Manuscript to book: Three routes to publishing for New Zealand thought leaders

You’ve scaled that treacherous mountain. You’ve put in endless hours of research, writing, editing and more editing – and now it’s time to sit back, relax, and watch your manuscript transform into a polished book ready for the bestseller list!

Well, not quite…

Writing a book may be the hardest climb of your life – but just because you’ve reached the peak doesn’t mean you’ve finished the hike. And publishing, we hate to break it to you, isn’t all a cruisey walk in the woods. 

Publishing your book can feel intimidating, but just remember that it comes with the biggest reward you can imagine – your words and your ideas out there in the world, changing people’s minds.

The three main publishing routes

Much has changed in the publishing industry in recent years – from how you pitch, to what authors pay for, to how books are sold. Whether you’re just starting your book journey or you’re already finishing up your manuscript, here’s a brief overview of your publishing options in New Zealand…

1. Traditional publishing

When most people picture publishing, they’re imagining the traditional route (well, at least a romantic notion of it).

Traditional publishing starts by pitching a manuscript to a press, or publishing house. It’s then up to the publishing house if they want to take on your book. 

If everything aligns, the publisher then takes over most of the creative and logistical decisions around your book – from the final edits of your text to the cover design to how large your first print run will be. 

Every contract and every publisher is different. Sometimes, authors are given an advance on their book. Sometimes, authors are required to front the costs of printing. Sometimes, authors are given 5-10 percent of sales, and other times they may be entitled to slightly more.

Ultimately, traditional publishing is great for authors who…

  • Want the least amount of involvement in their publication 
  • Would like to lean on the influence of international publisher brands
  • Are comfortable with fronting additional costs, if the press requires it

But traditional publishing isn’t for everyone. Authors who want more control over how their book looks, how it’s presented, and how much they can make may find the traditional route too constraining or risky. And remember – publishers can be extremely competitive, and there is no guarantee that your manuscript will be accepted.

2. Self-publishing

This is the route that requires the most work from authors – but it is also usually the most economical. Some people choose self-publishing to have total control over the process, while others consider it after other options don’t work out – and it can be an incredibly profitable option. Just look at one of our favourite thought leaders of all time, Brené Brown, who published I Thought It Was Just Me on her own after it was rejected by publishers.

Self-publishing means that you as an author coordinate all the bits and pieces of getting your manuscript designed, printed, marketed, launched, and distributed. And we won’t sugarcoat this for you – it is a hell of a lot of work.

But depending on your skillset, your goals, and your current workload capacity, self-publishing can be the best fit for your book and your finances.

Here’s a very simplified timeline and checklist that most self-publishers follow:

1-2 Months

Editorial reviews

This means adding in proper referencing, fact-checking, editing your writing, proofreading and asking for permissions. Sometimes, you may need professional indexing.

Typically, authors will hire contractors to help with these elements.

1-2 Months

Working with designers

There are three main pieces of design: the cover, graphics, and typesetting (the layout of your text). These should be outsourced professionally.

1 Month

Legal registration

All books must have an ISBN number, as well as a registry with The National Library. These details are very important to get right.

2 Months

Printing and distribution

New Zealand luckily has several excellent printers, some of whom can also do print on demand for authors who don’t want to front printing costs (or for global distribution, Amazon Print on Demand and ebooks are good options). You’ll also need to source help for how your books will be distributed and sold.

2 Months 

Launch and leverage

Arguably the most important part of getting your book to do its job – this is when you plan your launch strategy, generate some buzz around your book, and use your book to promote your ideas and bring in more work.

If you are self-publishing, it’s important to work with experts who can help you make the best editorial, design, and strategy decisions. 

3. Hybrid publishing

This route is basically the in-between, combining some aspects of traditional publishing but usually reserving much of the creative ‘final say’ to the author. 

Hybrid publishing usually means that authors invest in a publishing partner, who manages the entire process, sources contractors, and designs the overall strategy for the book. They will ensure that the manuscript is in excellent shape, and that it is likely to be successful in the market. And because writers pay their publishers for their time upfront, it means that authors are usually able to keep 80-90 percent of their book sales revenue.

This route is usually the best for authors who:

  • Know they need help, but still want some influence in the final product
  • Are committed to a thorough editorial process 
  • Like the idea of fronting publication costs in return for a high proportion of royalties

What you need to decide and when

Ultimately, the right choice for you will depend on your book and your situation. What are you willing to invest in your publication? How much time and energy can you put into this? And what is most likely to ensure that your book gets out into the world, spreading its message, and returning you profits?

When we work with authors in the Better Book Project, we talk about publishing on Day One of the course. And that’s because we know just how important it is for authors to know what the end of the road looks like as soon as possible on their book journey. Deciding where your manuscript will go after its finished will help you target your writing strategy, plan your expenses, and most importantly – ensure that all this work actually leads to a finished, published, impactful book. 

We know that navigating this road is hard. We started helping thought leaders with their books because we saw that the overwhelm was holding people back from getting much-needed ideas out there into the world – and we wanted to help bridge those formidable roadblocks.

If you’re looking for more detailed advice, get in touch with us directly! We can answer all your burning questions about what this process looks like, and where to start.