5 Publishing Pathways – How to Decide Which One is Best for You


Today there are more options for publishing than ever before. There is no single way to publish a book, which is a clear advantage for new authors. Whether you are in the very first stages of writing your manuscript, have it completely done, or are somewhere in the middle of writing it, your publishing pathway requires careful consideration.

In this article, you’ll read about the pros and cons of each of the major publishing options, along with an example. By the time you finish this article, you’ll have more clarity about which options are available and which one will suit the goals you have for your book.

Option 1- Traditional Publishing

Example Book: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In the traditional publishing model, you write a book proposal, hire an agent, and sell your manuscript to a publishing company. The publishing company pays you a cash advance, which you can use while you write the book. Once the manuscript is completed, the publishing company pays to have the manuscript edited, designed and printed, as well as setting up distribution to stores and online book retailers.

When books are sold, the profits go to the publishing house with a percentage paid to the author. The publishing company and the author collaborate on book marketing and promotion.

Pros of this model:
~ Authors are paid to write the manuscript
~ Publishers pay for the production costs
~ There is some status from publishing with a recognized publisher

Cons of this model:
~ The publishing company owns the manuscript and can make any changes with or without the author’s consent
~ The lion’s share of the profits go to the publisher
~ The process is lengthy, averaging 18-24 months for book production after the manuscript is completed

Option 2- Self Publishing

Example Book: Do You Mean Business? By Babette N Ten Haken

In this model, the author writes the book and then manages its production. The author serves as a project manager, hiring graphic designers, printers, and layout artists to create the finished book.

The author decides how many books to print, either using print on demand (POD) technology to create a few books at a time, or prints several thousand copies with an off-set printer. The Author is in charge of all marketing activities and distribution. The author reaps all profits from book sales.

~ Authors have complete control over all aspects of the book
~ This model has the potential to create large income if the book is successful
~ Production time averages 6-12 months, depending on how much time the author can devote to the project

~ Requires a substantial financial and time investment
~ Authors have a steep learning curve
~ It can be challenging to find trustworthy vendors

Option 3- Boutique Publishing

Example Book: Trust God and Buy Broccoli by Gerri Helms

If an author wants to self-publish her book but does not want to actually do the work or learn the process, she can hire a boutique publishing company to outsource the project. The author pays the boutique company a fee for the production of the book.

Depending on the agreement with the boutique company, the author will garner a portion of the book profits. These percentages vary widely from 10- 100% of book profits. In this model, the author is responsible for most of the book marketing but the publisher may provide a book website and other marketing materials.

~ Quick and convenient. The production process will take 4-6 months, depending on the contract
~ The boutique publisher has trained staff who can produce a high quality book
~ Authors receive coaching and mentoring from seasoned professionals who understand the book world

~ Can be costly
~ There are some disreputable vendors so careful evaluation of potential boutique publishers is required
~ May or may not have book store distribution

Option 4- Ebook-only Digital Publishing

Example Book: Linchpin by Seth Godin

This new digital publishing model is paperless. Books are designed and sold electronically. This method is very fast and very affordable. The author can format and design her book for electronic sales or hire an outsourcing company to complete these tasks.

Books are distributed electronically and read on electronic devices such as Kindle, Nook, or iPads. The author is responsible for marketing the book.

~ Very low cost
~ Can be ready for sale in 30 days or less after the edited manuscript goes into formatting
~ Hottest selling market for books today

~ Books are only available to readers with electronic devices
~ The media does not consider ebooks as newsworthy as printed books
~ Meeting planners are primarily interested in key note speakers with printed books which can be sold at live events

Option 5- The Blended Approach

Example Book: Step Up Now by Susan S. Freeman

This approach blends self-publishing or boutique publishing along with digital ebook publishing. In this model, the publisher is responsible for creating two books from one manuscript. The book is sold in both paper back and electronic format.

The author has the best of both worlds, with physical books to sign, sell, and give away as a marketing tool as well as digitally published electronic books for readers who are passionate about their ereaders.

~ More buyers will learn of the book due to multiple listings
~ The author has books in hand to impress the media and use to build her business
~ The author enjoys two potential profit streams from electronic and printed book sales

~ Authors shoulder the cost of book production
~ Requires additional cost to produce two versions of the same book which adds an additional $300-$500 to the project
~ Can be a complicated process for an Author who is self-publishing

Now that you know about the five publishing pathways, consider your goals for your book. Then, select a pathway that will enable you to reach your goals. All pathways are worthy and can create great results. In the end, the decision comes down to what you really want. If you align your publishing pathway with your goals, you will have a winning combination for a successful book!

What do you think? Which of these publishing methods have you used or are planning to use in the near future? Share your thoughts in the comments below…


  1. Again another great post and very timely. I feel option 5 would be the one I will use, as planning on using crowdfunding to help finance the printing costs, so will have some copies to give to people who help with the project. Maybe even have enough to print extra copies to sell, so I can crowdfund others dreams and projects.

  2. Which ebook formats do you like the best? create space, etc?
    which self publishing companies do you like?

    • Hi Barbara-
      I am a big fan of CreateSpace for printed books. As far as self publishing companies go, there are some great ones and some that are not so good. I am prejudiced as I own a self publishing company so can’t give you an unbiased answer LOL. My suggestion is to take a careful look at the cost, royalty payment structures, and the quality of the finished books to help you find a company that is perfect for you. Also ask for at least 3 references of authors who published with each company and contact them directly to get a bird’s eye view of their experiences.

  3. I truly believe that Self-Publishing + Ebook digital publishing is the smartest combination of publishing nowadays. It is clear from the first bullet point under \\\”Pros.\\\” The author has full control of their book production. This does\\\’t mean, however, that the pressure all on their shoulders (they can still contract graphic artists, editors, and other collaborators). In regards to your comment on high costs for self-publishers, I agree that there are expensive ways to self-publish, but the other side of the coin presents affordable means to self-publish as well. For example, the company I am launching soon, ebookmakr, is an online tool for content creation. The subscription costs are little to nothing and there are free accounts available as well. Stay tuned and in the meantime check out on twitter and facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ebookmakr )

    • Lynne Klippel says

      You make a great point- just because the self published author is in charge of the look and feel of the book, that doesn’t mean he or she needs to do all the work alone. Getting help with editing and design is a must- both to save your sanity and to ensure your book looks stunning.

  4. A few short years ago, I wrote a book to address this topic. It’s amazing how fast things have changed isn’t it? I view the options a little differently though. I’ve always considered ebooks as a medium, not a path per se’ because any of the other three main options (traditional, boutique, self) could produce an ebook. But I can see your logic as well.

    I self published both of my books, one has a print and PDF ebook version, the other just print at the moment though I’m likely going to release it for Kindle/Nook etc soon too because graphics can now be handled better.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl. I agree with you, that an ebook is an additional format and a way to repurpose a physical book. And, there may be a reason to go ebook-only for some content. BTW, from our previous conversation, you may want to apply to be a writer for TFOI. click on the link in the nav bar Write for TFOI. Blog on1

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Cheryl- great to connect with you here. I’m seeing such a trend in Kindle/ebook sales that your plan to re-release your print book in that format is a very good one.

  5. Lynne, I enjoyed reading your short and to-the-point commentary on options in publishing. As a certified author’s assistant, I find the majority of authors know little about options and even less about the industry today. We’re living in an age where anything can be published, but the question remains if a book should be published and is the author prepared to wear the many hats of publishing their book. Thanks for the quick and easy options to publish. I can refer my clients and potential clients to have a look at the article and then have a conversation about which way to go.

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Hi Bea- I totally agree with your point about whether or not a book should be published. Over the last few years readers have been more discerning and have high expectations for both print and ebooks. Ensuring a great read and a professional presentation is crucial for author success.
      I’m glad you are here to help!

      • Thanks for the reply, Lynne. I sent a new client to this article a couple days ago. I agree that readers are becoming more discerning and an author must invest in their book for it to get noticed.

  6. No matter how you publish though, you still need a promotional campaign in place to get your book in front of a lot of people and get them to buy. Same challenge with your blog and your articles and your website. If you have fans and supporters, you can really grow any business.

    • Roberta, you are absolutely right. Without a strategy to build a platform and visibility on the web, it’s like your book doesn’t exist. Thanks for stopping by and adding your voice!

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Hi Roberta- You have clearly identified one of the primary keys to author success: a roubust list of people who know, like and trust you. Platform building is just as important as the content of your book. TOFI will be the an excellent resource for information on writing, marketing, and platform building for authors.

  7. Great post! Combining digital publishing with print on demand seems to be the way to go for most successful self-published authors these days. I personally love the service Issuu (handy for authors but also businesses) and Peecho for print on demand. Amazon of course also a good option.

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Hi Gale-
      Thanks so much for sharing those resources. I’m going to check them out. I’ve had great results using Amazon’s Create Space as well.

  8. Thanks for shedding some light on this subject. I’d better rethink about what to do with my manuscripts.

  9. Well done, Lynne. You broke down the pros and cons for each publishing avenue which was very helpful for me and confirmed that I would best benefit from Option 5 – The Blended Approach. It would allow me to reach more people like you stated because of the multiple listings. I’m getting closer to publishing. Thank you very much.

    • Rolita, thanks so much for stopping by TFOI! And I agree, going through Lynne’s 5 options is so helpful in getting clear on which path to choose. Let us know when you are published!

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Hi Rolita-

      I’m so happy that you are getting closer to publishing. Sounds like option 5 will be a good fit for you. Remember that people are waiting to read the message that only you can share.

  10. Peter Turner says


    I’m sorry (sincerely) to say that I didn’t get past the first publishing pathway you described, because it seemed so full of misunderstandings and inaccuracies.

    The #1 Pro to consider between the various pathways is who does the marketing and how much ability do you both (author & publishing pathway) have in reaching prospective customers.

    Under “cons,” I have to say that in over 20 years of publishing I have never heard of notion–in either theory or practice–that “publishing company owns the manuscript and can make any changes with or without the author’s consent.” The standard contractual agreement usual has language such as editorial changes are “to be agreed upon mutually.” Copyright registration is made by the publisher on behalf of the author; the author most certainly owns the work.

    Saying that “the lion’s share of the profits go to the publisher” is misleading at best. The larger portion of the revenue is retained by the publisher, in acknowledgement of their out of pocket risk and expenses. Books very often don’t earn out their advances and many loose money outright, though the advance payment to the author is guaranteed.

    In my experience, since the publisher is out of pocket he/she wants their investment back as soon as possible. Books are more usually pub’d 12-18 months after finished manuscripts are delivered. And much of this time is taken by the sales cycle of introducing new books to retail outlets.

    Now, I’m sure there are exceptions to any or all of this, but the vast majority of the time, what I’ve described is what authors can expect from the traditional publisher pathway.


    • Peter, thank you for stopping by The Future of Ink and for bringing your delightfully contrarian opinions as well…I’ll be really interested in Lynne’s take on what you have to say!

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Hi Peter-

      Thanks for your comments. We have some areas of total agreement: book markting is the greatest challenge for authors and publishers, regardless of which publishing pathway is selected. That’s why The Future of Ink is such a great resource.

      I certainly respect your opinions on traditional publishing. Several of my clients have had a different experience with publishers which were not as positive as they may have from your company. I’m delighted to know that your company is a more writer friendly!

    • Hi Peter,

      You’ve been in the industry for 20 years, and a lot has changed in just the past 5 years. I have three authors who are indie published and went on to sign contracts with traditional publishers. All three had in their contracts stated that ultimately the publisher had final say, though they were willing to work with the authors on changes to the manuscript. One author was required to re-write her entire book to be what THEY wanted it to be. Another author was told “Absolutely not” on several pieces she wrote. She only consented because they told her either she agreed with them or they would do it anyway without her agreement. The third author is still writing, so we’ll see what happens with her.

      In these cases, all authors, even though they’re previously published and have large responsive platforms, were required to do the bulk of their own marketing. First-time authors don’t get hardly any marketing support anymore, due to traditional publishers putting most of their marketing department behind their proven best-sellers. It’s largely up to the author to sell their book, then once they prove it’s selling, the publisher puts some marketing muscle behind it.

      I have a good friend who’s the head of editorial for a major traditional publishing house, and she gave me the low-down on timelines, contractual things, new author expectations, etc. What I’ve found is when speaking to people with as much experience as you have, the rules have changed from when you first began to play the publishing game. These new rules don’t apply to proven authors, but usually only to first-time authors. So what Lynne wrote, in the limited space allotted, is absolutely dead on – for first-timers.

      • Lynne Klippel says

        Thanks Kristen- I’m sorry to hear about your client’s experiences and find the same theme with many of mine as well. Some traditional publishers are not open to author’s imput as much as others are, which is why self publishing is a great option for lots of new authors.

        I’m so pleased to you are sharing your expertise in TFOI. I’m headed over to read your next post now!

  11. Lynne, fabulous overview of the various ways to publish. Love how you included Pros and Cons. This is a must read for entrepreneurs looking to add publishing to their marketing mix. Thanks for coming on board The Future of Ink as one of our Expert Writers!

    • Lynne, please allow me to second Denise’s enthusiasm, both for your article and for coming aboard TFOI as one of our core Expert Writers!

      Love, love, love how you illustrated all 5 options with a specific book and added the pros and cons of each.

    • Lynne Klippel says

      Thanks! You’ve put together a wonderful party of experts and I’m delighted to join the fun.