The current publishing landscape is both complex and dynamic. However, this complexity is providing a golden age for authors, who have more publishing options than ever before. In this snapshot of the book publishing landscape, you will discover the main options that are open to authors, how these interrelate and where self-publishing fits into the equation.
You can split the publishing landscape into six key elements:
These are book publishers that represent about 60% of the English language [source] books published in the US. They typically publish hundreds of books per year and have a large number of employees with a range of expertise. They will only accept submissions from agents.
Big publishers will often also have smaller ‘imprints’, that though they appear as separate publishing companies, still operate under the umbrella of the parent company.
These publishers are often referred to as the ‘big five’ and include Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan.
Here’s a list of English language book publishers.
An agent is a person or company who will represent an author’s interest. Since big publishers will not accept submissions directly from authors, the agent’s main role is to match authors with publishers. Agents also act in a screening process, in which they will find authors with ‘commercial’ potential for publishers.
Once a writer has secured a deal with a publisher, the agent will act as a link between the agent and publisher. Typically, agents receive about 15% of the money paid to an author by the publisher.
Here’s a list of notable agents.
These types of publishers are simply defined as publishers separate from the ‘big five’. They are sometimes called ‘independent publishers’. They are smaller in nature than big publishers but can still publish in excess of 100 titles per year. Typically to be classed as a small press, the publisher will be publishing more than fifty titles per year.
They will have smaller, less specialized teams than big publishers. On average, they will sell less books than their bigger rivals. They will also have smaller profits and tighter operating budgets. A small press will often work with both agents and writers directly.
Here’s a list of some small presses.
These are the smallest of the traditional publishers. They tend to be run by either a single person or a very small team. They will typically publish between ten and fifty titles per year. These tend to be ‘hobby’ publishers and often focus on niche topics. They run on a very small budget but can have a loyal readership.
Micro-presses tend to work directly with writers.
Authors opting to self-publish have two main choices: either take a DIY approach and do everything themselves (or via service providers) or use a self-publishing company, who will typically charge an up-front fee and, perhaps, a fee per book sold.
The vast majority of books are sold via the Kindle Digital Publishing platform (KDP), with Apple as the second major source of sales. It is difficult to find accurate figures for self-published titles. However, it is widely understood that about 40% of eBooks sold are self-published [source].
It is becoming increasingly common for writers to take a ‘hybrid’ approach to book publishing. This will see writers opting to pick the publishing option that best fits their current project, be that traditional or self-publishing. Author Chuck Wendig wrote an article about this topic.
In summary, we can see that the publishing landscape has grown more complex with the development of self-publishing. Writers are more aware of the choices they face and have more control over their books than ever before. It seems logical that this empowerment of writers will continue in the coming years.