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What is the main publishing format authors should be using today?

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I've recently begun investigating the publishing process, and what I as an author need to do to get my book read. I'm aware of the self-publishing option, but as I have not studied any options extensively yet, I want to get a good feel for all options before I make a decision.

However, the resources I'm studying, despite being written only a few years ago, are woefully out of date. With physical bookstores nearly a thing of the past now, and many books being bought on online stores like Amazon, I'm wondering how much of what I'm studying is relevant (they all assume physical publishing and physical bookstores are where everything is at).

Here's my question: Is getting my book physically published something I should be aiming for? Or is it smarter to look at something like print on demand or ebooks, and only go into physical publishing as a secondary thing? What is the main publishing format authors should be using today?

Obviously, please back up your opinions with logic and/or references.

Why should this post be closed?

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The standard publishing route remains traditional print publishing. But the thing you have to realize is that publishing is not about printing, it is about marketing and distribution. It is about the ability of the publisher to create channels for books to reach readers. Whether the product that flows trough those channels is print or digital, whether the printed books are created by offset printing or POD is all just a technical question for the marketers to answer. Publishing is marketing.

You will hear that traditional publishers don't do as much marketing for a new author's book as they used to, but that is not strictly true. As with any product, the main marketing activity -- determining if and where a market opportunity exists -- happens before publication. Traditional publishers also provide books with an easy path into both brick and mortar and online bookstores. What they may do less of for new authors, and have authors do more of themselves, is publicity.

So the question you have to ask yourself is, what is the best way to market this book? Self publishing, which comes with no marketing at all, unless you do it yourself, has a very low success rate. As far as I can see, people who make money doing it are mostly those who produce incredibly high volumes of pulp romance and fantasy novels. Also, some traditionally published authors with good name recognition are bringing out some, but not all, of their books themselves with apparent success.

Also, it is not yet true that physical bookstores are a thing of the past. The pandemic might change that, but pre-pandemic, they seemed to have stabilized with somewhat modified business models. And print production seems to have stabilized too and holds on to the majority of the market. Surprisingly, even young people seem to prefer reading on paper rather than on screen. (Maybe because they spend the rest of the lives staring at a screen???)

Overall, it seems to me, self publishing and digital distribution have developed as parallel channels to traditional and print. There is no sign that they are replacing them: they have simply developed alongside of them, taken, or developed, a certain slice of the market, which, from all appearances is holding fairly steady.

Obviously, the vast majority of self-published fiction are pure vanity products, complete drek with no marketing thought or effort behind them. There is, beside that, a thin vein of competently written and marketed self-published material. But the majority of professionally written, edited, and marketed fiction still comes from the traditional publishers. It is not a matter of one replacing the other, but of discerning what the self-publishing (and the emerging hybrid model) does well, and whether your work happens to fit that model. If your work more closely resembles work being successfully marketed in those models than in the traditional model, that may be the place for it. But overall, it is not a matter of one model replacing the other but of each model being good at certain things.

You should publish your book using the channel where books like yours are typically most successful.

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