Choose Your Route
There are two main routes to go down when publishing your book, with some side routes along the way: Traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Traditional publishing is the route most authors used to want to take, but these days this is changing.
Taking the Traditional Path
The big traditional publishers (the big six include the big names such as HarperCollins and Penguin) don’t usually accept unsolicited manuscripts from individual authors, so you can’t just email them a copy of your manuscript and expect an answer. Usually, you would have to find an agent to take you on (again, they don’t just take on anyone, they have to like your work) who would then submit your book to the relevant publishers. Smaller traditional publishers may accept unsolicited manuscripts, but you’d need to check carefully that you meet their criteria for submission. They may, for example, only be accepting books that fit within certain categories at this particular time. Most publishers have their own ‘lines’ of books that they publish, i.e. certain genres. You get some very niche publishers who only publish one type of book, such as history, whereas others may have much broader categories. With books having to fit specific criteria for submission, this can make it very difficult for authors who write across genres, i.e. books that fit into multiple categories.
Traditional publishers make projections with their marketing teams to predict what genres and categories will be popular in the upcoming years. In general, traditionally published books take one to two years to publish, so they are making predictions well ahead of time (think big board meetings with high pressure decisions being made!). If they take on your book, they will usually edit it, design the cover for it, design the text for it and print it without your input, but with their finance. They will then market and sell it. As it is their money that is at risk (they are the ones to lose out financially if the book doesn’t sell) then they need to be as certain as they can be that it is a book they can sell before taking it on. This is just one of the reasons why it is getting harder for authors, particularly unknown first-time authors, to be taken on by a traditional publisher.
If you are one of the lucky ones then the financial benefit is that you don’t have to pay for the publishing process (there are smaller publishers and partnership publishers that ask for a contribution), you may be lucky enough to be offered an advance (a payment for them to take on your work), but then the royalties you receive from each book sale will be very small because the publisher needs to ensure their costs are covered as a priority. So, there are certainly plusses and minuses to this route.