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Understanding Publishing Models

I belong to quite a few different social media groups that relate to writing and publishing. And every once in a while, a savvy new author will share information about a publishing deal they have been offered and ask the group’s feedback.

Oftentimes, these offers come from hybrid publishers. Upon hearing that, many people will start chiming in with things like, “If you have to pay your publisher, it’s a scam!” and “Publishers pay authors, not the other way around!”

I cringe every time I read those responses… But it’s clear by their vehemence that there’s little I can say that will change their minds.

To me, the question is no different than whether an entrepreneur should do their own bookkeeping and taxes rather than spend time working in their own area of genius. If you’re not doing what you’re best at, you’re not going far fast.

And just as there are bookkeepers and accountants who are crooks (sorry, guys!), it’s not all of them. Just as not all hybrid publishers are bad.

Here’s the truth of the matter as I (a hybrid publisher) see it, and how we explain things to the authors we speak with.

What is Publishing?

Essentially, “publishing” is the process of taking a manuscript and producing a book out of it. It’s that simple. No matter what path you take, that’s all that publishing is…

The process includes things like editing, designing, pricing, printing, distributing and marketing the book–every single time. No matter how the book is published.

However, there are different business models one can use to publish a book, and each has its pros and cons. So it’s important for authors to assess which model suits their needs best.

Traditional Publishing

With traditional publishing, the publisher takes on the expense (and risk) of producing the book. So they require creative control over its content, design and final format to maximize the book’s sale-ability. They also receive the lion’s share of the sales proceeds (typically 90%), even though the author is the one responsible for selling the book.

For an author who is writing their book to build a business or brand or to launch a writing career, pursuing the traditional publishing route can create significant problems. In addition to losing creative control over their book, they also have no say regarding the project timeline. It can take 18 months to 2 years for their book to be released and if, at that time, the publisher decides there’s not a sufficient market for the book anymore, they don’t ever have to actually release it.

Yet some authors still prefer this publishing path because they believe there is a certain cachet or prestige readers will place on a book when the title is published by a big name house. But, let me ask this… When was the last time you bought a book based on who published it?

For the most part, the distribution channels available to traditional publishers are the same as those available to books published by other means. So there’s no great advantage there either.

The most significant positive to pursuing this publishing route is the existing relationships large publishers already have with retailers, which can smooth the way for getting a book into stores, but it’s no guarantee.


The business model at the other extreme from traditional publishing is self-publishing. In this model, the author pays for any expenses related to the production of the book and acts as the publisher. As a result, they assume the responsibilities of a publisher, including the editing, designing, pricing, printing, distributing and marketing of the book.

The author/publisher does retain creative control and reaps all of the profit from book sales, but they are also responsible for adhering to publishing standards they may not even be aware of. And a lack of adherence to those standards can easily result in poor sales.

As soon as an author chooses to self-publish, they effectively have opened a publishing business. And for that business to be successful, they need to learn the ins and outs associated with editing, cover design, layout and formatting, production in various formats (large print, audiobook, and hardcover in addition to paperback and eBooks), pricing, sales tax, tax-exempt sales, printing, distribution, advertising, marketing and more.

They need to understand what retailers anticipate in terms of wholesale discounts, and how to maximize the reach of books so that they are accessible to consumers, retailers, schools and libraries.

Because of the sheer breadth of things to know, many self-published authors stop at simply distributing their books on Amazon in just one or two formats. However, that choice significantly reduces the sales of a book–meaning it significantly reduces the money in the author’s pocket.

In the first quarter of 2019, 68% of the revenue generated from sales of books published by my company, Emerald Lake Books, took place on Amazon. The rest came from other sources.

What would it mean to you as an author if you could increase your book sales revenue by 32% with a little extra effort? How many more readers would that mean for you? Or prospective new clients?

Unless you are writing because you want to be a publisher, having to manage all of these extra pieces well takes away from the time you could spend doing the things you want to be doing.

Hybrid Publishing

In between these two models is hybrid publishing. In this scenario, an author is essentially hiring someone with the knowledge and expertise to successfully produce a quality book, while the author retains most of the creative control and a significant share of the profit. While the author does pay for the services rendered by the publisher, they have the help, support and guidance they need, in most cases.

I started Emerald Lake Books after self-publishing five different books and encountering different issues with each one. Unfortunately, when you’re new to something, you don’t always know what you don’t know. And while there is plenty of information out there to help you figure things out, some of it is misleading and just plain wrong. And sometimes you encounter things you didn’t even think about looking into beforehand!

So when I had friends coming to me asking for help with their books, I realized that I had knowledge and experience other authors needed, and I was willing to dig in, make a study of publishing, and figure things out. That’s how Emerald Lake Books came into being.

And I’ll be honest. We’re still learning… As we’ve expanded our catalogue, we’ve encountered new situations that we’ve had to work our way through. For example, when we published our first authors outside of the U.S., we ran into questions (this time tax-related) that we didn’t even think about before we started those projects.

The key here is, we keep learning. We keep expanding our reach, introducing additional formats, and getting better all the time at what we do.

Most hybrid publishers, like ourselves, are paid in advance for services rendered, and then retain some portion of the royalties as well. In our case, we keep 50%, but we are continually sharing publicity and marketing opportunities with our authors, running ad campaigns for our books, and revising and refreshing our book listings to keep them current.

In addition, reputable hybrid publishing companies like ours don’t accept just any manuscript. Submissions are vetted and must fit within the mission and vision of the publisher’s program. (In 2019, we only published 3% of the books submitted to us that year.) These are just two of the nine criteria that the International Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has set for all hybrid publishing companies adhere to. (View the full list here: https://www.ibpa-online.org/general/custom.asp?page=hybridpublisher.)

What Makes Emerald Lake Books Unique?

Emerald Lake Books adheres to all nine of those hybrid publishing criteria, but then takes things even farther. We partner with our authors from the beginning of every project, teaching them the things they will need to know in order to succeed as an author. After all, if you succeed because of what we teach you, we all succeed!

Therefore, we base our philosophy on the old adage of “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Since you’ll be growing your business and marketing your book for its entire lifetime, we’d rather guide you through understanding how to market things yourself, and what your priorities should be in marketing than to actually do the work for you.

As Zig Ziglar used to say, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” That is our aim and focus in everything we do.

When we take our authors through a process that helps them articulate what publishing success would look like for them, they have what they need to then chart a course to achieve those goals.

In the past year, the books we have published have received numerous 5-star editorial reviews, awards and recognitions from independent sources, which has all been part of the plan for these authors and their books. But in addition to that, these authors have launched (or re-launched) businesses, seen their books adopted into university Marketing programs, grown their mailing lists, increased traffic on their websites (good for SEO), established their expertise, sold more of their products and services, and received both speaking invitations and consulting inquiries.

These are the things we have helped our authors achieve with the books we have published and the coaching we’ve provided. We have even canonized our unique coaching process into a book called Publish with Purpose because we want to help every author create the best possible outcomes for themselves.

Beware the Vanity Publishers

Unfortunately, there is a subset of hybrid publishing companies that are better called “vanity publishers.” They will take any manuscript, produce whatever the author wants, and disappear after the book is published, leaving the author with a substandard product that’s improperly positioned and hard to sell. 

These are the folks that give the rest of hybrid publishers a bad reputation. They are crooks and cheats and are, in our experience, the exception, not the norm.

So, you always want to make sure that you check carefully into any publisher you use, especially a hybrid publisher. A good starting point is to find out whether they follow the IBPA standards. But you’ll also want to look for reviews, testimonials, complaints or references–anything that tells you about the experiences others have had with a particular publisher.

In our case, testimonials from our authors are readily available on our site and we’re happy to put prospective new authors in touch with our published authors if we decide that we are interested in a particular book for our catalogue.

If you’re not 100% certain which publishing model will suit your needs best, we invite you to take this quiz. It asks you 12 questions (or less), then lets you know which model is best for you and what your next steps should be.

And if you learn that hybrid publishing is what suits you best and you’re curious about working with Emerald Lake Books, we invite you to fill out an application and tell us a bit about your book and what you want to accomplish with it.

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