Please follow and like us:
RSS
Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
Pinterest
LinkedIn
Instagram

Here are a few prevalent fallacies, as well as new truths, that all authors  ought to recognize when it comes to traditional publishing.

Despite the constant upheaval that defines the current publishing landscape, many authors (and would-be authors) labor under some old “assumptions” about traditional publishing that are simply no longer relevant.

Myth #1: Traditional publishers serve as “gatekeepers”

As the argument goes… with a bloated book marketplace being invaded by millions of self-published titles, readers can depend on publishers to maintain quality literary standards as they allow only the best stories to be told through well-written tomes. This is false for many reasons.

First, publishing is a cold business. There is no noble mission to protect readers from bad books. Publishers put out books they think will make money — for the publishing house, maybe the bookstore, and possibly the author.

It’s true that traditional publishers are full of book professionals, some of whom are pretty good at spotting talent. The best placement editors also have an instinct for what the market will consume. They’ve published a lot of wonderful books. They’ve also published a lot of stinkers.

But if the gatekeeper myth were true, surely no good manuscript would ever be rejected, right?

Well, Robert M. Pirsig was rejected by 121 publishers, and still Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance went on to sell five million copies in the ’70s. Dr. Seuss’ first book was rejected by more than 40 publishers. And we all know the story of how JK Rowling’s first book was turned down by eight publishers before Bloomsbury offered her a 2,500 pound advance for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Myth #2: You can only make the big bucks through traditional publishing

The truth is, thanks to today’s self-publishing revolution, you have an equal chance at huge sales results no matter which route you choose: traditional or independent publishing. In fact, the vast majority of authors will tell you there isn’t a lot of money to be found in a traditional book deal. Sure, you get an advance check, which averages around $5,000-$10,000, but you have to earn that back before you see another dime.

Moreover, the royalties associated with publishing through one of the major houses are paltry. If you publish through a large publishing house, you can expect to make $1-$2 per book sold. To make matters worse, most publishers only pay authors twice a year, so you can’t expect to see your monthly income increase because of your book.

It got to the point that, in 2016, the US Authors Guild sent an open letter to the Association of American Publishers demanding better contract terms. In the letter, these writers stated, “Authors’ income is down across all categories. According to a 2015 Authors Guild survey —  our first since 2009  — the writing-related income of full-time book authors dropped 30% over that time period, from $25,000 to $17,500.”

Myth #3: Traditional publishers will provide all the marketing support

Remember Oprah’s Book Club and the days when prominent book publicity tours included chats with Matt and Katie on “The Today Show?” Those days are long gone — even for potential bestsellers.

As marketing resources have become more scarce, publishers are only promoting titles they consider likely to succeed — such as a book by a celebrity author, a book on a subject that is currently red-hot in the news, or a book by an author whose previous books have sold well.

What’s left for all the rest? Not a lot, especially for unknown authors. You might appear in the publisher’s catalog, in a press release, and may get featured at a trade show, but you can’t count on publishers landing you an appearance alongside George Stephanopoulos.

As a matter of fact, many traditionally published authors are funding their own advertising and publicity, just like self-published authors.

Myth #4: A publisher will ensure my book gets on the shelves of brick and mortar bookstores

The biggest knock against self-publishing? Authors think it’s nearly impossible for their books to make it into bookstores around the country.

OK, it’s true that traditional publishing is almost the only route to bookstore placement, but shelf space is far from a sure thing for any new author. Even the most powerful publishing houses can only persuade bookstores to shelve a fraction of their new books. It’s a numbers game. With nearly 750,000 new books coming out each year, the best a commercial publisher can do is try to get your book on a bookstore’s shelves. If you’re not a hot commodity, you won’t be getting prime real estate — if you manage to get any at all.

Myth #5: Once you land a book deal, your author career is set for life

Loyalty to authors is, largely, a thing of the past. The duration of a traditionally published author’s career is controlled by his or her publisher, and it’s usually all about sales of the latest book. If your new book doesn’t perform well, the publisher will not want your next one.

In fact, your first book must perform exceptionally well before the next one will be considered for publication. And the odds are long: only one to two percent of all books published become bestsellers.

Plus, there’s a catch in almost every publishing contract, and it doesn’t favor authors. The standard publishing contract stipulates that publishers get first right of refusal on your next book — meaning, they do not have to publish your next book if they don’t want to.

Myth #6: If you self-publish, you kill your chances of landing a book deal

This is perhaps the most pervasive of these fictions. The reality is, if you self-publish a book and achieve some success — say, selling 1,000 copies or more — you can dramatically improve your chances of landing a traditional book deal.

Publishers want authors to come to the table with a ready-made “platform.” In other words, they want to know that you already have an audience and a product that appeals. Selling a significant number of books on your own proves exactly that.

But it’s not just about sales’ results. Talent scouts for traditional publishers will scrutinize everything an author is doing to promote his or her writing career. Does the author have a website? A blog? A social media presence? Are there speaking engagements? Book signings? These factors weigh heavily in a publishers’ decision to sign an author.

Truth #1: The biggest reason people still pursue traditional publishing is ego

There’s nothing wrong with admitting it. It would be fun to tell your friends, parents, high school English teachers, and your ex-spouse: “I have an agent and a publisher lined up to publish my book!”

But that’s where may of the advantages of traditional publishing end.

Truth #2: There are many compelling reasons to self-publish

I’ll just list the top three:

  1. Royalties. By self-publishing, you’re not sharing your royalties with a publisher. Indie authors make more money selling 500 books than traditionally published authors selling 5,000.
  2. Time. The traditional publishing timeline is long and slow. On average it will take 24 months to go from edited manuscript to a book arriving in bookstores. In the same two-year period, an indie author could have written, published, and promoted three titles.
  3. Control. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, you are signing over all your control of the book. The words, ideas, pages, cover design — they’re no longer yours. You’re pretty much at the mercy of Mr. Bigtime Publisher — until they throw you out on the street because your book wasn’t a bestseller.

In the end, there is still much to celebrate about receiving a book deal with a traditional publisher. The added credibility can bring plenty of opportunities related to speaking, consulting, and much more. But it’s important to know what you’re getting into before you pursue a traditional publishing dream. It’s not what it once was, nor what most envision it to be.

 

Hybrid Author Game Plan

 

Related Posts
My Parents’ Experience With Traditional Publishing Led Me To Self Publishing
Self-Publishing Is Not A Back-up Publishing Plan
How to Spot Self-Publishing Scams
Should you follow the traditional or self publishing path? Numbers point the way.
Things I Wish I Had Known Before Self-Publishing My Book

 

Steven Spatz

About Steven Spatz

Steven Spatz has written 96 posts in this blog.

Steven Spatz is an author, marketer, and the President of BookBaby.

26 thoughts on “Six Myths  (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing

  1. This article seems biased toward self-publishing. I can think of a couple of reasons other than ego to consider traditional publishing.

    #1) The author can’t afford professional editing, book design, etc. and doesn’t possess the skills to do a good job.

    #2) The author is writing a children’s picture book and can’t afford to hire an illustrator.

    1. Wendy says:

      You realize you’re reading this on a SELF-PUBLISHING SITE, right? Of course, as many have pointed out, publishing is not an “either or” proposition, and many titles enjoy both traditional and self-published editions.
      As to your points:
      #1) You can spend as much money and time submitting to traditional publishers as you could getting a book or two on editing and googling for free book design templates. In fact, “lack of money” is my top reason for self-publishing. Some of my knowledge comes from a 20th-century degree in Technical Communications (when the rule was “use tabs, not spaces” rather than today’s “use first-line indents, not tabs”), but most of my knowledge about getting a book available on Amazon comes from looking around on-line at what everyone else is doing. You have to put in your homework one way or the other: spend time and money learning how to submit to traditional publishers, or learning how to put a book together for yourself.

      #2) Children’s picture books are some of the hardest books to get traditionally published–or even looked at (One of my English teachers once submitted a manuscript and deliberately “stuck” a few pages together as a tell to see if the editor actually paged through the manuscript. It was returned with tells undisturbed.) Again, the time and money spent trying to get a traditional publisher to look at your manuscript may actually be more than what you’d spend getting a set of illos on a site like Fiverr.

    2. June C Kempf says:

      IBy self-publishing. the author selects the publisher. Traditional publishers choose the author. That’s the difference.

    3. Nicholas S Chiazza says:

      Two very good points!

  2. As an author whose books (mainly self-published) reached over 1,000,000 copies sold in September, I can say that generally the content in this article is solid.

    This statement is pure bullshit, however:

    “Indie authors make more money selling 500 books than traditionally published authors selling 5,000.”

    Get real! The print edition of my “The Joy of Not Working” published by Ten Speed Press (now owned by Penguin Random House) earns me about $3.25 Canadian per copy in royalties. You are inferring that “indie authors” (I almost puke when I hear that term) will earn $32.50 Canadian per copy in profits from the print editions of their self-published works. I know better. The print edition of my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” earns me around $7.50 in pretax profits (after subtracting printing costs).

    Here is the bottom line: Self-published authors can earn around 2 to 3 times as much by self-publishing — and not 10 times as much.

    For the record, I have come up with 75 to 100 of my own unique marketing techniques that 99 percent of authors and so called “book marketing experts” are not creative or smart enough to come up with. I have used similar unique marketing techniques to get over 111 books deals with various foreign publishers around the world to the point where my books have been published in 22 languages in 29 countries. These techniques involve what my competitors are NOT doing — instead of what my competitors are doing.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Unconventional Career Coach
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 390,000 copies sold and published in 10 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 310,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    1. Wow is there any way you can make your information available? I’d love to learn more about your personal experience in regards to marketing and publishing. My name is Shanti Bolden, since I can’t leave my email you can contact me via Facebook. Thank you and God bless.

  3. Rene says:

    Wow, a compelling argument. I’m a new writer, and hope to become an author with my first book. My head is beginning to spin as I contemplate the next steps I must take. I definitely will be self publishing, mainly so I don’t have to deal with rejection, or a long wait if a publisher were to chose my work. Also, even though I really don’t know what the heck I’m doing, I appreciate the option of doing everything at my own pace. I have an editor. That was my first step. I’m pretty sure that was a smart thing to do. I do confess though, I see her as a battle axe.
    Just a few thoughts.
    Thanks

    1. Oh, no, Rene. You’ll still deal with rejection when you find that people you know—even your friends—aren’t buying or reading your book. It’s quite a trick to get people who don’t know you to buy. That’s why self-marketing is so important. The article points out that many traditionally published authors are doing a lot of their own marketing. You’d think they wouldn’t have to fuss with that anymore, but I know a few who work quite hard at it. If you want to get your books read, you need it imagine yourself as a bit of a salesperson. If you have a sense of humor, it can be fun.

  4. Suzy Bowler says:

    I totally agree with all your myths. I was traditionally published, had no say in the look or presentation of the book, lost all my own marketing impetus because they took over the marketng and did nothing. The book is now in its second edition and whilst different is no better than the first. I am almost ashamed of it. I have asked for the publised to return the rights to me but no deal

    I have self published 8 other books which I am so much happier with.

    I don’t, however, think I will get at al rich via either route!

  5. CALEB MASON says:

    I’m one of those rare individuals who has worked for big publishers and now self-publishes my own Don Trowden novels through Book Baby via my own lit fiction imprint Publerati. I would not submit my own novels to agents/big publishers because they would be completely lost in those big factories mostly concerned with pumping out the big political and celebrity books or what I call “the easy sells.” For “the hard sells” this means a quick rush but then you are gone so fast you are not sure anything happened. Which is why books that are unlikely to sell easily in large numbers are better controlled by their involved authors and the laid-off publishing people you can hire on your own. Not many traditionally published novelists will admit publicly that their novels now sell in very low quantities so it’s just better to keep them with yourself and hire good people like Book Baby who are opening new doors for creative expression.

  6. Gary Hernbroth says:

    I’m with you Rene — I could have written the same response, only I cannot find a suitable editor. I’d like to have one I can talk to, not an internet chat on the opposite coast by people who do not understand my “voice.” Suggestions, how’d you find yours? Someone suggested Craigslist?

    1. Olga Oliver says:

      Gary, you might find Karen Ball an editor you’d be interested in. Randy Ingermanson, known as the “Snowflake Guy” at http://www.advancedwriting.com recommended her in his Newsletter. I am considering her for editing my book soon as I’ve completed it. She’s worked in the writing field for years. Amazon carries her book FINDING & WORKING WITH AN EDITOR. Lots of good information, $3.99 Kindle.

    2. Victoria Williams says:

      I went to Reedsy and Fiverr and searched although there are other sites with editors offering services including Bookbaby (I simply didn’t know about Bookbaby when I started this process, so I’m in no way telling someone else to rule them out). I chose these 2 sites based on recommendations from successful self-published authors in a writing group I attend. I narrowed by genre and other factors relevant to my manuscript(s); I have 3 and hope to publish a 4-5 book series. I narrowed it down to the max of 5 on Reedsy and chose 1 on fiverr. It took time as then I had to write a query letter and prepare an excerpt and answer a lot of questions.
      I got responses from all of them and conversed with 4. Two suggested a path for me, and I chose one of them based on their resume and the response they gave me that seemed to make the most sense; I felt I made a connection with one, and that she understands my needs. I also thought her monetary quote was reasonable.
      I felt I was floundering until I started working with her. She still has my first manuscript which is due back to me in a few days after a developmental edit, so we’ll see how it goes. She’s someone with 20+ years of experience working for name publishers, has taught writing classes, has edited for well-known and successful authors, and is a published author herself. She has encouraged me and seems to understand what I need to succeed, so I’m going to take her advice. Just what I needed to move forward from manuscript to publishing as a first-time author.

    3. Wendy says:

      I’ve been trying to pick up editing work as a sort of “bird in the hand” income vs. the “birds in the bush” vagrancies of waiting for enough someones to buy the books I’m writing for myself. (My plan was to get enough small-return books published that they would collectively allow me to fund a marketing campaign to push one of them to big-return, but that hasn’t happened, yet.) I’ve signed up on both Upwork (formerly Odesk) and Freelancer, but I can’t even land interviews, even though I’m lowballing my bids.

      Thing is, people see something like $1/page and think that’s a lot of money for someone to just look at what you already wrote–but unless the manuscript’s near-perfect to begin with, that’s not even minimum wage. I offered to type and edit (actually, it was “type and add dialog tags,” but it needed a deeper edit) a 914-page manuscript for $1,000–and it turned out to be a 200+ hour content-editing project, not counting the research to fix the historical continuity errors. And they say beginning editors should be charging $20/hour or $3/page (proofreading)/ $7.50/page (content editing).

  7. This article assumes that you have a quality manuscript that has gone through the necessary pre-production cycles to make it competitive out there in the marketplace. Although there are notable instances of books achieving huge sales that have not been properly edited or designed, these are exceptions, not the rule. The problem is that the “indie” route is seen not only as an opportunity to realise high income but also a shortcut to publication, which often means avoiding the time and costs involved with proper editing, revision and design, costs that are generally covered by publishers. Experienced authors know this, and accept that they will have to cover pre-production costs in exchange for higher royalties. The problem is that inexperienced authors see how easy it is to publish via Book Baby, etc, avoid the “optional” services and go to print too early.

  8. Edmund says:

    I’m new to this whole business. But I could see the value of both really. I’m a bit of a DIY guy. I can illustrate and write both. So, it may give me an advantage when self publishing. Exactly what I plan to do on my first collection, although I’ll probably go cheap. I have a novel that may go to agents in the near future but why not do both? Self publish a few while waiting for an agent or somebody to pick you up? There are so many avenues these days. I don’t see it as pitfalls, I want to try them all. The main thing is, I want my books and stories to be read, no matter what way they get published. This article does have some good info though.

    1. Wooby says:

      I used to think I should just get ’em printed, and stand on street corners handing them to passers by. Might have worked, yanno?

      In the event, a fair amount of poetry was, in tiny journals, only a few of which paid.

      And my life changed. Poetry now just for friends. Novels will stay packed away.

      Don’t regret any of it.

  9. I agree with you. The traditional publishing turn around time is long. I had to publish a book this year. I would not have managed if I had taken the route of a traditional publishing house. Whether my book will sell remains to be seen. Look out for my new book, “Conversations on Leadership for Young People.”

  10. Debra Colby says:

    As I read through this article, I felt relieved that I had chosen the self-publishing route. I had imagined going through the traditional publishing route when my first book came out, but decided against it when so many obstacles came my way -regarding the control I would have over my own work. I have since self-published my two other books and have been totally satisfied with the results. I had complete control over the body of work within it, cover design and how I chose to market myself. I’m pleased with the results and although I’ve never made any bestseller lists, I have put myself out there in ways I never thought I would in order to generate sales. My most recent attempt was in fact to reach out to Oprah’s book club staff with a personal letter (via snail mail) and I received a positive response. Per their request, my book is now hopefully being read by the Oprah gods or goddesses. I don’t envision myself ever being able to give up my day job and becoming a bestselling author, but like Edmund commented, I do hope that others will take a chance on my books and enjoy what they have read.

  11. Ben says:

    Don Marquis said that “Publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo”. But self-publishing a book of poetry is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and falling in after it.

  12. James Field says:

    It seems to me that instead of reading books these days, people write their own and publish them. The result: everybody publishes, nobody buys. I write because I love it, buyers or not. It’s like an illness, I simply can’t stop. On the other hand, I HATE being a salesperson. So what does a person like me do if s/he wants exposure? According to this article, and its responses, there is no help, without going bankrupt paying for it, whichever route I take.

  13. Bobby says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful and informative facts about the traditional publishing. This post is really very interesting and helpful for me, so keep up the amazing work.

  14. mary says:

    I agree with Dr. David Reiter. As a librarian, I have been thrilled to find excellent books that are self-published or put out by micro-presses. As a writer, I will always be grateful to have tried to find an agent and a publisher. The reason: the rejections!

    I am lucky to have wonderful critique partners, and I took every batch of rejections as an opportunity to make my book stronger. Trying to write a query and a synopsis made me clarify my story and its conflicts. Getting R&Rs helped me to reshape the story and strengthen its structure. I hope I may still get a publishing deal! Nothing is certain. But I’m sure we all hope to publish the best book we possibly can. I really think that, if we take them the right way, rejections can be part of that process.

    And, even if you’re certain you’re going to self-publish, I’d encourage you to craft a query and a synopsis. I found that awfully difficult, but it can help you clarify the story you’re trying to tell. And a good editor is a wonderful ally!

  15. Sam says:

    My concern is that, as a person who has been aproached many times by self-published authors, have bought their books and tried to read them, only 1 out 7 was good. The other were terrible. Full of clichés and such. One ruined a tense by talking about her pet animal out of nowhere. All had gone through editing… Yet the final product was inedible for most. It scares me to think that this is a now expected result and may very well hinder any self-published author in their marketing plans. Now we have to convince people we actually know how to write.

  16. I traditionally publish and self-publish. The advance for trad books is definitely worth having – I would never sign up with a publisher that didn’t have one. And, for children’s books, it’s good having someone else organise and pay for the illustrations as well as distributing the books into a variety of outlets (not necessarily bookshops). But I also love the freedom and control that self-publishing gives me so I choose to use that for some of my books, especially my books for writers. The mixture suits me well.

  17. Great article, Steven. I went with an assisted self-publishing company for my first book. Expensive, little in the way of royalties, however, in 2009 I didn’t know where to start and what was actually required in going from a manuscript to a book. Learned a lot in that process, started participating in webinars by marketers, advertising people, and even self-development for business (online courses); most of these were introductory and free. Then I chose what I would spend money on for further courses, or participatory facilitated groups. I am a member of a critique group (since 2013) and this has been, and is, invaluable to develop my writing and my book(s), and short stories. I just needed an editor for the final polishing (using the critiquing group first means the amount of time an editor spends on my work is a lot less, and therefore cheaper). As an indie-author knowing what I can do, willing to spend time to do, and what is better done by a professional is the result.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.