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Types of publishers and publishing
There are different ways to get your work out to the public. Basically, they fall into two categories: conventional publishing and self-publishing.
A conventional publisher will contract with you to produce and market your manuscript. They won't ask you for any money to do so, but they are in business, to make money, and they need to recover the costs of production from the sale of the book. They also want to make a profit. Usually they pay you royalties, a percentage of what they receive from the sale of the finished book (sometimes as little as 7%, sometimes as much as 15%). Sometimes they will pay you a one-time fee for using your material; this sort of payment is common for shorter pieces of writing that will appear for example in an anthology or in an issue of a journal or magazine.
Because conventional publishers are taking a financial risk on your manuscript, they want to make sure it is of high quality, and to get an assessment of this, they send your manuscript out to anonymous reviewers. These reviewers assess your manuscript in terms of content, readership, and what they think would need to be revised. The publisher will then decide, on the basis of how much they think it will cost them to produce versus how much they think they will profit from it, whether to accept it for publication. Publishers will often reject a manuscript pretty quickly if it contains too many errors, if the writing style is uneven, or if your presentation is careless.
Two other points to consider about conventional publishers:
- Having your manuscript read by anonymous reviewers can be helpful in getting feedback, but it can also be a drawback if these reviewers don't understand your ideas.
- Conventional publishers will probably have better and easier access to commercial markets.
Self-publishing is when you pay for any or all of the steps of publishing: production of the book (including layout, design, printing, and binding), marketing, distribution, etc. Once you've paid for all these, any money that you make from the sale of the book is yours. Some self-publishing houses will do that work for you, but you have to pay them to do it. You can also do all the work yourself (which of course you also pay for). A self-publishing company will not send your manuscript to reviewers, since you, and not the company, are deciding whether it should be published, are assuming all financial risk, and are taking complete responsibility for the content.
For some kinds of books, such as academic books, self-publishing might not give your work the same status as it would get if it were published conventionally. But there are some reasons people self-publish, such as the following.
- An organisation or individual wants to make something available as a service, such as a collection of sermons, or a guide to some aspect of local life. These kinds of projects are probably not profitable, but profit isn't a major consideration.
- If a writer believes in the quality of a book, but conventional publishers don't, then the writer might want to self-publish. This could be an option for writers who don't care whether their books will make money.
- If a writer thinks a manuscript will make money, but conventional publishers don't, then the writer might be prepared to go ahead and pay for publishing on the assumption that all productions costs will be recouped from sales.