The Four Paths to Publishing

By Todd A. and Teresa (Terri) V.M. Stone

For writers of book length fiction, these are the best of times and the worst of times.-to coin a phrase. There are more avenues open to publishing than every before, but fewer of those avenues are well-paying. The Internet, advanced printing technologies, the rise of a few dominant book distributors, chain bookstores, and warehouse clubs, the demise of many smaller bookstores, and the consolidation of publishing houses with media conglomerates have changed the face of publishing in America.

For writers, this means there are four basic ways to bring one's book-length work of fiction to market. Those four paths to publishing are compared below. Though there are notable exceptions, those paths should be considered mutually exclusive for a given book.

Which is the best path? The answer depends upon the individual writer, his work, and the goals that writer has, both for a specific work and for his or her writing career.

The astute reader will quickly note that we have included no discussion of "quality." One woman's chocolate is another's castor oil. One can easily find poorly-written clunkers among books authored by seven-figure advance brand name authors whose works are printed in hundreds of thousands as one can in electronic-only published works. Are books published by NY houses better than self-published books? By what criteria? Do those same NY-published books usually garner more respect for their authors in the reading and writing communities than those works from independent presses? As a general rule, yes. Are those same NY published books as cutting edge in style or subject matter as those from electronic presses? Very unlikely.

We have prepared this comparison as a matrix. Methods of measurement or considerations-almost all subjective--are along the vertical axis. The type of publisher is at the top along the horizontal axis.

The definitions, comments, and analysis are the authors' alone, based upon their experiences, knowledge, and stubbornly clung-to opinions. Your opinion may differ and your mileage may vary. Terms, exclusions, and conditions apply.

Type of publisher/ consideration

Traditional (NY/CA houses)


“Small” Press

Independent Press/E-Publisher/Micro Press



Size of company

A part of a huge multi media conglomerate, often publicly owned


Near-conglomerate to mid-size, usually private


Small, private held, can be M&P

1 or 2


Greatest – advances given1, royalties on copies paid


Modest/small advances given, royalties on copies paid

Advances very small, seldom if every given. Royalties paid slightly higher

No advances; royalties larger per book sold





Yes – development available4

Must do self or purchase



Yes – professional proofreaders employed

Yes - professional proofreaders employed or contracted


Usually joint author/editor responsibility

Must do self or purchase

Cover art

Yes – publisher determines; industry standard


Yes – publisher determines, varies

Yes – varies, often newer artists; more author control

Must do self or purchase; complete author control



Stocked in all major distributors, stocked bookstore chains, independent bookstores, a few have some titles stocked in discount clubs, E versions available on product & e-bookseller websites, orderable everywhere


Stocked in most major distributors, stocked in most bookstore chains and independents, orderable generally everywhere, E version availability varies.


Stocked in some independent bookstores, stocked in chains as an exception, orderable by most bookstores, E versions available at publisher’s site, on e-bookseller websites

Stocked in stores by exception, orderable by most. E versions available on selected websites.

Time to Market

9-36 months

3-24 months

3-18 months

Less than 12 months


 # Publishers


Very small—7 (?) major houses with imprints


Very large, but often segmented/ targeting niche markets. Over 900 independent or small presses in US

Many service companies available


Form of published book (some or all of):







Very difficult



Less difficult


The Four Paths to Publishing—continued



Traditional (NY/CA houses)


“Small” Press

Independent Press/E-Publisher/Micro Press



Marketing Support

Some, usually after 3rd book

Some, but very limited

Limited or none, except on-line or coordination

Author is responsible for all marketing


Rights purchased




Specific and limited

All retained by author

Snakes in the grass

Agent scams, book doctor scams, incompetent agents, editor changes, lines dropped


Unstable publishers, agent, book doctor scams, editor changes

Unstable/ unscrupulous publishers, incompetent publishers

High-priced, low service company scams, co-op scams


Cost to Writer

Agent takes 10-15%


None if unagented






Next to most

Small/next to most



Cost of product

Industry standard

Can be marginally higher


Can be marginally higher for paper

Slightly higher



Sometimes required


Not required

Not required

Size of Market



E = 3-5% of all books sold

Less than 1% off all books sold


First submission

Query letter (sometimes email) to agent


Query letter (sometimes email) to editor or agent

Query email to editor


Send partial mss?

Normally, by snail mail, to agent


Normally, by snail mail, to editor or agent

Sometimes, but not usually.


Send full mss?

Only if requested, never as first submission, by snail mail to agent


Only if requested, never as first submission, by snail mail to editor or agent

Send electronically in .rtf or equivalent; some may ask for with query.



Time from query to send mss.

Months, must send partial first


Months, must send partial first



Mss. format

2x space courier, etc

2x space courier, etc


Guidelines on website



Rejection rates






Contract flexibility (rights ownership)

Indefinite with agent, long-term with publishers

Long term

1-2 years





1              See reserves against sales in terms.


2              See notes on editing in terms. Market forces are primary drivers.


3              See notes on editing in terms. Genre definitions often primary drivers.


4              See notes on editing in terms. Editors often  more willing to work with an author to develop a  work.



  Compensation:  writers get paid in one or more of 3 ways


Advances (often with a reserve; a portion kept back and dependent upon future sales). This is up-front money paid by the publisher to the writer (or to the writer thru the agent).


Sale of subsidiary rights, such as movie rights, book club rights, large type rights, etc.


Royalties, which are a percentage of the price of each book sold.


  Editing:  we define editing as the process of a publisher’s representative making judgments on a work and working with an author or an authors text to improve readability, plot, suspense, character, and so on, and being a “champion” for that writer/work within the publishing organization.  In major NY houses there is significantly  more judgment and championing than development. In smaller/independent presses, editors who will work with writers to develop talent are much more plentiful.


  Proofreading  checking for errors. Often includes fact checking.


  Independent vs. Small Press : There are no hard and fast definitions here, except to say that any publisher not one of the major NY conglomerates qualifies.  Some publishers may be as large as Kensington or Presidio Press, with a dozen-plus lines, imprints, and many authors.  Others are as small as primarily electronic publishers with a dozen authors, or other print presses with 2- 4  authors.  Another term for very small publishers (a half dozen or less people running the company, a few books per year) is micro-press.


  E-publisher:  E-publishers are those publishers who portray themselves as publishing primarily electronic versions of books. This can be confusing. For example, Hard Shell Word Factory and NovelBooks Inc., generally are portrayed, and understood to be, e-publishers. Yet the majority of their sales revenue comes from print versions of their books.


  Form of Published Book


HB          Hardback book

MM        Mass Market Paperback-size book

TPB        Trade Paperback (sometimes called Quality Paper) size book

E              Electronic version


   Accessibility  How easy it is to break into this market?  All markets are tough to break into, with rejection rates running from 92-99% of all material submitted. One should note that traditional publishers and independent presses are rejecting materials for vastly different reasons. See my article “Are YOU a candidate for E-publishing?” for a discussion of rejection rates and reasons.


   Snakes in the grass: kinds of scams and incompetence that can put the screws to the author.


   Representation:  Do you need an agent?


   Other terms you need to know:


POD – adj. For “Print on Demand.” This has several meanings:

1.        POD is a technology; using special printing presses, a printer can print books one at a time or one thousand at a time, instead of having to do massive 10,000 copy print runs.  The usual size of the book is trade paper size.

2.        POD is a technology that allows companies such as manufacturers to print installation instructions, etc as they are needed to go along with parts or equipment they sell.

3.        POD is a technology; using special machines located in a bookstore, a buyer can select a book and the machine prints a copy of the book while you wait.

4.        POD is derogatory “code” for “low-quality self-published” or “cheap.”


Short run:  A press run of 100 up to 1000 printed pieces, depending on the printer. This uses more conventional presses but prints fewer (obviously) copies than a full press run of about 5000.



About the Authors




Teresa (Terri) V.M. Stone

Teresa (Terri) V.M. Stone never met a challenge she didn’t like.  A frequent presenter at writers’ conferences and author of the several articles on research techniques and the business of writing, Terri is a Senior Tax Advisor for H&R Block. Terri knows about taxes and writers: she shepherded a writer and writing business through the dreaded IRS audit and won.  For the past 11 years, Terri has also been a tax preparer and tax course instructor for H&R Block.

Terri is also a computer network administrator for the US Department of Justice. She lives in Naperville and is a wife to husband and author Todd, a mother to 16-year-old Sarah, and an authority figure to a stubborn West Highland Terrier named Rocky.  Terri holds a Bachelors Degree in French from UCLA and Masters’ Degrees in Geography from UC Santa Barbara and Systems Management from the University of Southern California. A former Army engineer, Terri taught Geography and Leadership at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point.  She has served at Army facilities from coast to coast and along the Demilitarized Zone in Korea and left the Army with the rank of Major.  In her copious free time Terri devours both Mysteries and Romances. She has completed a screenplay and has several fiction works-in-progress. She can be reached at or by e-mail at



T.A. (Todd) Stone

From a tour de force through wealthy suburbia’s wholesome appearances and sordid realities to tanks and infantry, from mystery to military, Award-winning Author and screenwriter T.A. (Todd) Stone has made his mark on the print and e-book worlds. Stone is the author of the “profiling procedural” and 2002 Digital Literature Institute Best of Fiction Winner, 2002 INDIE Mystery Winner, and 2002 EPPIE finalist CLOSE TO HOME (Hard Shell Word Factory) and the NY Times Review of Books acclaimed military techno thriller KRIEGSPIEL (Lyford Books/Presidio Press). His second military thriller THE BEST DEFENSE is due for publication in May 2003 (NBI). He is a member of the Author's Guild, Mystery Writers of America, EPIC (the Electronically Published Internet Connection), the National Writers' Union, the Crime Writers’ Guild, and is a graduate of his local Citizens Police Academy.

When not writing fiction, Stone writes marketing communications materials for a major telecommunications manufacturer, teaches copywriting at a local community college, and presents at writers’ conferences throughout the Midwest.

An avid motorcyclist, Stone is a former Army Airborne/Ranger Infantry officer whose military assignments included duty as an Assistant Professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has his undergraduate degree from Indiana University and his MA in English from Northwestern University.  He lives with his family in a perfectly normal suburb outside Chicago, IL. He can be reached through his web sites or, or by e-mail at


In CLOSE TO HOME, a brutal killer with a bloody sense of revenge terrorizes the affluent Chicago suburb of Ravensburg. First the well-scrubbed teenage "girl next door" is found dead, her corpse provocatively posed alongside a busy thoroughfare. The body count climbs as the town's young and handsome activist minister and his older, married, minivan- mom lover are found mutilated in her locked suburban home.

In this tour de force through the wholesome appearances and sordid realities of a town voted "the best place in America to raise a family," emotionally battered PI Jonathan Kraag ties together cases hot and cold, racing to get inside a murderer's mind before the killer adds the town's children to his growing extended family of victims. Find out more about the book, the characters, and the author at


CLOSE TO HOME is available from:

Borders Books, Rte 59, Naperville, IL.

Andersons Books in Chicagoland

Centuries & Sleuths Mystery Bookstore, Forest Park, IL


Hard Shell Word Factory



Affaire de Coeur

     5 Daggers

All About Murder Reviews




2002 Digital Literature Institute Best of Fiction Award



2002 INDIE Award



2002 EPPIE

Mystery Finalist



Like military action/adventure and technothrillers? Smell the cordite and gun smoke of modern armored war in the NY Times Review of Books acclaimed KRIEGSPIEL by former Army Ranger Todd Stone. Outnumbered and outgunned, US soldiers face off against the armored forces of a new Fourth Reich. Available signed from the author: send email to


                 --Think: “Tom Clancy for Women!”


Major Val Macintyre and her rag-tag band of wannabes are all that stand between a remote nuclear weapons depot and a legion of biotech-enhanced super terrorists.


“This ain’t no girlie book!”


      KG McAbee, Award-winning author of "A Fine Impersonation" and "Escape the Past"  


Reserve yours—email or pre-order at


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