So you’ve finalized your manuscript, and you’re ready to share it with the world. How do you go about publishing it?

You’ve got a few options. I’m no publishing expert, but I can give you the basics of each one to help you start making that decision. Research the different avenues before you determine which publishing method is the right one for your book.

Also remember that sharing your book with the world opens you up to criticism and bad reviews. Be prepared for that before publishing, and realize that your writing always has room for improvement.

Option 1: Traditional Publishing

This is what most people think of when they think of “getting published.” It involves submitting your manuscript to an agent (or directly to publishers) and waiting to see if they like it enough to print it for you.

If you are picked up by a traditional publishing house, you should not have to pay them to print your book.

However, you will probably have to do your own marketing.

Depending on the size of the publishing house, you may or may not be paid an advance when your book is picked up.

If you use an agent, they should be paid out of your book’s publishing contract, not an up-front charge to you.

Research agents and small presses by looking them up on writers’ message boards and other communities. Do this prior to signing any contracts. There are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who will promise you the world for your book, but are only after your money. A little Googling now can save you a lot of heartache later.

Pros: Legitimacy, assistance with formatting, etc.

Cons: Takes a long time, still have to do your own marketing

Option 2: Old School Self-Publishing

This is where you go straight to a printer and pay them to print a bunch of copies of your book. You then take those copies and try to sell them yourself.

This method gives you complete control over every step of the publishing process. This is good, in that it lets you decide exactly when and how things happen. It’s bad, in that it gives you way more opportunities to make mistakes through inexperience.

If you want to use this method, you will need to do a lot of research. Start by picking up three or four books on self-publishing, including The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter. Books like this one will explain the different steps involved and how to avoid possible pitfalls.

Pros: Complete control of the process, flexibility

Cons: Expensive, potential for mistakes, time investment

Option 3: Print-on-Demand Publishing

This method involves going through a print-on-demand service such as Amazon’s CreateSpace to have them print copies of your book as they are ordered.

This is a popular method because of the low up-front cost. Unfortunately, the low barrier to entry also means that most of what comes out of print-on-demand services is terrible. Print-on-demand authors have to work twice as hard to stand out from the crowd because of the inherent mistrust readers have for self-published books.

If you decide to use this method, research the different print-on-demand services to find one that meets your needs. Some are more legitimate than others. You should not have to pay an up-front cost to the printer; they will be paid a percentage of each book sold.

Like with old-school self-publishing, there is a lot of potential here for mistakes. Hire a good editor to ensure that your book is ready to go out into the world. Find a good cover designer. Listen to the criticism and negative feedback you get; it might save you a lot of embarrassment. Resist the impulse to “hurry up and publish.” Take your time.

When you work with a print-on-demand service, they will probably try to sell you a bunch of additional services, such as editing, marketing, cover design, etc. These are called up-sells, and in my opinion, you should avoid them. You will most likely get better service if you hire an external service provider rather than the ones staffed by the printer.

If you pay for marketing, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. An inexpensive marketing campaign will likely yield no results. However, an expensive one might do the same, so invest wisely.

Pros: Low cost, easy, flexibility

Cons: Lack of legitimacy, potential for mistakes

There are tons of resources available to help with all three of these publishing methods. Do your research and proceed carefully. When you finally hold that book in your hands, you’ll know it was worth all the effort.

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