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How Physician Writers Can Publish a Book

Many physicians love the idea of publishing a book, whether it’s a children’s picture book or a nonfiction book on a health related topic. There are many reasons for this, including scratching a creative itch, adding credibility to their physician brand, as a lead magnet to speaking opportunities as a physician, or as a substantial income stream that they hope will eventually result in the universally sought out ‘passive income’. Often times when these posts come up on our physician communities, members have already started writing their manuscript, but aren’t sure where to start on how to get the book published. Below, we cover how to publish a book through the two primary pathways to publishing – self publishing and traditional publishing. We also compare the two so you can decide which route is best for your writing goals.

Disclaimer: Our content is for generalized educational purposes. We are not formal financial, legal, or tax professionals and do not provide individualized advice specific to your situation. You should consult these as appropriate and/or do your own due diligence before making decisions based on this page. To learn more, visit our disclaimers and disclosures.

How to publish a book through the traditional and self publishing routes.

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Preparing to Publish a Book

Before you can publish a book, you have to write one. And rewrite it. And rewrite it again.

Before sitting down at the keyboard and penning the next great American novel, take some time to determine what book you want to write. Successful books are often the ones the author is uniquely qualified to tell. For example, Kathy Reichs used her anthropology background to write her national bestselling Bones series, which later got made into the TV show.

Medical thrillers are a perfect opportunity for physicians. If you’re interested in non-fiction, writing about something that’s relevant to your specialty is another way to leverage your’ unique knowledge and training. Or, if you’re just interested in a fun family project, we’ve seen several of our members write children’s books! If you want, browse some books authored by physicians on our communities for inspiration!

Writing a book can take months, if not years. Make sure you understand the ins and outs of the genre you want to publish in, but always focus on the story you want to tell versus what current market trends are, as they’re likely to change by the time you publish and/or sell your book.


Once you have an idea for your book, look for comparable books already on the market (called comps). Read, read, read as many as you can, especially books from the past 3-5 years. Read both bestsellers and less known novels, ones you enjoy and ones you don’t. Puzzle apart what works about these books and what doesn’t.

You can check reviews people have left on sites like Amazon and Goodreads to see what other people thought. You can often learn as much, if not more, from books you don’t like as from the books you love.

Write and Revise

Once you have your idea and have researched your genre, including what other authors have been able to successfully market and sell, it’s time to draft your story. Publishing a book isn’t as simple as writing your story and putting it out into the world. You will want to revise your book several times, focusing on broader aspects such as structure in the beginning before narrowing down to the details such as ‘affect’ versus ‘effect’ or missing commas in your final proofreading pass.

Caveat: This process is different for traditionally publishing a non-fiction book. For non-fiction, you usually submit a detailed book proposal, including an outline, to agents before writing the book. An agent may make significant changes to the outline before you draft the book, depending on what they think they can market and sell.

Network and Build a Brand

As you brainstorm and write, begin networking with other writers to build a community. Some ideas for networking opportunities include:

  • Join a national or local writing association

  • Go to writing conferences

  • Check for writers groups in your community (the library is a great place to start)

  • If you can’t find a writing group, start one!

  • Look for online discussion boards like Google forms hosted by other authors or Discord servers

Through networking, look to connect with critique partners and beta readers who can offer additional sets of eyes and unique perspectives as you revise. They can help catch inconsistencies you don’t see but that readers will surely notice and note in their reviews.

While you network with writers, also network with readers by building up your author brand. Many authors have a slogan or tagline that describes what focus their writing takes. This can be great to put on your author website, business cards, and freebies like banded bookmarks.

Resources for business cards and other branded materials: We have partnered with Moo (affiliate link) to provide 25% off your first purchase. They make visually appealing and memorable business cards and other advertising materials to help build your brand awareness.

You can also learn more about branding with our articles on:

Social media is another great option for authors. You don’t need to be on all of them, but pick one or two to focus on. A few of the most popular ones for writers include:

  • Facebook

  • Goodreads

  • Instagram

  • Twitter / X

  • TikTok (BookTok)

With recent shifts in publishing, more and more of the marketing efforts are being put on the authors, whether they choose to self publish or traditionally publish. Agents and publishers are looking for writers who already have a target audience of readers they’ve built up themselves. 

Other ways to build up an audience include:

  • Adding a “behind the scenes” writing blog to your author website

  • Putting together a newsletter

  • Reaching out to writing podcasts to speak about your experience and your book

Choosing a Publishing Path

Once you’ve written and edited your book to be the best version possible, it’s time to determine your path to publishing. Different options include:

  • Traditional publishing with a mainstream publisher

  • Self publishing (or indie publishing)

  • Signing with a vanity press, where you pay to have them publish your book

  • Hybrid publish using a combination of the other options

Self Publishing Versus Traditional Publishing

Self publishing and traditional publishing are the two primary types. Both offer advantages and disadvantages. There is no best way to publish. Which route you choose can depend on different factors. We’ll highlight a few of the key differences to consider when selecting your publishing path.

Personal Goal

If you want the prestige of publishing for a Big Five publishing house like HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster, self publishing isn’t the route for you. Traditional publishing offers a better chance of seeing your name on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, if that’s a goal you hope to achieve.

Conversely, if you want to get your book out into the world as quickly as possible, traditional publishing will frustrate you to no end. This is a long process without a guarantee of success. 

The truth is that in today’s day and age, some people don’t necessarily need a lot of book sales but use the title of a published author to build or augment brand credibility. This may be the case for physician speakers, coaching, real estate, or other side gigs. In this case, self publishing is process you can guarantee both in terms of an end product and timeline.

DIYers may enjoy learning all the different aspects of publishing, making indie publishing a better fit, while busy physicians working full-time and looking to add an alternative income stream may want someone to take more of the logistical workload off their shoulders and focus on their writing instead.


Self publishing: You can publish your book as quickly as you can pull it together and market it, making it a great option for authors hoping to hit ereaders or mailboxes ASAP.

Traditional publishing: It can often take a few years from when you finish writing and editing your book until you see it on shelves. It may also take you a few books before you land an agent and/or publishing deal, which can add several more years to the timeline.

Upfront Capital Required

Self publishing: requires more time to build up marketing skills and money to pay for professional services to help get your book ready to publish

Traditional publishing: requires more time reaching out to agents to get a publishing deal, but can be done without any upfront money investment

Earnings Potential

Self publishing: you set your price, which will likely be less than a traditionally published book, but allow you to keep a larger percentage of the sales. Some genres are not as popular for eBook readers (such as literary fiction), but some (such as romance and self-help) are booming and can lead to an amazing earnings potential. If you already have a brand and following that’s going to buy your book regardless, and you don’t care about the prestige, this may be the most profitable opportunity from a pure sales perspective.

Traditional publishing: you have the opportunity to get your books in stores for huge sales numbers, but traditional authors typically make an advance (determined in your book deal with the publishing house) and then only bring home about 10% or less of the actual book sales. The ‘x factor’ here is that since publishers will promote you more, you may find more opportunities for secondary monetary streams related to your expertise, such as invitations to be a keynote speaker, regular contributor for a media outlet, advisory boards, movie or miniseries deals, or otherwise.

How to Self Publish a Book

Here are the steps to publishing your book if you decide to go the self publishing route.

Hire a professional editor. Even with critique partners and beta readers, you will likely want at least one professional set of eyes before putting your book on the market.

Hire a cover designer. Though told not to, most people do judge a book by its cover. Check your comps and make sure your cover design fits your genre. 

Get blurbs from fellow authors or famous connections. A review or blurb you can put on the back copy of your novel by a successful author or well known personality is a great way to spread the word and boost potential sales.

Provide ARCs for early reviews. Advanced reading copies not only give you the opportunity to generate buzz with early feedback prior to launch, but it’s additional free edits to catch mistakes you need to update before your official release.

Figure out what platform you want to use. Amazon's KDP is the go-to self publishing hub, but often requires exclusive rights for a certain amount of time, so make sure it’s a good fit for your marketing plan.

Market and prepare for your book launch. Presales are a great way to drum up interest. Many authors offer freebies to encourage early purchases (artwork, tokens, exclusive deleted scenes, etc.) and to help launch your book to the top of the rankings on release day.

Build a street team. If you have early readers who are fans, enlist them to help you spread the word for your launch. Word of mouth referrals can be a great way to generate more buzz and expand awareness of your book on social media.

Publish and plug plug plug! Consider hosting a launch party on publishing day, doing special social media live events, giveaways, Q&As, guest spots on podcasts, book clubs, etc. to announce your book’s publication and to continue to spread the word.

If you’ve published a book and want to share it in the PSG community spotlight section of our recommended reading page, contact our team and let us know!

How to Traditionally Publish a Book

Traditionally publishing has a few gatekeepers you have to get through before your book hits bookshelves. You typically need to pair with an agent through the querying process. Then the agent uses their connections to pitch your book to editors at the publishing houses to land you a book deal. The steps include:

Put together your query materials to send to agents. Have your critique partners review your query materials before sending them out. If you’re writing a children’s book, you’ll likely submit your entire manuscript and artwork.

Research agents. Thousands of literary agents exist, and not all are of equal reputation. When determining who you might want to represent you, check the acknowledgements of the comp titles you read to see who represents those authors. Sites like QueryTracker can also help you search by genre for potential agents.

Query agents in batches. Make sure to follow each agents’ exact guidelines on their website. If you don’t, your query is likely to get filtered out before they even see it. Personalize your query letter for each agent.

Hurry up and wait. An agency’s website may or may not tell you how long to expect to wait. Many don’t respond at all if they aren’t interested in hearing more about your book. If you don’t receive any requests and no feedback on why the agent passes on your book, that’s a hint you need to either edit more or your book may not be marketable currently.

Agent requests full or partial. If an agent is interested in your book, they will either reach out for a partial manuscript request or request the entire manuscript to read. They will typically give you a timeline on how long to expect for them to review and make a decision.

Offer of representation. If an agent connects with your book and thinks they can sell it to a publishing house, they will offer you representation. Let other agents reviewing partial or full requests know. Interview the agent (or agents!) who have offered you representation to make sure you like them and are a good fit for each other.

Sign a contract with the agent. Make sure to have the contract reviewed, as there are certain clauses agents might add that you don’t want. You want to make sure you have in writing what media rights will be, overseas distribution/representation, exit clauses if they can’t land you a book deal, etc.

Edit again! Your agent will likely have edits for you to complete before they take your book to publishing houses to sell it.

Go on submission. Once you’re done editing with your agent, they will start submitting your book to potential editors at publishing houses to assess interest, similar to how you queried them for interest in representing you.

Review offer for publishing. When you land a book deal, review that offer carefully as well.

Edit again! (Writing really is revising.) Your editor will do a read through of your manuscript and give you feedback on what they think the book needs in order to do well in sales. You will also go through proofreading and final formatting reviews before your book is published.

Prepare for your publication day. Once you’ve finished edits, your publishing house will give you a publication date. As you prepare for your book launch, consider some of the marketing strategies above to help build a target audience of potential future readers.


While success isn’t guaranteed in publishing, the steps above can help you optimize your side gig of writing a book for the greatest chances of success. If your first book doesn’t explode off the charts like a Colleen Hoover novel, remember that neither did her earlier attempts. Keep writing and building up your brand as readers and agents, once found, will want to know what else you have for them to devour in a single sitting.

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