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The mystery of publishing: a guide for cautious authors.

When it comes time for publication, every author must answer one of those key questions: should I give into my ego and release it on my own (self-publishing), sell it to a deceiver of men (vanity press) so that I can see my name on a cover, or keep trying for the brass ring (traditional publisher) and see my manuscript rejected by all the editors whose names I copied down at a writing conference months ago.

But watch out: the author's responsibilities have changed radically. Writing is no longer enough. In the world of social media, the author has to get involved in promoting the book as part of the product: fairs, interviews, meetings with readers—all those activities are hard to achieve for the person not made for meetings, whether by nature or chance.

So before you shackle yourself to a publishing house, it is worth knowing how they ask you to shackle yourself. By this, I mean that publishers rightly tend to like the authors who sell. But putting them in that position can create real problems.

Let me put out a concrete example. Here is my own case: I live in England and look after my home and family while my wife is working, so travelling around Italy, one of the markets I target with my Italian books, for an endless series of fairs and signings would be neither logistically nor economically viable for me, and this can clash hard with the perceptions (and requests) of a traditional publisher.

So, dear fellow authors, before choosing your next publisher, consider carefully:

1. What kind of promotion do they offer?

2. How many (and sometimes which) books do they suggest you buy?

3. Are you willing and able to attend in-person events?

Unfortunately, if the answer to the last question above is a big ‘NO’, a possible solution could be self-publishing. The money saved from travel could be invested in advertising online, making a film trailer, virtual meetings with readers, etc.

Remember that where self-distribution allows greater control over sales, cases of authors disagreeing with publishers regarding their accurate numbers are not unknown: I recently read of a writer who was convinced that he had sold at least 70 copies of his book. He discovered (after much door-bashing, apparently) that only 7 showed up in the publisher’s annual accounts. Thus, the matter has now reached the law courts.

If you decide to go with a publishing house (a traditional path to publication), ensure it’s a fair and transparent publishing business. Otherwise, self-publishing your way might well be the best option. Either way, know your options and limitations and choose what fits your personal and professional situation best.

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