Paths to Publishing

by Susanne Dunlap

Once upon a time, in a publishing landscape long, long ago, there were only two paths to getting your book published: Finding an agent and submitting your work to traditional publishers—who would pay you an advance against future royalties—or a “vanity” press.

Let me amend that: This was true, in fact, not so long ago. When my first novel was published in 2005, submissions were still largely by snail mail, e-books were just starting to gain a little traction, and mid-list authors could find a home in different imprints that catered to niche markets and genres. At the same time, anyone who self-published was seen as a second-rate author who couldn’t make it in the “real” publishing world. Sadly, the aforementioned vanity presses took advantage of those who dreamed of seeing their own book in print, charging exorbitant rates and making gullible authors sign contracts that stripped them of their copyright and locked them into forever arrangements.

By the time my sixth historical novel was published by Bloomsbury Children’s in 2012, the publishing world had started to undergo a series of monumental changes. First of all, technology had advanced to the point where on-demand printing was no longer cost prohibitive. Secondly, e-books and audiobooks became more widely accepted as e-readers became more manageable and affordable, and digital streaming replaced books on tape or CDs.

All this coincided with another shift. Publishers started to merge and consolidate, and what was once a genteel industry populated by book zealots looking for the next Nobel Prize winner morphed into an industry that had to generate handsome profits for corporate headquarters. Mega-bestsellers became the holy grail, leaving many authors—whose books had sold respectably but not massively—out in the cold.

Before long the literary world was littered with orphaned authors whose publishers didn’t publish the next in the series or the final episode of a trilogy or their much-awaited stand-alone. Having a few thousand readers (or even a few tens of thousands of readers) and winning awards was no longer good enough.

This sad story does have a happy ending, though. While it continues to be very difficult to get an agent and break into traditional publishing, alternatives have come out of the shadows and gained credibility and prestige. Some editors from big publishing houses fled the new order, not willing to continue in a world where the marketing department controlled the publishing decisions, and started their own small and hybrid presses.

And then, some authors who wrote thrillers and romance became wildly successful by self-publishing their work for an audience hungry for something new from them multiple times a year.

We can thank advances in technology for a lot of this. There are even digital-only publishers and imprints where the financial barrier to entry is reduced enough to justify taking some risks.

In my workshop on May 15, I’ll take you through the different publishing alternatives, help you weigh the pros and cons, and show you how each one works and what you can expect from the different avenues available. I’ll talk about researching agents, electronic submissions, the different levels of hybrid publishing, and the elements of self-publishing.

What I hope is that you’ll leave with solid information that will help you decide what route you want to take with your book depending on your priorities—time, money, reach. The good thing about this is that you do have choices.

How is it that I’m qualified to give you this information and guidance? Well, I’ve done it all. I’ve been traditionally published by major presses. I’ve hybrid published with a small but selective publisher (shout out to Bellastoria Press!). I’ve self-published, doing everything from designing my own covers to formatting the digital versions. And I’m now also publishing with one of the most respected and prestigious hybrid presses, with a book coming out in fall of 2022 with She Writes Press.

I hope you’ll join me on May 15 for an information-packed morning that will demystify your publishing choices!

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