Posted On June 21, 2013 by Print This Post

How to choose the right publishing option for YOU by Oliver Rhodes

RU Writers! Put on your reading glasses, you’re going to want to see what Oliver Rhodes has to say about the publishing world today – the changes, the trends, the do’s and the don’ts.

Authors have never had more choice about how to publish their work.  It’s a truly exciting time to be publishing and you have more control than ever before.

Of course, the problem of more choice is that it can make decisions more difficult.  Should you self-publish?  Hang out for an agent and traditional publishing deal?  Go with one of the many digital publishers?

Add in the rapid changes in digital trends, which can alter the balance between the different options and you’re faced with quite a dilemma.

What I hope this post will do is give you a few things to think about when making your choices – from someone who has both worked for a traditional publisher and set up their own independent digital publisher.

A change in mindset

One of the results of having more choice that I have noticed is a change in mindset amongst authors.  Empowered to take control, more are willing to critically consider and experiment with different publishing routes.  Successful self-published authors have crossed over to traditional deals and we’ve seen traditionally published authors move to be either entirely self-published or to combine self-publishing with their existing deals.  Still others have moved to digital only outfits.

Savvy authors are deciding what is right for them and their books on a case-by-case basis.  No longer is it a safe assumption that a traditional publishing deal is always the ideal.

I believe that publishers still have a lot to offer but the big lesson to be learnt here is that the right option will be different for each author – and perhaps even for each book.

Would E.L James have had the same success if Fifty Shades of Grey had started out with a mainstream, traditional publisher?  I think it is unlikely.  But would she have achieved as many sales without the switch to Random House, with their marketing muscle and physical distribution? No way.

Looking at the options

For me, a great way of evaluating a publisher (or the option of self-publishing) is to look at what share of your book’s revenue you are giving away and what you are getting in return.

Self-publishing ensures that you take the biggest share of eBook revenue possible (as high as 70%) as well as giving you complete creative control.

On the flip-side you’ll won’t have your book in bookstores and you’ll be footing the bill for editing, cover design and promotion – so taking a financial risk.  You will also be the one doing all of the promotion for your books, which will give you less time for writing.

At the other end of the scale, a traditionally published deal means that you have a much larger network of people involved in making your book a success – and the benefit of their combined expertise and contacts.  There’s also the additional dangling carrot of an advance.

There’s a cost to that though in what you earn from each copy sold – especially for eBooks – not just today but in 5 years time.  It’s also likely that any physical distribution that you get will be greatly diminished over time.

Digital only publishers and imprints have made great advances over the past few years – especially in the Romance genre where eBooks make up such a high percentage of overall sales.  An added bonus here is that most don’t require you to have an agent.

Their digital royalty rates are much better than their traditional counterparts (sometimes double) and at their best they offer unparalleled digital expertise.  Of course at their worst, they offer minimal editing and poor cover design with little to no promotion – so chose carefully.

When weighing up each option, ask yourself whether what you’d be getting suits your specific goals and needs.

If you’re an enthusiastic and digital savvy self-promoter with an established fan base then self-publishing might be for you – especially if you have time and money to invest.

For a lot of authors though, and especially those who are either starting out or are successful enough to demand sizable physical distribution, working with a publisher is still a fantastic option.

 What to look out for in choosing a publisher

Realistically, most authors don’t have the luxury of picking from multiple publisher offers and choosing the best deal for them.  Nevertheless, if you are offered a publishing deal I think it’s important to get clarification exactly what the publisher will be doing for you.


What is the editing process?  Will they be putting together a publicity campaign?  Will there be paid marketing support?  What level of physical distribution are they expecting?  What’s their pricing strategy?

Answers to questions like these will help you decide whether you’ll be getting good value in the deal.

Additional hint: Get a sense of how important you will be to that publisher.  It is natural for publishers to focus their money and attention on their bestsellers – or the titles that they think have the biggest potential.  There is only so much time in the day and money in the marketing budget – and not every author gets an equal share.

About Bookouture – and publishers adding value

When I left Harlequin UK to set up Bookouture, I was very focused on that question of how we could add value to authors.

In my experience books sell well when they get great attention to detail: great editing, great covers, great publicity and great marketing.  That is even more true with digital publishing where there needs to be a constant re-evaluation of pricing, promotion and metadata.

When publishers have tens of thousands of titles, it is difficult to add value to every single one.  In fact, where self-publishers have gained an advantage over traditional publishers is with attention to detail – especially by optimizing their books on amazon and promoting regularly to maximize sales.

The concept of Bookouture is to offer bespoke digital publishing – concentrating on a small number of authors who we can provide that level of attention to detail to.  We work with top editors.  We develop individual cover designs and also create a website for each author.  We create marketing and publicity campaigns tailored to each book and are proactive in optimizing our eBook pages, categories and metadata on Amazon.  And we pay a digital royalty rate of 45% of net receipts.


Our approach won’t be right for everyone – but that question of how a publisher can add value lay at the heart of Bookouture’s conception.  I think it’s exactly the same question that all publishers – and authors – should be asking.

 Seize the day

Having more publishing options than ever before is a wonderful thing for authors – if you take advantage of them.

If you feel traditional publishing is the right route for you, then go for it.  But give yourself a time limit to get that agent or book deal.  Be prepared to re-evaluate, to experiment – and don’t let your manuscripts gather dust for years on end.  Remember – the most important people in publishing are readers.

And finally

I hope you will forgive me for finishing with not one, but two shameless plugs.

Firstly, if you like the sound of Bookouture, we’re still looking for more submissions – you can do that HERE.  And you can also connect with us on Facebook.

And secondly, today is publication day for one of our titles that we’re VERY excited about – Monsoon Memories by Renita d’Silva.  You can read an extract here or buy it on Amazon here.



I’d love to hear about your experiences – do you agree that more choice for authors is a good thing?  Let me know via the comments section.

Join us on Monday for co-founder Adrienne Giordano with All in the Details


Oliver Rhodes is the Founder of Bookouture – a digital publisher of romance and women’s fiction. Recently picked by The Bookseller as one of their ‘Rising Stars’ of 2012, he’s passionate about building global author brands.

Formerly Marketing Controller at Harlequin UK, Oliver has worked in publishing for over 12 years. Some of his highlights from his time at Harlequin include launching Mills & Boon’s New Voices online writing competition and rapidly growing its MIRA imprint – establishing authors such Debbie Macomber, Diane Chamberlain, Susan Wiggs and Alex Kava in the UK market.

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16 Responses to “How to choose the right publishing option for YOU by Oliver Rhodes”

  1. Morning Oliver!

    Oh what a great post! I do believe having more choice is a good thing, but do traditional publishers feel the same?

    The author literally has the world at her fingertips and can eschew traditional publishing – and yet so many of us want to be in print/on a bookshelf. I think that’s what keeps us hooked on agents/publishers and traditional publishing….holding a real book in our hands, seeing it on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble…

    Thanks for a great post Oliver!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 21, 2013, 8:42 am
    • Hi Carrie – thank you!

      It’s worth saying that a lot of digital publishers (Bookouture included) will also publish Print on Demand copies that mean you do get to see your book in print! Some even do short print runs too.

      I do completely understand the emotional pull of seeing your book in a bookstore though – as well as the benefit of being discovered by readers in that way.

      I guess the question is, what exactly is that worth to you? How much are you prepared to give away in digital royalties to make that dream come true? (it’s a more complex equation than that, but you get my gist).

      As to whether traditional publishers feel that more choice is a good thing? I don’t think it matters. It’s a fact and the publishers who adapt best to the new reality will be those that survive and flourish.

      I do genuinely believe that traditional publishers still have a lot to offer, and they are changing – but big ships can take a long time to turn around.

      Posted by Oliver | June 21, 2013, 9:05 am
  2. “Remember – the most important people in publishing are readers.” Love this! Too many writers forget how true this is. No matter which way you choose to publish, reaching out to readers is one of the most important things you can do to market your book.

    Posted by Jessica Flory | June 21, 2013, 9:25 am
  3. Hi Oliver,

    The digital age owns writers and publishers. Readers have more control than ever. Finding them and keeping them happy has become a profession unto itself.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 21, 2013, 10:14 am
    • Thanks for the the comment Mary Jo!
      Absolutely, finding readers especially is hard work – and one of the reasons that it can be helpful to have a publisher – to help with publicity and promotion.

      Posted by Oliver | June 21, 2013, 12:49 pm
  4. Thanks for a very thought-provoking article. I admit I was VERY slow to read self-published books, because my first experiences were not good. Tacky covers, atrocious editing, poor formatting (no page numbers, for instance) – all of those things put me off. Since then I’ve read some self-published books that were very well done, but I still hesitate because those early experiences left a bad taste in my mouth.

    I do think epublishing and self-publishing are good options for established authors who want to reissue their backlists. That’s a win/win – it’s a new income source for the authors, and it provides readers with an opportunity to read books that have been out of print.

    I agree with you that having more publishing options is good for everyone. I know a lot of authors who would be thrilled to get marketing back-up. I think extra attention to detail by editors is good for readers and authors alike!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | June 21, 2013, 11:11 am
  5. Hi Becke,

    There’s definitely a variable standard in self-publishing, and if it is route that authors pursue I think professional editing and cover design is a must!

    There are some exceptionally good authors self-publishing – 5 out of the current Kindle top 20 on are self-published.

    Glad you found it a thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Oliver | June 21, 2013, 1:46 pm
  6. Hi, Oliver. I love your posts!

    I’m in the hybrid camp of authors. I like having a publisher behind me, but I’ve also enjoyed the flexibility that comes with indie pubbing.

    I think there are benefits to both and what I love about those benefits is I get to choose the path that’s right for me. Not long ago, that wasn’t the case.

    I’m curious how you think the indie pub market will change the role of literary agents.

    Thanks for a great post.

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 21, 2013, 2:23 pm
  7. Thank you! And as always, that’s a very good question!

    I think that the growing trends of both self-publishing and digital publishers who don’t require submissions to be agented will definitely put pressure on literary agents.

    As with publishers, the onus will be on agents to demonstrate exactly how and where they can add value.

    Posted by Oliver | June 21, 2013, 3:05 pm
  8. Hi Oliver,

    Thanks for another insightful post. I agree with Becke’s assessment of the majority of self-pubbed books I’ve read. Most of them need editorial input. I’d be willing to forego dollars in order to work with a good editor and marketing team, especially if I want to concentrate my energy on writing.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | June 21, 2013, 6:23 pm
    • HI Jennifer,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I think with self-publishing, whilst there are some bad examples out there, if it is a route that you choose to go it is perfectly possible to buy in editing and even marketing.

      The other benefit of going with a publisher though is that they have the (% of revenue) incentive to make your book sell as many copies as possible!

      And to me, your last point is absolutely vital. The more and better you can write, the more sales and money you are likely to make.

      Posted by Oliver | June 23, 2013, 2:19 pm
  9. Thanks so much for posting with us today Oliver – it’s a very timely subject and one most authors need to be aware of!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 21, 2013, 10:45 pm
  10. It’s wonderful that we have so many choices as authors. You’ve given us lots to think about when evaluating which option is best, and when comparing one potential publisher to another.

    Covers and editing are huge factors for me. No matter how great a story is, it will be difficult to gain readership if these details haven’t been carefully attended to.

    BTW the Bookouture covers look fantastic. Well done!

    Posted by Reese Ryan | June 22, 2013, 3:05 pm
  11. As a (so far) independent author of romantic suspense (getting great reviews, but hardly in the stratosphere of sales yet), I found this to be a very helpful post, so thanks, Oliver! I’m learning the ropes of social media marketing, which is taking substantial time away from working on my new book, but I know I’ll have to do this even if I eventually sign with a publisher, so it’s all good. I’ll take a look at Bookouture.

    Posted by Jane Taylor Starwood | June 25, 2013, 8:43 am

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