs the agent, who in turn takes it to Hollywood and starts a bidding war, turning the novelist into a millionaire before the book even hits the market. That stuff happens. Just not to me, and probably not to you.

Self vs. Vanity: A first-time novelist who gets fed up beating their head against the Traditional path will often turn to the broad area of “self-publishing.” I know about this route because I used it for my first novel, Left for Alive. But “self-publishing” is a broad category, and there’s a sub-component in it, which is often termed “vanity publishing”, that you need to be aware of. And, unless you’re very rich and very lazy, you should avoid.

Back to “self-publishing.” Let’s take the words in turn. “Self” means just that: you do it all yourself. Meaning you have to familiarize yourself with things like ISBN numbers, print sizes, etc. It’s daunting, so the idea of an agency taking all of that off your hands is attractive.

And if all you want to do is get your book printed, an agency like Archway or Outskirts Press will do it for about $2000. But your publishing “consultant” will explain that all that does is make your book one of thousands (or millions) out there. And unless you’re a marketing expert with nothing but time on your hands, the book will only sell as many as you buy and distribute to friends and families.

But wait: these agencies have “marketing packages” that will help get your book out there using a number of vehicles, all with impressive numbers attached to them. The packages run from $3000 to $15,000, and they promise all kinds of services. The best way to evaluate these packages is to take the price per unit of your novel (Let’s say you get $7.00 for each book you sell) and divide it into the package price. Then ask your “consultant” what the odds are that their programs will generate that kind of sales.

Finally, research what each program actually is. For example, here’s one set of services:

  • Include your book in our newsletter sent to 50,000 Subscribers,
  • Tweet about your book to 450,000 Readers 105 times, and
  • List your book on our website for 2 years straight.

Sounds incredible, right? In my case, even though it was my book and I helped design the cover, I skipped over it a few times, both in their newsletter and website. True Self-Publishing: Having been burnt by the Vanity approach, I’m going this route with my second novel. I’ve got a small team in place—all established pros in their areas—that will push me in the right directions. We’ve just started the process, so stay tuned.