Understanding the Publishing Process

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Understanding the Publishing Process

By:  James Woosley, owner of Free Agent Press

After weeks or months or years, you’ve finished your first draft and now you can’t wait to get your book in print and in the hands of your readers. Be patient because the next steps can be frustrating, but they are vital to having a well-polished, professional book.

Pick a Path

Before you do anything, you’ll need to understand the various paths to publication that exist today. Each has pros and cons (more than I can describe in one post), but here’s a summary of the two primary methods:

  • Traditional Publishing: With traditional publishing, you submit a proposal to a publisher in the hopes that they love your book and want to pay you for it as well as pay for all of the costs involved to bring it to market. (Some publishers will only work with agents, so you may need to win an agent over first.) If you do get picked, you may get a small advance on royalties (unless you’re a celebrity). You give up a lot of creative control, but they handle all of the details, and in 18 to 24 months, you’re book will be in bookstores. You’ll still be responsible for most of the promotion efforts (unless you’re a celebrity), and you’ll need to sell enough books to cover that advance royalty before you see another cent.


  • Self-Publishing: With self-publishing, you take control of the entire publishing process. You can do it yourself or hire professionals to edit and design the book. There are no advances and plenty of expenses to do it right, but once the book is in print and selling, you’ll get 100% of the proceeds. The total control means the process is a lot faster, and you can easily have your book out within months.

There are also hybrid publishers that mix elements of both methods, and there are vanity publishers that you’ll want to stay away from. A vanity publisher will publish any book for a fee. They generally cost too much, deliver too little, and keep rights that should belong to you as the author. They will act like a traditional publisher but are very much not one. Be wise and search online before accepting any “deals” from a so-called publisher.

Whatever path you decide to take, there are a set of standard tasks that must take place before the book can be published. If you have a publisher, these will be handled for you. If you self-publish, you will be responsible for them:


No book should go to print without being edited. Editors who write books hire different editors to edit for them. Why? Because writers become blind to their own content. We don’t see that a word was missed in a sentence we spent hours crafting. The missing word is in our head and our brain sees it even if it’s not on the page. We all need an editor’s critical eye to guide us (and sometimes, confront us).

Different editors do different kinds of editing, and sometimes even they disagree on the terminology used to describe their work. But in general, the following is true:

  • Developmental and substantive editors will help with the structure of the content.
  • Line or copy editors will help with spelling, grammar, general clarity, attributions, and accuracy of information.
  • Proofreaders will review the text for a final time before it goes to print.

Editors are worth their weight in gold. Value them as they make a bad writers look good and good writers look great!

Cover Design

Judging a book by its cover isn’t just a cliché. We all do it. Sometimes we overcome it and discover a hidden gem. But if you’re browsing random books in a store or library, the visual presentation matters more than anything. And if a beautiful cover catches your eye, your hands will soon pick it up to learn more. Cover design is important.

And if you’re a professional, you don’t want your book to be branded as ugly or unprofessional. Spend a few minutes at Lousy Book Covers. Then do everything in your power to ensure your book never gets picked for that site.

Interior Design and Layout

We’re not picking curtains and fabric here, but it’s not that different. Instead we’re selecting typefaces (fonts), sizing, spacing, margins, and thousands of other tiny details that have a huge impact on the book. These tiny details set the mood and the tone for the reader. Done properly, they are more than simply visual details; they are functional. Effective book design makes it easy for the content to be enjoyed and digested by the reader.

Imagine going to the theater to watch your favorite movie. You pick the perfect seat and the lights go down. You are immersed in the sights and sounds. Soon, you forget you’re even in a theater. You are in the movie! Then a baby cries or a cell phone rings. Now you’re out of the movie and back in the theater. That is the difference between good and bad design. If you want readers to read, you need a good design.

If you’re going to take the time to write a book, give it the attention it deserves. Editing and design are critical.

This is the third post in a four-part series on writing and publishing by James Woosley, owner of Free Agent Press. James is the author of two books and has helped publish more than 100 books as a designer and publisher.

James Woosley is an underachiever—only because he’s constantly expanding his potential by doing something amazing then immediately striving for more—knowing that his mind, body, and spirit have been stretched to a new level of possibilities.

As a business coach, consultant, publisher, and project manager, James helps people and organizations move ideas from the dreaming and planning stages to full implementation. He sets goals, plans strategically, and makes things happen…for himself and those around him.

He is the author of Conquer the Entrepreneur’s Kryptonite: Simple Strategic Planning for You and Your Business and Challenge Accepted!: A Simple Strategy for Living Life on Purpose.


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