Getting your book published is the last piece of the very complicated jigsaw, and I’ve come to realise just how confusing this process is.

Getting this bit right will make all the difference to how it will sell. And after talking extensively about the process over on The Pen to Published Podcast, I decided to create a mini eBook explaining all the things you need to know. The first part of this article is free, but the more in-depth explanation is available as a download.

So, you’ve written your book, you’ve hired all the relevant people to help get it to the last stage, and now you’re trying to find out how to publish it.

As there are several options open to you, I’m going to explain the differences between those choices. Each one has its pros and cons, but most authors-to-be want something that’s immediate, and it’s one of the reasons why I created Compass-Publishing UK.

It’s important to make the right choice when it comes to choosing which publishing option to go with, and my eBook explains the different variations we offer, including other options such as traditional (trad) publishing and other hybrid publishers, and I hope it’ll clarify what has become an overly complicated process.

But before I go any further, let me explain what ‘publishing’ means, so that you’ll have a clear understanding of the term.

What publishing means

In essence, publishing your book means preparing your book for sale. So, once your book has been printed, and you’ve made it available for people to buy, you have then, by definition, ‘published’ your book.

It does not mean it’s then automatically available through all selling channels, such as bookshops and online, although steps can be taken to maximise this activity. However, if you’ve published traditionally, this could be an automatic process, and for more-popular authors, a presale of that book will no doubt be launched. But for those who are self-publishing, that’s not the case, and unfortunately, the meaning of the term ‘publishing’ has been muddied over the years, causing confusion and misinformation about what the term actually means.

Why the confusion? Because trad publishers make it so! They like the mystique, and because it all seems so complicated and out of reach, writers then strive for a trad-publishing deal, which in turn means more money for them, but alas, in most cases, not for you the author.

But panic not, my authory friends, there are other avenues open to you, and I hope that, after reading this, you’ll have a much clearer understanding of the process. I’ll be explaining all the options available, so you can make the best decision for your goals/project.

I will say that to get your book selling through all of the channels (such as bookshops and online retailers – Amazon and Waterstones, for example), and not just through your own selling channels, you need one magic ingredient, and that’s an international standard book number (ISBN).

And it’s how you obtain this ISBN that determines who is considered to have published your book.

A quick word on copyright

In the UK, your book is automatically copyrighted and is stated as such on the title verso page of your book. You don’t need to apply for copyright, unlike in the US, and this is often displayed using the © symbol.

An ISBN does not affect your copyright status.

Copyright duration is the lifetime of the author plus 70 years.

Most trad publishers will ask the author to assign certain rights to them. This can be one of several models, including these: the author assigns copyright to the publisher for the term of copyright, the author assigns exclusive rights to the publisher for the term of the copyright, the author assigns exclusive rights to the publisher for the term of the of copyright or until the work goes out of print, or the author assigns non-exclusive rights to the publisher for the term of the copyright.[1]

Before you sign any deal with anyone helping you to publish your book, check what their copyright agreement is. This is really important, and I highly recommend you make yourself familiar with what this means in terms of your work. As a side note, Compass-Publishing UK assigns no rights to your work; all we ask is that if you decide to publish elsewhere, you a) let us know so we can update our records, and b) you state in your book that it was first published by us, which is a legal requirement anyway.

What an international standard book number (ISBN) is

An ISBN is a 13-digit number (it was 10 digits before 1st January 2007) that identifies your book. It’s a bit like how a car reg / licence plate links all the information associated with your car.

If you want to sell your book online from a third-party website, such as Amazon or Waterstones, or if you want to sell your book in a bookshop, then you’ll need an ISBN.

You can obtain an ISBN in any one of three different ways:

  1. through a trad publisher, such as Penguin or Random House;
  2. through a third party, such as a hybrid publisher or Compass-Publishing UK; or
  3. directly from the ISBN agency.

In the UK, ISBNs are obtained from Nielsen.[2]

Once your book has been printed, this ISBN is then registered through Nielsen’s database, using its PubWeb portal. The registration information includes the name of the publisher, the title of the book, how much it costs, its size, its genre and all of the other details that retailers need.

And this is where it gets confusing.

Who the publisher is

Whoever owns the ISBN is the publisher.

If you buy the ISBN (from Nielsen in the UK or Bowker[3] in the US), then your book will be published by whatever name you gave Nielsen/Bowker when you bought it (they ask this at the point of sale). So, for example, if you gave ‘Your Name Publishing’ to Nielsen, then that’s who you declare as the publisher.

However, if your book has been published traditionally or you’ve bought your ISBN from a third party, then that publisher/organisation will own the ISBN attributed to your book, and they will be your book’s publisher. Therefore, if you obtain an ISBN from Compass-Publishing UK, it’s the publisher of your book, not you!

(Knowing who is the publisher is the most confusing part of the process, and writers think that if they obtained their ISBN from a third party, the writer themself is the publisher, which is a very common misconception; read this for more ISBN myths.)

Depending on which option you’ve chosen (or been offered), and what the terms and conditions of that offer are, this will then have an impact on your marketing and the availability of your book to outlets.

Let’s now look at what this means in terms of the examples I’ve given previously – to access the full eBook ‘Publishing Your Book: What, How and Everything in Betweenclick here.

[1] Marques, M. (2017). Institution as e-textbook publisher. Jisc. [online] Available at:

[2] You can also obtain an ISBN through Amazon. If you opt for their ‘free’ one, this means that your book is published by them. They’ll automatically register your book for you. It also means that you can’t get your book printed anywhere other than Amazon.

[3] I’m not familiar with how Bowker works in terms of obtaining an ISBN, as I don’t live in the US. Please click here for more info on obtaining an ISBN from Bowker.  

Publishing Your Book: What, How and Everything in Between