.st0{fill:#FFFFFF;}

E2A 012: Four Publishing Models and How to Choose 

 August 11, 2021

By  Scott A. MacMillan

With your manuscript locked, it’s time to get it published.

This is certainly one of the most important final furlongs in this journey called authorship.

But how do you select the right publishing model for your authorial debut? That’s the next question.

In this episode of The Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, your host Scott MacMillan will introduce you to the four major publishing models, the pros, cons, and costs involved with each, and then provide some tips on choosing the ideal publishing model for you.

Episode Links

Entrepreneur to Author™ Select

Episode Transcript

Scott A. MacMillan:      

You're listening to the Entrepreneur to Author podcast, episode number 12

Mike Manz:                 

Welcome to the Entrepreneur to Author Podcast, the podcast that brings you practical strategies for building authority and growing your business. And now here's your host, Scott MacMillan.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Imagine, after all the time it's taken to get here. Now your manuscript, it's publish-ready, it's locked. Your message nailed. The pros, better than you ever thought possible. That is big. Who are we kidding? It's huge, but I know there's always a but, right? Right now, that manuscript only lives on your hard drive. It's just a word file. And frankly, your readers want, expect more than that. So, how do you package up your manuscript and get it into the hands of your readers? I'll cover some of the nitty-gritty details in future episodes, but if you roll it all up, everything that's between your publish-ready manuscript and your published book, well that, my friends, is publishing.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

And when it comes to publishing, there are many options and you know what they say about options, well, options are good. The challenge now is figuring out which publishing model works best for your book and for you and your business. That's why you're here, and I'm really glad you are. Let's take this step together and go through all of those various options for getting your book published. That is precisely what we'll get into in this episode, publishing models. I'm Scott MacMillan and welcome to this edition of Entrepreneur to Author. All right. I'm going to repeat it, this is a big deal. Publishing is a huge step. So, this is a very important episode, particularly for first-time authors. Because as a publishing insider, I'm going to admit it, the industry, the process is really quite opaque.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

There are lots of moving parts and like we talked about, options. So, let's talk about those publishing options, publishing models, really. Basically, there are four major publishing models to consider, and we're going to look at each one of them. But quickly, they are DIY or do it yourself publishing, there's traditional publishing, there's professional service publishing, and finally, hybrid publishing. So, let's get right into it and begin with the DIY or do it yourself model. Unless, and until you engage a publisher, this is where you're at. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, without a publisher, you as the author are responsible for all aspects of getting your book to market, the editing, which we discussed in episode 11, cover design, laying out the interior, crafting or creating metadata, printing, distributing, and so on, for every print and electronic format of your book.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

And once it's published, you have to handle all the book marketing and publicity. In short, you're it, a one person band. Now, of course, there are advantages to the DIY approach, control being the obvious one, but there are many disadvantages too. And as we'll do for each publishing model, we'll look at both the advantages and the disadvantages of each. We'll also discuss when each publishing model might work best for you. Okay. First, the advantages of do it yourself publishing. We mentioned control. Sure, but also, there's accessibility in that the technology and services are readily accessible to anyone with the skills, knowledge, and persistence to get it all done. Another advantage, all content rights are retained by you. With DIY publishing, you own the rights to all the content, that means forever on all platforms. And that's really important as the value of content increases and new content opportunities seem to be introduced constantly.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

And content is valuable, isn't it? It really is. When you're DIY-ing, you may need to hire some experts to help with certain aspects, design, illustration, maybe even some of the writing. If you do, make sure that the copyright is assigned to you and you alone. DIY publishing means that you keep 100% of net royalties from the sales of your books. That's 100% of all sales that you make directly, or 100% of sales after retailers and distributors take their cut for third-party sales. DIY publishing can also be quite cost efficient, if you're doing all the work yourself. So, those are some of the advantages of do it yourself publishing.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Now, some disadvantages. Well, DIY publishing is a ton of work. Remember, you are a one person band here. The effort is all yours to give. You're not only doing all the work, but let's face it, you're also learning new skills on the fly, and that in itself is work, time consuming work. And remember, you've still got a business to run. You are not a full-time author. There are lots of different skills required, especially to do it right and to a professional standard. And frankly, many of those skills are beyond the grasp of most people's experience. These skills can be learned, but it often requires years, not months to master. And that leads to another disadvantage, DIY published books unfortunately tend to be low quality for all the reasons we just mentioned. Lack of exposure and lots of wasted time are big reasons why quality suffers.

Scott A. MacMillan:   

If we can talk cost for a moment, DIY publishing is or can be affordable. If you know what you're doing and have the equipment, publishing your book could cost really next to nothing, but the moment you need to bring in others, the costs rise quickly. You're hiring editors, designers, distributors, printers, just to name a few. You could be looking at between eight and $15,000 and you still have to coordinate all of it. Now, aside from those costs, there are two hidden costs of DIY publishing that most people forget about. The first is what we call effective hourly rate or EHR. It's the value of your time. It's easy to ignore the value of your own time because you don't pay for it out of pocket, but your time is limited and absolutely has quantifiable value.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Your EHR is important because it allows you to compare the cost of you doing an activity to the cost of hiring someone else to do it. So, divide your average monthly earnings by the average number of hours that you work in a month, and that gives you an approximation of your EHR. And you can compare that to an hourly rate billed to you by service providers. Of course, that assumes that they take the same amount of time as you, and that you deliver the same level of quality. And remember too, your time is limited. All of our time is limited. Time spent on one activity is time that you could have spent on something else. And that takes us to the other hidden cost of DIY publishing, opportunity cost. That's the unrealized value forgone by choosing to do another activity.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

In other words, by choosing to take on the publishing activities yourself, rather than outsourcing them, you forego the value that would have been created from the other activities you could have been doing instead. Now, maybe that's marketing, maybe it's servicing your clients, maybe it's sales or team leadership or strategizing. There are many parts to a business that require constant attention, that's where the hidden opportunity cost comes into play. And at the end of the day, you've just got to be honest with yourself. Just because you're a very good entrepreneur and you're good at running your business, well, that doesn't that make you an expert at things that aren't your core business and that's hugely important.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

You could and probably do have great core ideas that will be the pillars of book, but weak editing, bad design, poor publishing, those are going to reflect badly on you and your brand and on your business, and you didn't start writing a book for that to happen. Okay. So, do it yourself publishing is one of the four publishing options. Now, let's have a look at traditional publishing. This is really at the other end of the publishing spectrum from the DIY model. In the traditional model, your goal is to secure a publishing deal. Essentially, the publisher acquires the rights to your book for a period of time and the literary agent will help you in this process. Their job is to shop you and your book around to traditional publishers. Now, you may be able to pitch directly to a publisher if they're smaller, but many publishers will only speak with agents.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Once an agent has secured the deal, then you sign a contract, which includes a bunch of things, but there are two important ones. First, a royalty rate. That's the share of sales revenue that will be paid to you once any advance is earned out. Oh, the advance. Right, there's also that. The advance is a lump sum that's paid to you upfront. Usually, the payment is split into thirds. The first instalment made upon signing, the second, on delivery of the completed manuscript, and the third upon publication. Now, from your advance and any future royalties, your agent is going to take their cut. Commission for agents is usually in the 15% range, and that's fair. They've earned it. After all, they got you the deal. The bottom line is, in this model, you don't have to worry about anything other than writing your manuscript, making any changes that the publisher asks for, and then marketing the book as the author, once it's published.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Your publisher pays for and handles everything else. They're going to assign an editor to your book. And the publisher then oversees all of the design, the book listings, and all of the distribution. For you first-time authors, if you get a publishing deal, the publisher will rely on you to do most of the marketing of the work. In fact, having an audience already will be a big deciding factor for whether or not they sign you in the first place. Okay. So, let's look at the advantages of going with a traditional publisher. First of all, it's a lower effort on your part. Other than the marketing that we spoke of, the publisher basically does the rest. That upfront advance that we mentioned is also a nice advantage. And then there's the high quality that a good publisher will most certainly bring to the process.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Reputable publishers are after all in the quality business. They stake their reputation on every project they get behind. So, chances are your publisher will ensure your book meets their standards before they launch it. Now, physical distribution is also a big advantage. Traditional publishing is all about relationships, especially when it comes to distributors, wholesalers, and retail buyers. Publishers often have a dedicated sales force to nurture those relationships and to shop your book around once it's published. There's also some prestige attached with going with a traditional publisher. Now, the reader might not know the difference, but you certainly will. Now, there are, of course, disadvantages as well to going with a traditional publisher. For example, selectivity.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Traditional publishers can be picky and they have to be because they have a limited capacity to launch. So, traditional publishers will be selective when signing authors. Now, there's also low financial upside for you. We talked about the advance, but the flip side of that is that the money that you earn on the sales once the advance is paid out is quite small, maybe eight to 12%. And obviously, because you're dealing with a traditional publisher, you don't have a lot of control. Entrepreneurs being entrepreneurs may get frustrated by the lack of say that they have once they sign their book rights away to the publisher. A traditional publisher may put restrictions on how the book is distributed. They only earn revenue once a book is sold after all, so they're not going to be keen if you want to give it away to prospects.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Like I said, they also love the thought of a popular author who already has a following. That makes their job much easier, they can tap into your large audience. Another disadvantage, traditional publishers, well, they take their time. What I mean is, from the time you sign your book deal to the time your book is published, that can take anywhere from between 18 months to two and a half years. So, you've got to be patient. And a traditional publisher will focus on their own backyard. Meaning, your agreement only covers a single country or possibly a few countries where the publisher has exposure. Really, it should only cover those geographies where they have strong distribution, so think carefully before signing the rights over to your book. At the very least, a timeframe is a smart and necessary element of a contract, meaning that the rights revert back to you after a certain amount of time, if the publisher isn't exploiting those rights.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Now, as far as costs of a traditional publisher are concerned, you really shouldn't incur any upfront costs. As we said, the beauty of a traditional publishing deal is that you get paid in advance. So, a traditional publisher may be a good fit for you if you have a large following to begin with, or if you prefer the thought of an upfront advance. But here's something to really think about, a traditional publisher wants to sell books. If your book is really niche and hyper-targeted, a traditional publisher may not be interested, a smaller traditional publisher could be a better fit. Now I want to discuss the third type of publishing, that's professional service publishing. This is a model where the author hires a publishing company to handle all the specialized publishing activities on their behalf.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

In many ways, it's similar to other categories of professional services, in that the publisher works for the author, not the other way around. With professional service publishing or simply, service publishing, you typically reach out to a publisher once you have a good idea of when your manuscript will be ready. Now, keep in mind, the best service publishers are quite busy. They often schedule projects three or four months ahead of time, so it's wise to reach out as soon as you've decided to write your book. Now, when you do, a service publisher may work with you in one of three ways. First, they may simply check back in with you from time to time, leaving that first draft to you. Second, they may be able to recommend a writing coach or offer one directly to help you get the manuscript written. Lastly, some service publishers may offer collaborative ghost writing services, writing your book for you based on your input.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Regardless, a true full service professional service publisher will handle most of the same activities that a traditional publisher handles, editing and proofreading, cover design and internal layout and typesetting, coordination of printing and distribution logistics. This offers a great deal of flexibility, which is one of the major advantages, and there are several others. You have complete control, which for many authors is very important. Now that said, you're hiring a professional, so while you're free to override their recommendations, you'd be wise to consider their input carefully. As with DIY publishing, with a service publisher, you should own the rights to everything that is created, forever, in all formats, on all platforms, in all languages, and in all territories. This is very important as the value of strong content increases.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Another advantage, professional service publishing, again, similar to DIY, offers the best share on sales of your books. You keep 100% of any direct sales that you make. If there's a third party involved in sales, you keep between 35 and 75% of your sales revenue, depending on the channel. Now, speed to market is another clear advantage of using a professional service publisher. It's typically the fastest way to market, in as little as four months from the time you submit your manuscript until you have printed books in hand. Lastly, a reputable service publisher hires qualified people to make sure that the end product is something that reflects well on you and on your brand. Now, on the flip side, let's discuss some of the disadvantages. The main one is that you front the cost of getting your book published, and we'll talk more about costs in a moment. Another, the selection process. It can be a little bit tricky and time consuming to find, assess, and choose the right service publisher, so it's important that you do your due diligence and make sure that you understand what's included.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Most service publishers do not have a distribution sales force to shop your book around to physical bookstores, the way traditional publishers do. And like every other publishing model, marketing your book falls largely on you. Though, some service publishers do offer some marketing capabilities if you need support. Now, back to those upfront costs that we talked about a few minutes ago. The investment for a high quality full service publisher typically runs between 10 and $20,000. That includes editing, design, publishing, and distribution of a print edition and an ebook edition. You can certainly find cheap alternatives under 10,000 and much higher priced options at the other end, but sticking within this range hits the right balance of quality and ROI for most entrepreneurs.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Beyond that, some professional service publishers can also offer additional services such as ghost writing, audio book production, and distribution, author marketing, and the like. For entrepreneurs, writing expertise based nonfiction with a goal of building authority and growing their business, the professional service publishing model, frankly, it's an excellent one. It offers the quality and professionalism of traditional publishing, but with the flexibility, ownership, and upside of DIY self publishing. But there's another middle ground that brings us to the fourth and final type of publishing that we'll discuss in this episode, and that's hybrid publishing. As the name suggests, hybrid publishing blends traditional and service publishing models. The big difference here is that the hybrid publisher charges a fee upfront like a professional service publisher, and also keeps a share of the revenue from book sales on the backend.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

That sounds like the worst of both worlds, doesn't it? But hang on and hear me out. There is a rationale for this. One of the main advantages to the hybrid publishing model is that the publisher takes on some of the risk, which should result in lower upfront costs compared to service publishing. In fact, some hybrids charge little or nothing upfront. These publishers act more like traditional publishers, but they don't pay in advance. These hybrids will normally have a manuscript submission and evaluation process to help them determine whether the book sales will compensate them for the upfront costs that they incur. This module also gives the publisher some latitude to green light more projects than a traditional publisher would, since they're not paying in advance.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Now, in terms of disadvantages of the hybrid model. Well, because there's a range in the mix between upfront costs and backend revenue sharing, it can be quite hard to evaluate and compare hybrids to one another and to service publishers. Another disadvantage is the risk reward balance. One of the main purposes of this model is to de-risk things for the publisher, yet, the author still bears the risk, gets no advance, and still shares the backend revenue with the publisher. But really, the main disadvantage, at least for the entrepreneur turned author, is that there can be a fundamental misalignment of incentives with the hybrid model. How so? Well, as with a traditional publisher, the hybrid publisher earns a good portion of their revenue from book sales. But what if your goal isn't to sell books, but rather to generate leads and convert readers into clients?

Scott A. MacMillan:      

If you want to give books away or use them in a marketing funnel or pull the content apart and reconstitute it as courses, trainings, guides, and more, all of that can cannibalize book sales, eating away at the publisher's revenue. The final disadvantage to consider is that hybrid models, again, like traditional book deals, often tie up content rights for a period of time, sometimes for five years or longer. And while you may be able to pull back some of the rights for particular platforms or territories if the publisher isn't exploiting them, this can be tricky if it's not negotiated upfront. In terms of costs, like I said, the cost of going with hybrid publishing really varies substantially. Some charge nothing upfront, others act more like a service publisher, offering authors more revenue on the backend, but charging more upfront.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

So, when might you consider going hybrid? Well, for one, if you'd hoped for a traditional publishing deal, but couldn't get one, hybrid publishers tend to be a little bit more accessible. Another scenario, you like the professional service model, but your business is early stage and unable to fully fund the upfront investment as a marketing expense. In this case, you might consider a hybrid publisher that charges less upfront. Hybrid publishing tries to find a balance between the cost of service publishing and the risk publishers take on in the traditional publishing model. Think about those trade-offs, if they make sense for you and your situation, then a hybrid publishing model could be right for you.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

There they are, four publishing models, the DIY, or do it yourself model, traditional publishing, professional service publishing, and the hybrid publishing model. I hope that's helpful as you decide how to get your manuscript into book form, and then get it out to market. And as you're considering your options, remember this. Publishing is a huge step. You've worked incredibly hard to get here, so, the next step requires careful thought. This is your manuscript, and now you're bringing it to market. There are four different publishing models, and that is by design. Each works differently and for better or worse, in different situations, and for different authors. High profile authors have an existing platform and specific needs.

Scott A. MacMillan:      

Writing is often their core business, and so a traditional publisher is probably the best choice. High volume authors often write five or six books a year and hone a process for publishing themselves, making DIY publishing a good choice for them. Entrepreneurs and business leaders are usually looking for quality, speed to market, and flexibility to leverage their book to support their business. That usually makes professional service publishing the best choice. However you get your book published, focus on quality and make sure that the publishing model that you choose aligns with your authorship goals. If you do that, you'll be well poised for success as a published author. Now is the time, it's time to write, time to publish, and time to grow. I'm Scott MacMillan, until next time.

Scott A. MacMillan


Scott A. MacMillan is a speaker, international best-selling author, entrepreneur, and the President and Executive Publisher at Grammar Factory Publishing. He and his team help expert entrepreneurs write and publish books that build their authority and grow their business.

Scott A. MacMillan Signature

related posts:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch