Mainstream or Self-Publish

You've just signed with a literary agent who can't wait to pitch your book proposal to a hot list of mainstream publishers. And if they like it? Your agent will do a book auction and those publishers will bid for your book. How thrilling is that? And whether the advance is large or small, you can stroll through Borders or Barnes & Noble knowing that in a year and a half, your book will be on the shelf.

A year and a half?

That’s right. Of course, it could be sooner if you've completed most of the book. But if your book is non-fiction, you or your agent needed a book proposal to sell it to a publisher. The proposal usually contains a couple of sample chapters, but if that's all you have, now you've got to write the rest of book. Your editor at the publishing house will give you a deadline, often from 6-12 months (or more), so factor in that time.

If your book is fiction, you’ve probably finished it, because most agents and editors like to see the completed manuscript instead of a proposal. But whether fiction or non-fiction, once you've finished the book, you need time to work with your editor, and that can take months. Then, there's production time, so add another 3-6 months, depending on your publisher’s backload. Are you starting to see why it can take up to two years, from the time you start looking for agents or publishers, until the time you actually see your book in the store or on Amazon?

Still, the wait may be worth it, because when you go mainstream, everything’s free: free editorial guid- ance, free cover design and production, and free distribution to bookstores nationwide.

But what if you don’t want to wait that long?

In that case, self-publishing may be the best choice for you. It’s instant gratification, and these days print-on-demand (POD) printers and publishers, e-books, Kindle and a variety of online self-publishing resources have made the old-style "vanity press" obsolete. Pre-POD, you had to place huge orders for cartons of books that often ended up as makeshift furniture in your living room. Contrast that with today's affordable self-publishing, where you can order just a few copies at a time.

But wait: If you self-publish, you've got a huge problem called “distribution,” right? True. But with a great website and blog, a virtual book tour, and other online campaigns, you can do a lot to publicize your work. Can you get into bookstores? Maybe. You can hire a private distributor or pitch bookstores yourself, but the big chains are not huge fans of self-published books, so good distribution is one of the best reasons to go mainstream.

Copyright © 2011 by Jean-Noel Bassior
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