Why Every Writer Needs to Understand All Publishing Paths

The best way for writers to protect their works and their legal rights is to learn what’s normal (and what’s not) in the publishing industry.

In the past, it was often enough for an author to understand the model he or she chose–either traditional publishing or the self-publishing model. However, it’s increasingly important for authors to understand the various publishing options–and not only for the reasons you might expect. Here are just a few of the reasons why it’s important for authors to understand all of the publishing models, no matter which they choose to pursue:

1. Ignorance makes authors legally vulnerable to scams & unscrupulous offers.

Scams and scammers flourish in the space where art and business intersect, because dreamers often don’t take the time to be business-savvy about their art. 

If you don’t understand the various publishing models, you cannot determine whether or not an offer or a contract is legitimate. It’s difficult to spot scams when you don’t know what a fair offer looks like, and it’s equally tough to spot a “legitimate” deal with a few non-standard terms that take advantage of you or your work.  

Don’t let yourself and your work become a target. Educate yourself about the various publishing models enough to recognize what is, and isn’t, normal. You don’t have to become an expert–but you should know enough about each of the models to know when to call in reinforcements (like an agent or a lawyer) and when to run.

2. Knowing All the Possible Options Allows You to Choose the Best Publishing Path for a Given Work.

Publishing is no longer a binary business, where the options were either “find a publisher” or “publish yourself” for your entire career. Not every work is suited for mass-market publication, and not every work will find its audience if self-published (especially if the author lacks the skills to self-publish effectively–more on that in a minute).

Authors can choose their publishing paths on a book by book (or series by series) basis. Knowing all of the options, and how they work, allows the author to choose the right publishing path for each project, thereby increasing its chances of success. 

Please note: “success” does not always involve bestseller lists, or even sales numbers. Success is an individual metric, defined by many factors. Don’t let yourself be caught up in the myth that success can or should be measured by numbers alone (regardless of what those numbers signify).

3. Knowing the Options Helps the Author Find the Proper Match for His or Her Skill Set.

Some authors are great at marketing, while others excel at art and design as well as putting words on the page. Some authors enjoy writing business plans and carrying them out, and others prefer to have business partners handle the sales and distribution side.

Understanding the available publishing paths allows you, as an author, to decide which path (or paths) best suits your skills as well as your works. I spend a lot of time practicing law, and helping other authors (and publishers). For that reason, a traditional publishing path works best for me. My skills don’t lie in managing printers, evaluating cover artists, and figuring out the best distribution methods. I’m a words, contracts, and marketing kind of gal.

On the other hand, I have friends and clients who excel at the business side, and who chose self-publishing paths because their business skills enabled them to publish successfully, and happily–and since their skills and choices match, they make good money doing it.

Both choices are legitimate–both choices are “right”–because both choices were made with knowledge of how both sides of the publishing industry work and after an honest evaluation of the writer’s own skills and desires. If you don’t understand what’s involved in both paths, however, you cannot properly evaluate the best path for your skills and abilities–or how to learn the skills required to succeed at the one you choose to pursue.

Regardless of the publishing path you plan, want, or wish to pursue–and regardless of where you are in your career–you need to learn as much as you can about all of the available publishing options. 

Maybe investigation will teach you that there’s a path you really don’t want to pursue. That’s fine! Maybe educating yourself will make you think you might have chosen the “wrong” path to begin with. That’s fine too! There’s always time to change your mind, and you’re better off figuring out that you made a mistake than continuing on the wrong path.

(Note: You don’t have to admit in public that you “made a mistake” in a publishing choice. You’re allowed to keep that information to yourself, and simply switch paths, if you choose to do so. This is your business, and you’re allowed to make the decisions.)

No matter where you are on your publishing journey, take the time to learn about the available options–and keep on learning. The more you know, the better your chances of publishing success…no matter what standard you use to measure it.