Once upon a time, authors would mail their manuscripts to publisher after publisher, hoping for someone to give them the opportunity to see their name on a glossy hardcover. Today’s publishing world is somehow both more and less forgiving. Authors have many more options for getting their work published. However, the competition remains stiff and, if they want to bag a big-name publisher, then they may find their chances even poorer now than they would have been twenty years ago.

If you’ve recently completed a manuscript, you may be overwhelmed at the publishing options available to you. Allow us to unpack some of these options and help you understand which path is your best fit.

Vanity Press

Also known as a vanity publisher or subsidy publisher, the vanity press publishes any work for a price. Traditional publishers invest in a piece of writing and take the cost risk of publishing a work with the expectation that it will sell. Vanity presses take no risk whatsoever. The author pays them to publish a book and so they do.

Because the vanity press takes no risk, it tends to have little to no criteria for what it publishes. What’s more, it invests very little in cover design, editing, marketing, or anything else that helps polish a book and make it sell.

Vanity presses will make a published work available through major distribution channels. This is attractive for authors that are having trouble getting a traditional publisher to bite. However, they often retain the rights to the author’s work and usually have full control over the sale price.

Don’t go through a vanity press if you want to make money. These organizations are better suited to authors who want to make a polished book, order a handful of copies, and share them with family and friends.

Big Publisher

Big publishers invest in good writing. They tend to pay un upfront cost to the author as well as a percentage of the sales profits (royalties). For this reason, they invest much more in art, editing, and marketing. It is, after all, in their best interest to make the book sell. Otherwise, they are the ones who lose money. Because they are so large, they have extensive resources for accomplishing this and tend to make highly polished works.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to attract big publishers. They often don’t accept unsolicited submissions and require those who submit to be working with literary agents. If you are one of the lucky few who gets published through a big publisher, you’re looking at a decent chunk of change in advances and royalties.

Small Press

Like big publishers, small presses (also called indie publishers) are looking for good writing that will sell. They take all the risk of publishing and work hard to promote material. However, they are much smaller, hence the name, and that comes with some strengths and weaknesses.

Small presses often have fewer resources than big publishers when it comes to marketing, editing, and art. They also lack the funds to compete with some of the royalty and advance payments that big publishers can afford. However, they are committed to making books sell.

On the up side, small presses are usually open to unsolicited submissions and they don’t require authors to work through literary agents, making them especially suited to first time writers. Being small, they tend to have a more intimate working relationship with authors and will give you a fair amount of individual attention.

Know Your Needs

Think about what you want to get out of publishing a book. This will help guide you toward the best fit. If you decide to go through a traditional publisher, research the publishers for books with a similar tone and audience to your own. Many publishers, especially small presses, specialize in certain genres. Targeting the right business will land you that coveted yes.