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A Pacific Islander’s Guide to Getting Published: Should I self-publish or traditionally publish? Part 1

Welcome to the inaugural post of our series dedicated to guiding creators through the journey to publication. Through these blog entries, we hope to demystify the publishing process and make it more accessible for Pacific Islander creators.

If you’re a Pacific Islander creator with a manuscript you’ve sweated over, edited, sent to author-friends to be critiqued and loved, and polished until the words seeped into your dreams (or nightmares), you might be wondering how to publish it into a book that other people (not your family) will read. In this blog post, we’ll be discussing some details to consider.

The first step is to consider whether you want to publish your book traditionally—that is, selling it to a publisher—or self-publish it. Spoiler alert: there’s no good or wrong path, only what best suits your book and goals. Also note that you can do both, or opt for traditional publishing for one manuscript and self-publish another. For a detailed overview of these publishing options, you can check out Jane Friedman’s article. Here is a quick rundown on self-publishing.


When you self-publish, you will have complete control over manuscript edits, business decisions, and the final book product that you will hold in your hands—and sell to readers. But you’ll also be in charge of promotion, marketing, distribution, and budget planning. Luckily, there’s many resources available about self-publishing. Do your research. Weigh the pros and cons, and ask yourself hard questions: How will I get my manuscript to its best possible shape? What marketing strategies will my book require? How much time can I devote to the process, from editing and proofreading the manuscript, to creating an author’s website, designing a book cover that fits your book’s genre(s) and age category, and setting up a mailing list? How much money can I afford to put into the upfront costs for services like illustrating, editing, proofreading, cover design, and marketing? What distribution methods will you use? Answering these questions beforehand will help you determine if self-publishing fits with your goals.

Traditional publishing

When we think about traditional publishing, the Big 5 publishing houses (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and HarperCollins) immediately come to mind. Not far behind are mid-size publishers such as Sourcebooks, Scholastic, Disney, Allen & Unwin (AUS/NZ), to name but a few. It’s important to note that in Oceania, small presses and academic publishers play a major role in putting Pacific Islanders’ books in the hands of readers. 

In traditional publishing, money always flows to the author. Publishing houses sign book deals with authors that detail advance payments, royalties, and rights that the publisher or the author will hold. More about those rights can be found here

Some questions to ask yourself when deciding if you want to pursue this route: How long am I willing to pursue traditional publishing? Querying literary agents and publishing houses can take as short as a month and as long as ten years or more. Once a book deal is secured, it can take two to three years before a book is actually published. How will I cope with rejection? Am I okay with other people’s opinions on my work? Editors, book designers, publicists, and more all weigh in on your book though. Do I want my book to be up for awards? Most organizations that give out book awards only do so for traditionally published books. Where do I want my book to be distributed? Traditional publishers do have a wider distribution network. 

The submission process and other aspects such as marketing, advance payments, and royalties, will vary depending on whether you’re signing with a big publisher or a local press. 

During an event on Indigenous-led publishing at the Verb Festival 2023 (Pōneke, Aotearoa New Zealand), Bebe Backhouse-Oliver (Bardi Jawi), Director at Magabala Books in Australia, stated: 

Publishing is a reclamation of place. It’s the only way for first nations to tell their own stories their own way. To express themselves and keep their legacies alive, not just for themselves, but also for their people. 

Pacific Islander creators, your voices matter! 

In our upcoming posts, we'll delve deeper into the submission process, focusing primarily on traditional publishing—our team's area of expertise. Follow us for more insights and updates!


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