Publishing a Book in 2021? Here are Your Options

by Brian Cliffen, Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at FriesenPress

While writing a marketable manuscript still requires countless hours of dedicated time spent in the chair, the path to getting that manuscript published has undergone massive changes in the last 12 years or so. The logo of Frisenpress which provides authors publishing independently with a range of book content preparation services. Many factors are affecting this shift, but for our purposes here, we’ll focus on two of the biggest:

  1. The traditional publishing model has become destabilized by new entrants. Like many creators working within the contemporary mediasphere—music, podcasts, and even film—authors can now go direct to consumers with their works, retaining a higher degree of creative control and profits in the process;
  2. From hiring your own editor and designer to fulfilling orders, technology has enabled writers to do so much more than they could have reasonably achieved by themselves even a scant few years ago.

As with so many things in our technologically accelerated world, an increased number of options means your path to publishing may feel murky at present. If that’s the case – worry not! We’re going to give you an overview of the three most popular publishing options available to authors today, so you can more easily determine which to pursue when it’s time to move your book forward.

Traditional Publishing

As its name suggests, the traditional publishing model is the most well-known and established way of sharing a book with the world. In this scenario, a writer publishes their book with the assistance of a dedicated publishing company — though getting one’s foot in the door often requires the help of a sales or literary agent (the acquisition of which could be the subject of its own blog post) and a seemingly endless submission process.

Traditional publishing companies provide the project management team and the professional editing and design services that readers expect when buying a book. They also may provide the author an advance. Advances are usually (but not always) “against royalties,” which means that the author needs to pay back their advance from book sales before actually earning additional payments. The typical traditional publisher will also have a marketing department to help get the word out about a given title. Still, this system’s authors—particularly new ones—are expected to be the main driver of their promotional endeavors. The timeline for publishing traditionally from acquisition to release is generally 1 to 3 years.

As a profit-driven enterprise, traditional publishing companies are primarily interested in a book’s potential saleability. This fact makes it rather difficult for new authors or those with an atypical subject to breakthrough. It also means that an author may have a minimal say regarding the cover design or the back cover copy.

For many authors, the validation and potential financial benefit that comes from securing a book deal are worth the time and effort it takes to work your way into the system. But there’s one other thing you need to weigh when seeking out a tough-to-acquire traditional book deal: there’s a chance no one will pick up and publish your manuscript. This brings us to…

DIY Self-Publishing

Self-publishing isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s been an option ever since the advent of the printing press. What is new, though, is the shift in perception around self-publishing in recent years. Once written off as vanity publishing and next dismissed as a fad, self-publishing has transcended both labels. Today, the model has matured into an established—and powerful—option for both writers and book buyers. In fact, self-publishing is now the first choice of hundreds of thousands of authors every year — a mind-boggling figure that’s only growing.

As noted in the introduction, a large portion of the rise of self-publishing can be attributed to new technologies that make publishing a book as easy as (literally) pushing a button. The do-it-yourself (DIY) space is dominated by large corporations whose primary goal is to make publishing a book as quick and cheap as possible (typically with an emphasis on eBooks). All you need to publish with companies like Amazon, Smashwords, and Blurb is a Word document, tech skills, and an Internet connection.

In addition to platforms making it easier to publish than ever, the impact of print-on-demand (or ‘POD’) infrastructure cannot be understated. POD has almost eliminated the logistical hassle that self-publishing authors face when stocking and fulfilling book orders. If a POD-listed title is purchased today, the fulfillment center will professionally print, bind, and ship it directly to the customer — the author never even touches the book. Many DIY publishing options are POD enabled.

Despite all the ease, most DIY companies provide no editing, book design, marketing, or promotional support (which helps make them the quickest and cheapest way to publish) yet allow authors to retain the highest percentage of a book’s selling price. However, because DIY books are not professionally produced or supported, titles’ quality and sales volume tend to be very low.

Those who continue to write self-publishing off as an inferior alternative to traditionally published books will often point to the lack of quality control and oversight over the products of the DIY model. Although much larger players dominate the DIY industry, there remains an alternative third path that authors may benefit from exploring:

Publishing Services

If you’ve found yourself wishing it were possible to combine the professional results of the traditional system with the creative control and high royalties of DIY self-publishing into one distinct publishing option, you’re in luck!

Closely following the explosive growth of DIY self-publishing is the emergence of publishing services providers. In exchange for an upfront fee from the author, companies in this category assist authors with professionally self-publishing their books, either digitally, in print, or both. With the publishing services model, an author gains access to a project management team and services that mirror a traditional house: editing, design, promotion support, and worldwide distribution. The authors who choose this approach receive a higher per-sale royalty percentage than trad-published authors but a lower percentage than the DIYers. The timeline to publication varies widely depending on the scope and quality of services offered, but turnaround can generally be expected within 6 to 12 months.

Some publishing services providers have distinct submission criteria that guide the projects they choose to publish, while others can assist writers from all genres and subject matter. And, like the DIY model, publishing services companies are also POD enabled, and—when done well—a book published in this model will be virtually indistinguishable from a title by a traditional publisher.

With your publishing options now more clearly defined (we hope!), it’s time to start doing your homework. It pays to diligently research any potential publishing partner to ensure they align with your book’s values and goals. Consider (or directly ask) what makes one option different from others in their space, with a particular focus on the accreditation of the professional team working on your book.

Regardless of your choice, one thing is certain: there’s never been a more empowering time to be a writer.


Brian Cliffen is a Senior Digital Marketing Specialist at FriesenPress, North America’s premier publishing services provider. Since 2009, FriesenPress has helped thousands of authors self-publish their books with professional support. From editing and book design to distribution and promotion, we help writers self-publish and succeed. Contact us at 1-800-792-5092 or download our free Author’s Guide to learn more!