Ready to Publish Your Book? Learn About the Three Most Common Publishing Models

By Chris Olsen

Navigating the path to publishing can be overwhelming. We’ve compiled an overview of three of the most common publishing models today—traditional publishing, author-assisted publishing and self-publishing—and how they typically work, so you can make a well-informed decision about the direction that is right for you.

Traditional Publishing

In the early 1900s, traditional publishing was born and exists relatively unchanged today. Authors grant the publisher rights to their material for an indefinite amount of time and receive an advance based on projected sales. The publisher covers the cost of publishing and, after recouping its investment, pays the author a percentage of sales (royalties). If sales don’t cover the publisher’s investment, the author receives no royalties and may be required to buy back (or pay to destroy) any unsold inventory.

Legal Rights
  • The author grants rights to her book to the publisher.
Publishing Investment
  • In exchange for the rights to the author’s book, the publisher pays her an advance on projected sales and subsidizes the cost of publishing and inventory (printing and warehousing).
Marketing, Sales and Distribution
  • Most traditional publishers invest in book marketing (the author is expected to contribute significantly).
  • Most traditional publishers negotiate sales.
  • Most traditional publishers manage distribution online and in stores.
Revenue
  • After the publisher recoups its costs, the author receives a percentage of profits (royalties).
  • Lifetime sales average 3,000 books (excluding public figures and well-known authors).
Post-Publishing Investment
  • If the publisher does not recoup its costs, the author receives no royalties.
  • If there is unsold book inventory, the author may be required to buy it back or pay to have it destroyed.
Advantages/Disadvantages
  • The publisher invests in the author upfront.
  • Distribution in stores is likely (though never guaranteed).
  • The author may receive additional licensing opportunities.
  • Around 2 percent of authors are published traditionally.
  • The author is required to work with an agent (who takes a cut).
  • The author has little or no control over the process, including the title and cover art.
  • The process can take several years.
  • The majority of advances do not earn out, so the author receives no royalties.
  • The publisher retains the rights to the material indefinitely.

Author-Assisted Publishing

Author-assisted publishing has been around as long as traditional publishing. It is a form of publishing where authors partner with experts to publish their books. Two well known author-assisted models are hybrid publishing, which came into prominence in the 2010s, and vanity publishing, which has been around since the 1940s. With both of these, the author typically grants the publisher rights to their material, pays for publishing services, and shares the royalties with the publisher. But writer beware: Vanity publishers are notorious for misleading authors, using high-pressure sales tactics, charging inflated fees, and producing books that don’t meet publishing industry standards. Hybrid publishers typically strive to meet specific guidelines regarding editing, design, distribution, etc., as defined by the Independent Book Publishers Association. Many (but not all) hybrids adhere to these standards and produce higher-quality books.

Legal Rights
  • The author grants rights to her book to the publisher.
Publishing Investment
  • The author subsidizes the cost of book publishing.
  • Some assisted publishers also require the author to subsidize book inventory (printing and warehousing).
Marketing, Sales and Distribution
  • Some assisted publishers invest in book marketing (the author is expected to contribute significantly).
  • Assisted publishers typically manage distribution online.
  • Some author-assisted publishers negotiate sales and manage distribution in stores.
Revenue
  • The author receives a percentage of profits (royalties).
  • Lifetime sales average fewer than 500 books.
Post-Publishing Investment
  • If there is unsold book inventory, the author may be required to buy it back or pay to have it destroyed.
Advantages/Disadvantages
  • The author invests in herself and the publisher’s expertise.
  • The author need not work with an agent.
  • The author typically has input on the content and process.
  • The process is typically quicker than traditional publishing.
  • Marketing and distribution in stores are not guaranteed.
  • Some books do not meet publishing industry standards.
  • Beware of vanity publishers that employ high-pressure sales tactics.

Self-Publishing

As early as the 1800s, when female authors like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters were rejected by the male-dominated publishing industry, they self-published their books. At the turn of the century, as the industry boomed, women writers were still dismissed by traditional publishers. Authors like Virginia Woolf took matters into their own hands by purchasing printing presses and launching their own publishing companies.

Legal Rights
  • The author retains the rights to her book.
Publishing Investment
  • The author subsidizes the cost of book publishing.
Marketing, Sales and Distribution
  • The author is responsible for book marketing.
  • The author is responsible for managing sales and distribution.
Revenue
  • The author receives all profits (royalties).
  • Lifetime sales average fewer than 100 books.
Post-Publishing Investment
  • The author has the option of purchasing her own inventory.
Advantages/Disadvantages
  • The author invests in herself and enlists others for support.
  • The author controls the content, process and timing.
  • Distribution in stores is unlikely.
  • The majority of books do not meet publishing industry standards.

Choosing Your Publishing Path

Publish Her is a different kind of author-assisted publisher. We are not a vanity publisher, nor are we a hybrid—though we are a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association. We have been recognized multiple times by Publishers Weekly magazine as a grade A publisher. We believe authors should maintain full ownership of their work always, which means we don’t request rights like most publishers do. We believe authors, not publishers, should profit most from book sales, which means—unlike many publishers—we don’t retain a portion of your royalties. We primarily work with on-demand printers and never mark up the cost of printing, so in addition to helping save the environment, authors save money by making their own decisions about inventory.

To support women on their publishing journeys, Publish Her offers two models: Guided Self-Publishing and Collaborative Publishing. We also publish a limited number of books traditionally through our grant program. (Publish Her shares royalties with the author for books published traditionally through our grant program.)

To learn more about the book publishing industry, and the services Publish Her provides to support authors, check out our Choosing Your Publishing Path workshops.

About the Author

Chris Olsen is a broadcast media veteran turned communications consultant, educator and the author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose.” The founder of Publish Her and Publish Her Story, Chris has helped thousands of women tell their stories and publish their books.

About Publish Her

Publish Her is a female-founded independent publisher dedicated to elevating the words, writing and stories of women. We are passionate about amplifying the voices of women of color, women with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ+ community. We aim to make publishing an attainable, exciting and collaborative process for all.