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By Jennifer Holder

Not all paths of publishing lead to the same destination. Traditional publishing, self-publishing, and cooperative publishing are equal in the sense that they all have opportunities of their own and they all have downsides. Weighing these options can be a challenge, especially when you just know millions of people are going to want to read the book you’ve written.

Once an idea is crystal clear or a manuscript is written, authors face a scary juncture. Do they go left, right, or straight ahead? They alone can make the decision, but the pros and cons of each way seem endless. The realities of book publishing daunting. Plus, no author can accurately assess the value of his or her own work, and friends and family are biased in supportive or not-so-supportive ways.

To choose the best path, authors need to decide what they want. They need to look around at the books they admire, at what has been done before and blend that with unique ideas, their own personality, and what is financially realistic.

I’ll illustrate my point by describing one aspect of what makes a book into the special object it is once published. Printing. Go to Barnes & Noble, go to a used bookshop. Survey the hardcovers, the art books, the trade paperbacks, and the mass market paperbacks. Feel the weight of them in your hands. Flip through the paper, watch how pages turn, and even notice the smell that wafts as you do. Peer at each type of binding and see how the book opens. Notice different inks and appreciate the effect of two-color books. Admire illustrations and photographs – but not the artistry, rather appreciate the way colors can leap off the page or draw you deeper into the words. See if you can tell the difference between books by a major publisher, and small independent publisher, and those that are self-published just by the look and feel of the production.

I propose this fieldtrip to make one simple point: as authors explore publishing a book, they need to get curious about what they want their book to be. Printing is just one of many, many aspects. But if authors have a clear picture of what they want, when a publishing path comes before them, there is a better chance they will choose the right one and end up happier with their book than simply relying on advice.

Jennifer Holder is the founder of Full Bloom Publications which shepherds self-published books from conception to promotion in ways that make the author and project attractive to literary agents and publishing houses.