Thursday, August 27, 2009

Pros and Cons of Publishing with a Traditional Publisher

Some authors are soured with traditional publishers for many reasons, including the following:

  • It’s hard to break in to traditional publishers. Getting your proposal noticed when it’s sitting in a huge stack of other proposals (known as the “slush pile”) is pretty challenging.
  • Some traditional publishers only accept book proposals from agents. (Sometimes there are ways around this rule, such as meeting an editor at a writer’s conference.)
  • The authors make little in royalties. At a recent writer’s conference, I heard one multi-published author say that his book sells about 5,000 copies per year (that’s a lot) and it’s the bestselling title for his small press publisher. He has a traditional book deal with a straight 10% of the net royalties. So how big is his annual royalty check? $500. Do the math. That $ .10 per book sold. (That’s pretty pathetic.) Could you live on $500 a year?
  • Traditional publishers often do little to promote the book—it’s pretty much all up to the author to sell every last copy.
  • Traditional publishers today often expect the author to spend the advance given on promoting the book. (After doing so, what is the author supposed to live on?)


  • The publisher pays all expenses to publish the book.
  • Professional book publishing people (people who know what works well and what doesn’t):
    - edit your book. Includes editing for content as well as for grammar;
    - design your cover;
    - make your book pretty on the inside—fonts, headers, page numbers, etc.;
    - help with the “back cover copy.” (The information printed on the back cover of the book.);
    - help with the title—by the marketing people who know what sells.
  • Sometimes you’ll get marketing help to help you sell the book after it’s published. This might include setting up interviews on radio, maybe even TV, blog tours, possibly book signings at book stores…that sort of thing. Unless you’re really famous and are going to sell a lot of books, chances are those bookstore signings will be local to you and if you travel anywhere, you’ll pay your own expenses.
  • A traditional publisher will be able to get your book into the distributors, which makes it available to bookstores nationwide. This can be tricky to accomplish on your own.
  • Sometimes traditional publishers will also foot the bill for advertisements in print publications or on radio. Perhaps you’ve seen or heard some books advertised this way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one day it was your book?
  • Traditional publishers will get your book to book reviewers, and that’s a good thing.
  • Your traditional publishing company should attend at least some of the trade show where they interact with bookstore owners and try to talk them into carrying your book. This, too, is a good thing.

More Cons:

  • Some authors see having professionals design their book cover as a con because the author usually has no input or right of refusal for the book cover. This can be frustrating if you really don’t like what the publisher comes up with.
  • Some authors like the title they have for their book and don’t like it when the publisher changes the title. Again, authors usually don’t have any say in this.
  • Once you turn in your manuscript and complete all the requested edits, you have little say over what happens with your book. Some authors don’t like that. Self-publishing gives you complete control over everything—but you pay for it all and if you have professionals helping you, you’re paying them.
  • Traditional publishers will take 12 to 24 months from contract to get your book published (unless it’s rare and they fast-track it).

There may be more pros and cons—these are just what I thought of today. If I think of more, I might come back and edit this post or post on this topic again.

I hope this begins to get your brain spinning with things you need to consider before choosing whether to attempt to find a traditional publisher or to self-publish.

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