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The Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing

Earlier in April, I addressed the basics of how authors get book deals and mentioned there are two main paths getting a book published: traditional or self-publishing.

The literary landscape has changed much over the past decade, with numerous options for authors looking to publish. But which route you choose should not be taken lightly. Although each ultimately gives authors the opportunity to share their voice with the world, both traditional publishing and self-publishing come with their own set of Pros and Cons.

Set yourself up for success by knowing these advantages and disadvantages. And to help you get there I’ve outlined a few for those considering pursing a traditional publishing deal.

THE PROS OF TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

It’s a dream many start out with: seeing their book on the shelves of their favourite store, or being able to hold it in their hands. To feel the weight of the pages and smell that wonderful new-book smell.

A certain mystique surrounds traditional publishing, and many see it as validating. Although it is just as much so if you self-publish, the traditional route does come with a few perks.

1. AGENTS

In the first of this series, I mentioned the role of agents in getting book deals. They are the ones who shop your manuscript around to publishers, but they also do so much more.

Agents are your first Number One Fan. They want you to get the best deal possible, and on your behalf negotiate contracts, the advance (how much the publisher pays an author to publish their manuscript), royalties, rights, and all other business matters.

Your agent will also help you stay organized and on top of the publisher’s deadline, and answer your industry-related concerns. Many authors are with their agent throughout their career, and so they act as your mentor and help you achieve all your writing dreams.

2. PROFESSIONAL PRODUCTION

You will not be alone in producing your book and getting it into readers’ hands. Authors who chose the traditional route will work with a professional in-house editor, a formatter and cover designer (aka the production team), and a marketing and publicity team.

They say not to judge a book by its cover, but these are the people who do their very best to make an attractive package that will stand out among the others.

 3. ZERO UPFRONT COST

Authors who chose to self-publish still need all those people, but must hire professional services. With traditional publishing, they are all part of the package and, as they work for a publisher, you don’t owe thing.

Beware of agents or industry professionals who ask you to pay for their services. Run! They are not here to help, and they are certainly not your Number One Fan.

4. ADVANCES

I briefly touched on this last time, when I mentioned that a publisher interested in publishing your story will purchase it. This is called an advance, and is the guaranteed amount an author will receive. They will get part on signing and then the rest will likely be paid in instalments at certain times along the publishing process, such as handing in the first draft, completing revisions, and so on.

This amount varies widely. It depends on the size of the publishing house (bigger means more prestige, which usually means more money), as well as how many copies they think they can sell. In rare cases, publishing houses may compete for the rights to publish a book and so the advance can skyrocket.

5. WIDER DISTRIBUTION

Traditional publishing gives authors the opportunity to be shelved in major bookstore chains, as well as other retailers like WalMart, Costco, and libraries. They may also negotiate deals to be published in foreign markets, and not only will there be a hard copy of your book, but the deal may also include audio or ebook versions.

This isn’t to say it’s impossible for self-published authors to do so, but it’s a whole lot easier with the professionals in your corner. The wider reach also has implications for a writer’s career over time, and the more exposure you get the more likely you are to win awards, land on “Best of” lists, and become a household name.

6. MARKETING AND PUBLICITY

Becoming a household name takes a lot of work, and by now can clearly see how having the might of a marketing and publicity force behind you is advantageous. They have the means to promote your title by placing ads, sending ARCs (Advanced Readers Copy) to reviewers, or sending you on a book tour. All this to hype up excitement and make readers want to read your book next.

7. PRESTIGE

Sadly, the stigma that self-published books aren’t as good as those published by big houses persists. I certainly don’t believe this to be true, and although times are changing the traditional route is still often seen as the most valid option for writers looking to build a long-term career.

Due to the different, and perhaps more inaccessible, channels of distribution, some readers may also not actively look for self-published works. Or your title may get lost among the many other self-published works whose authors may have more of a social/online reach.

THE CONS OF TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

1. NO OTHER WAY TO SAY IT: IT’S HARD!

It is a rather long and difficult road if you want to break into the traditional publishing industry. The rejections from houses and agents pile up, or your first book didn’t sell well and so a new deal with a new editor is harder to get.

Many publishers now also look for authors who have some sort of online presence, so they know there is already a readership to whom to sell (see #3 below).

2. ROYALTIES

Wait … isn’t that how authors get paid? Sure is, but recall that advance I mentioned above. In order start receiving royalties, authors must first earn out their advance.

This means, if an author is given a $5,000 advance, their book sales must first earn this amount back for the publisher. But don’t celebrate the fact you’ve sold X amount of books listed at $25, and have only so many more to go.

That $5,000 comes from the percentage of the list price that goes to the authors cut of the royalties. Agents and publishers will also take their cut of the profit, so you may have to sell many, many books before this advance is earned out and you get paid. Not to mention that if you don’t earn out the advance for the first book, but get another one for the second book, the amount “owing” on the first advance gets added to the sales required for the second.

In other words, don’t quit your day job. Few writers can.

3. LITTLE CREATIVE CONTROL

Sure, you get a team of professionals, but they already have ideas on how to market your book: what cover readers may find striking, what formats it will be available in, what goes into the back cover copy, and even what to name it. And as they have the marketing dollars, they typically get the final say.

Of course they will consider an author’s ideas, and may work to find a happy medium or present why they think a certain direction best, but you will have much less control than if you were to do it alone. In addition, you may also be expected to shoulder some of the marketing efforts by promoting your own work through your website and social media. This is known as an author platform.

4. PLAY THE WAITING GAME

Even once you have signed a book deal, it can take up from a year or two or even three years to get it edited, the cover designed, the production considered, the marketing planned, and so on. Remember, too, that the publisher has numerous titles they are working on so you have to wait your turn.

5. LEGAL SNAFU’S

With self-publishing, authors retain a lot of personal control over their work. But with traditional, authors can sign a lot of their rights away, resulting in possible legal issues later on. Agents will (and should!) always work with you so you understand the terms of the deal and the contract.

Still, the industry can shift and people move or get fired or retire so knowing your rights the best you can is also a good idea.

6. THE FICKLE MARKET

I always tell writers wanting to pursue traditional publishing to not follow trends. Why? Because this path takes time, and by the time an author’s book lands on the shelf the latest craze will be something completely different.

Write the story only you can tell. Readers will more deeply connect with your work, and you won’t get rejected because werewolves were just so last year!

SO … DO YOU PURSUE A TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING DEAL?

Why not? But do it because you’ve weighed the pros and cons of each route. (Look for my breakdown on self-publishing next month). Take time to learn the industry and know to what you are entitled. Remember, don’t sign anything if not comfortable.

Your voice is unique and worthwhile, as is each author’s decision as to how to grow and shape their career.

Above all, keep creating!

Jennifer

Jennifer DinsmoreComment