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Publishing: Expectations vs. Reality

You'll find:

There used to be two ways to publish a book: traditional and vanity press. Everyone wanted to be traditionally published because if you couldn’t get a “real” publisher to accept your book, was it really good enough to publish? Vanity presses would accept money and print your book. Anyone could pay to have their book published. And that’s exactly what Beatrix Potter did in 1901. She tired of the rejection and had 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit printed.

Potter chose to self-publish before self-publishing was a concept. She did it because she believed in her book. One of the publishers who had rejected it initially changed his mind and within a year had sold 20,000 copies.

I know self-publishing started long before Amazon came out with their Kindle eReader in November 2007. But self-publishing certainly exploded with the power of publishing your book online with Amazon. I jumped on the bandwagon in 2013 when I published my first book, 31 Small Steps to Organize Your Life. I was just following in my sister’s and husband’s footsteps.

So, then there were three ways to publish: traditional, vanity, and self-publishing. Again, most writers wanted the prestige of a traditional publisher. Except those authors who were raking in the bucks on their self-published books, mostly fiction. Vanity was still sneered at. It turns out it’s okay to put in the time to learn how to self-publish, but paying for it was a different thing. There were many vanity presses, including imprints from large traditional publishers, who were in it for the money and failed to bring good products (books) to market. Or they over promised and failed to achieve what they said they could for their authors.

Hybrid Publishing on the Rise

NOTE: The term “hybrid publishing” can be used by authors to indicate that they are both traditionally published and self/independently published. Or “hybrid publishing” can be used by publishers who may follow a traditional publishing business model for certain books and an author-funded business model for other books. This section refers to the latter definition used by publishers.

Hybrid publishing is on the rise. It’s not new, but it is gaining favor as an author-subsidized business model. There are still bad actors who charge outrageous fees, provide substandard work, offer over-blown marketing promises, and even have questionable legal practices. The adage, “if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is,” is valid here. One of the quickest ways to rule out an author-subsidized publisher is if they promise you specific results for their marketing efforts. No one can promise marketing results. An even better way to evaluate a company you’re looking at for publishing services is the Self-Publishing Services Rated by the Alliance of Independent Authors. Note: Hold Your Hand Book Coaching (HYH) isn’t on the list (I’m too small still), but I do have referrals and testimonials to the quality of services I provide.

Another tool to use in evaluating a company offering you publication and services is the Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA’s) eleven Hybrid Publisher Criteria. Actually, this is a good place to start whether you’re adamant about going traditional, excited about publishing your book yourself, or are keeping your options open. All the criteria are important, but I’ve highlighted several to keep in mind when you’re considering paying a publisher for services.

  • Define a mission and vision for its publishing program. (They don’t publish anything and everything. They focus on certain areas they’ve identified.)

  • Vet submissions. (They don’t publish anything and everything. They review and determine if a manuscript or idea meets their mission and vision.)

  • Commit to truth and transparency in business practices.

  • Provide a negotiable, easy-to-understand contract for each book published.

  • Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs.

  • Publish to industry standards.

  • Ensure editorial, design, and production quality.

  • Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.

  • Provide distribution services.

  • Demonstrate respectable sales.

  • Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty.

As with all services you pay for (publishing or otherwise), read the terms, study the fine print, do your due diligence on the company, get referrals, and evaluate the services offered before you sign.

More on the Various Publishing Models

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING is composed of large, medium, and small publishing houses.

You’re likely aware of the Big 5: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. But are you aware of their imprints (the trade name the publisher prints or works under)? For example, Golden Books and Viking are both imprints of Penguin Random House; Scribner and Pimsleur are Simon & Schuster imprints. If you’re interested in finding out more on the Big 5 imprints, check out the big five publishers and their imprints.

Large isn’t always better for your book. Small publishers often focus on a specific genre and become experts in their niche area. A small publisher might be the perfect choice for you and your book. Because they know their genre so well, they can be especially effective at marketing. If you want to go down the traditional path, you’ll need to research publishers to find the ones who are a good fit for your book.

For the medium and small publishers, check the Writer’s Market.* You may have to buy the latest update, but start with your local library’s edition. If you write children’s books, novels, short stories, poetry, there are specialized Market books* for you. There’s even a Guide to Literary Agents.

An analytical software package I’ve been using for years, Publisher Rocket, includes a list of major publishers who have bestsellers in a given category. Check out Kindlepreneur’s article on Publishing Companies to learn more about using Publisher Rocket to find those major publishers. [Note: Publisher Rocket focuses solely on Amazon.]

Many large publishers allow only agents to submit proposals, but the article provides a list of companies that accept proposals directly from authors.

Royalties: 10%-12.5% of wholesale price for print is usual. For ebooks you might receive 10-25%. Rates will vary based on format (print, ebook, audio, foreign rights), your contract, and publisher.

Rights: They own the publishing rights depending on the contract you sign.

Note: Each publishing right should be negotiated separately or at least clearly defined: print, ebook, audio, video, film, international and translation rights, and all other rights, including those not specified or yet to be determined.

Be aware, if the publisher uses the term ‘life of copyright.’ That means they own the right to publish (or not publish) your book for your lifetime plus 70 years in the USA. The length of a copyright is defined differently in other countries.

Process: Some publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. Many require you to have an agent. Check each publisher’s requirements for submission and follow them to the letter.

If the publishing house you’re interested in accepts only submissions from agents, you’ll need to research and find an agent. Spend the time and effort to evaluate your options. Look over the contract you make with your agent BEFORE you sign. A good agent will represent your best interests. A bad agent will cost you a lot of money and aggravation. Start your search with these five resources:

Time to Publication: It can take several years from acceptance to publication. While you’re waiting for publication, they’ll be editing, formatting the manuscript, creating a cover, setting the launch date along with their other books, and planning the marketing.

Also remember, they’ve bought the right to publish. They don’t promise to do so. If their business needs change, your book project might be shelved. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen.

Creative Control: You’ll have limited to no control over the cover and the marketing message. They may also require changes to your book you won’t agree with.

Distribution: They have a distribution network set up to get your book into brick-and-mortar, airport, and online bookstores.

Marketing: Varies, but don’t expect the full-page ad in The New York Times or a paid-for book tour on your first book. Most publishers want to know about your author platform and will want you to “partner” with them. But it will still be up to you to get the word out.

Up-Front Costs: Mostly time and energy. You will need to research your target market. You will need to research and find the publisher that’s right for you and your book. You may need to research and find an agent to represent you. You will need to put time and effort into writing query letters. Depending on what the publisher wants in the proposal package, you may need an overview, outline, marketing information, and competitive title analysis. Then you’ll send the query letter and proposal package. And you’ll wait.

Read and negotiate your publishing and agent contracts carefully!

The Writer’s Market* is a great place to start learning about publishers, the query process, and what you need to prepare.


Royalties: Varies depending on contract deal.

Rights: Depends on the contract you sign.

Process: Depends on the company and the package you buy.

Time to Publication: Depends on the contract you sign and what you pay for.

Creative Control: Depends on the contract you sign and what you pay for.

Distribution: Depends on the company. Be leery of promises to get you into certain stores. They might be able to offer your book to a certain store, but they can’t guarantee it will show up there.

Marketing: Depends on the contract you sign and what you pay for. Do you see a trend?

Up-Front Costs: Varies but usually $$$-$$$$$ as they’re in it for the money.

Read and negotiate your publishing contracts carefully!


Royalties: Should be higher than traditional royalties.

Rights: They own publishing rights depending on the contract you sign.

Note: All comments under traditional publishing apply here as well: rights negotiated and clearly defined for the various formats along with clarification on the duration of the contract.

Process: There’s still a submittal process, so you will need to do your research to choose the right publisher for you. Confirm that your book is in alignment with their mission. Find out how and what to submit. The process for publishing and services should be clearly communicated.

Time to Publication: Quicker than traditional, but still at least a year. While you’re waiting for publication, they’ll be editing, formatting the manuscript, creating a cover, and planning the marketing.

Creative Control: You’ll have more control over the cover and the marketing messaging because you’re partnering with them and you’re subsidizing the publication.

Distribution: They have a distribution network set up to get your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores, airport bookstores, and online bookstores.

Marketing: Depends on the contract you sign and what you pay for. Their experience and expertise in marketing books similar to yours is valuable. But it will still be up to you to get the word out.

Up-Front Costs: varies but usually $$$.

Read and negotiate your publishing contracts carefully!





Minus the printing cost & any discount




Through Draft2Digital for digital narration


Easiest way to distribute through:

  • Apple Books

  • Barnes & Noble

  • Kobo

  • Scribd

  • Smashwords

  • Tolino

  • OverDrive

  • Bibliotheca

  • Baker & Taylor

  • BorrowBox

  • Hoopla

  • Vivlio

  • Palace Marketplace

~ 60%

distribution partners offers different royalties

Offers digital narration for ebooks for sale on Apple Books

Findaway Voices

  • purchased by Spotify June 2022

  • Distribution Partner for Barnes & Noble

80% of the royalties the retail partner pays to Findaway Voices


80% of 40% 😊


for auto-narrated


unconfirmed, identified from other sources

~ 60-70%

dependent on the wholesale discount you choose

Spotify / See Findaway Voices

Rights: You own the publishing rights to all formats.

Process: You read about self-publishing. You learn by doing each step. You find vendors to do the things you don’t want to do or don’t know how to do. Use the IBPA Industry Standards Checklist to ensure your book is professionally published.

Here’s the process I work through as an author:

  • Write the first draft. (months to years)

  • Roughly format the first draft (days)

  • Edit the first draft (weeks)

  • Make the edits and now I have a second draft, formatted for print. (weeks)

  • Hire an editor through my company HYH to do a content edit and a copy edit. (weeks)

  • While the manuscript is out for edit, I work on the free resources I offer in my books; I obtain ISBN; I build a book cover for print (front, spine, and back) and a cover for the ebook (front). Note: you should hire a book designer. You really should. But since I enjoy learning about book design, I choose to do my own. It’s my book journey after all. It may not be the best choice yet, but if I don’t practice, I’ll never create better covers.

  • I make most of the changes from the editor. Since there’ are always a few sentences that I want the way I wrote it, not all suggestions are applied. Now I’m at a third draft. (days)

  • Another round of edits from the editor. (weeks)

  • If I haven’t already begun developing my marketing plan before now, it definitely is time to do it while the book is out for editing again. Did I get my reviews yet? Are the testimonials added?

  • I make the changes. A final draft (woohoo!) (days)

  • I’ve also been researching similar books. Looking for categories and keywords I want to rank for.

  • I set up my books (paperback and ebook) on Amazon/KDP. I upload the paperback manuscript and cover. (hours to days depending on issues that arise on the platform

  • I order a proof copy. (days to weeks)

  • I now format the manuscript for an ebook. (hours to days)

  • I review the paperback proof. (days)

  • I make changes to the manuscripts (paperback and ebook) and upload again. (hours)

  • If the changes need to be reviewed physically, then I order another proof copy of the paperback. (days to weeks)

  • If the changes are minor, I review online and hit the publish button for both print and ebook. (hours)

  • I then take my ebook wide through Draft2Digital. (hours)

  • I then implement my marketing plan. Actually, the plan should have included some marketing along the way.

NOTE: on formatting your manuscript — that’s a blog for a different day. If you would like to be notified when I get that content published, please email

Time to Publication: Quicker than traditional and hybrid publishing, but you still need to edit, format the manuscript, create a cover, and plan the marketing. When someone says it only takes hours to publish, that’s AFTER all the work of creating a good, quality product goes in.

As a provider of various author services (editing, formatting, publication) I can provide guidance, support, direction, and do some of the work for you. But the timeline is still more than weeks.

Creative Control: You’ll have the control over the cover, the format and the marketing messaging because you’re either doing it or you’re directing (and paying) someone else to do it.

Distribution: Depends on the publishing platform you go with, the format (ebook, print, audio, etc.) and the services you hire to help with distribution.

Marketing: It’s up to you to get the word out. It can be as simple or detailed as you are willing to do. Your marketing will depend on how you define success for your book, your preferences for marketing, and where your readers are located. Read more in my blog Develop Your Connection Plan (aka Marketing Plan)

Up-Front Costs: varies but usually $-$$$.

Though not technically a publishing model, you may see people (me included) offering “author service.” There’s a wide range of services that might fall under author services, including coaching, editing, cover design, publication, marketing, and advertising.

Read your Terms of Service, Terms of Use, Terms & Conditions carefully! Keep a copy!!

A peek at categories on Amazon and Who’s publishing

Publisher Rocket has been collecting data on books, keywords, and categories on Amazon for years. It’s a great analytical tool you can use to better position your books. As I mentioned above, they’ve updated the tool to offer a list of the major publishers in a category. They also provide information on what percentage of a category is published by large publishers.

They’re continually collecting and updating the information they serve up, but here’s a snapshot of four categories.

MARCH 23, 2023

  • Business & Money > Skills > Time Management:

  • Book: 84% large publisher / meaning 16% were small & indie published

  • Kindle: 64% large publisher / meaning 36% were small & indie published

  • Self-Help > Creativity:

  • Book: 65% large publisher / meaning 35% were small & indie published

  • Kindle: 54% large publisher / meaning 46% were small & indie published

  • Business & Money > Business Culture > Health & Stress:

  • Book: 23% large publisher / meaning 77% were small & indie published

  • Kindle: no category on Amazon

  • Self-Help > Stress Management:

  • Book: 78% large publisher / meaning 22% were small & indie published

  • Kindle: 58% large publisher / meaning 42% were small & indie published

Amazon isn’t the only game in town

I routinely start my clients off with Amazon/ because it currently has the largest market share in the USA. There are some benefits to offering your ebook exclusively to Amazon. You can offer your book through Kindle Unlimited or schedule your book for a price promotion. But, as you may have noticed in the Royalties Table above, Amazon is not the only option for self/indie publishing.

Once you’re ready to “go wide” and expand beyond just Amazon, start with Draft2Digital (D2D) for ebooks. By uploading your book through D2D you have access to multiple retailers:

  • Apple Books

  • Barnes & Noble

  • Kobo

  • Scribd

  • Smashwords

  • Tolino

  • OverDrive

  • Bibliotheca

  • Baker & Taylor

  • BorrowBox

  • Hoopla

  • Vivlio

  • Palace Marketplace

If you still have free time after learning and optimizing those platforms, you can add your book to Google Play Books, jump into audiobooks, or add additional print platforms. See the Royalties Table above. The other platforms are growing. Some might do better in other countries or gain a larger market share in the future. Another reason to go wide: each platform offers different promotional opportunities.

Start with Amazon/KDP. Expand when you’re ready and if you’re willing.

Resource Roundup:


  • Author-subsidized publishing (hybrid publishing) is on the rise

  • Traditional publishing has pros and cons

  • Take a deep look at the company BEFORE you 'pay to publish'

  • Read and negotiate publishing contracts carefully

  • Consider self or indie publishing

When you're ready... 2 ways to move forward on your book journey:

  1. Subscribe to The Organized Pen. Get the tips, tools and strategies you need for your writing journey. ✍ Sign up for The Organized Pen.

  2. Let's talk about your book. I offer a 50-minute complimentary consultation to discuss your book, determine if I can be a great team member on your book journey, and identify your next steps, whether I'm part of the journey or not. 📅 Schedule a time to talk about your book.

* FYI: I do receive $ from Amazon when you click on product links and purchase items from Amazon. I don’t know what you look at or buy and so far I’ve been able to buy, on average, 3 cups of coffee each year from the income.

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