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All Things Writing & Publishing > Is Traditional Publishing All It's Cracked Up to Be?

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message 1: by Marie Silk (last edited Oct 21, 2016 06:52AM) (new)

Marie Silk | 1020 comments Hello everyone :)

I am new to the (indie) publishing scene and only began writing and publishing this year. However I read tons of publishing-related material every day and keep coming across this recurring theme: authors wish they had self-published from the beginning instead of going with a publisher.

I have also heard from trad published authors that things have changed in the last decade to where authors are now expected to take on a lot of the marketing themselves. It is written into their contract that they have to do x number of social media posts and x number of interviews etc. to promote their own books!

So...if you are trad published, are you happy with your contract? If you are a hybrid, what are the pros and cons of your published works?

Here is one of the many blogs I've come across that show an author is more successful when taking over the work themselves than when leaving it to their publisher:

In the past (especially before the explosion of ebooks), trad publishing may have clearly been the best most lucrative/productive direction for an author...but have things changed so that trad publishing is not all it's cracked up to be anymore?

message 2: by Joanna (new)

Joanna Elm | 145 comments Hi Marie, this is a fascinating topic. I too read a ton of publishing-related material, and having been traditionally published two decades ago, am very interested to see whether the option of self-publishing is worthwhile.
One recent item I read in Jane Friedman's Hot Sheet linked to a post by Bob Mayer, a hybrid author, at stated:
"Over a half-million titles uploaded to Amazon last year. Ninety-five per cent sell less than 100 copies." That doesn't seem to me to be very encouraging especially when self-published books are so deeply discounted.

message 3: by Nihar (new)

Nihar Suthar (niharsuthar) | 38 comments Marie,

I've traditionally published both of the books I wrote so far. I think there are a few tradeoffs between self-published books and traditionally written books.

Self published advantages:
1. You can get your book out to market quicker. I've seen the Amazon KDP program and you can literally write and publish your book online in less than 2 days. With traditional publishers, it takes several months to get through the publishing process. This means that you can publish many more books as a self-published author in the same amount of time.

2. You have flexibility over price, and can run free promotions for certain amounts of time. I haven't been able to do this with my traditional publisher.

Self-publishing disadvantages
1. Self-publishing has gotten a bad reputation over the years because of so many authors who publish their work without proofreading. As a result, there are lots of self-published books with grammatical and formatting errors, which gives self-publishing as a whole a bad reputation. Don't get me wrong, there are self-published authors who put out great work, but the industry as a whole often gets thrown under the bus. So many people are immediately interested and impressed as soon as I tell them my books are traditionally published.

2. Getting into stores is probably much harder with self-publishing. I'm sure it's possible, but my publishers have gotten my books into Waterstones (a big UK bookstore) and many other major UK stores as well. This would have been difficult if I had self-published.

These are just the most obvious advantages and disadvantages I see from my experience. I'm sure there are many more...but I hope this opens up the conversation!


message 4: by J.D. (new)

J.D. Cunegan (jdcunegan) | 62 comments I can only speak as a self-published author.

When it came time to publish my first novel, Bounty, the decision was pretty straightforward. By self-publishing, I am in complete control over my work and how it is represented. If I were to go the traditional route, I would've had to look for an agent (time), submit a manuscript (time), and... wait.

I'm not patient enough to wait weeks or months for an answer, especially if there's a fairly good chance the answer would be "no." I'm also so protective of my creative property that I wouldn't tolerate some faceless publishing exec coming back to me with a laundry list of changes they'd want made.

No, I want to tell my story on my terms. Self-publishing was the only way I saw that I was guaranteed to do that.

Now, all that control comes with responsibility. I have to make sure my work is properly edited and formatted. I have to make sure the cover is professional-looking and eye-catching. I have to ensure the proper distribution channels are chosen, and I have to handle all of my own marketing efforts.

Sure, I can solicit an editor and a cover artist and a marketing outlet, but the onus on each still falls on me. But to me, that's a fair trade for having complete control over my characters and my stories.

And there's a certain amount of pride that comes with having done it all yourself (with the aforementioned help). People come to me asking how I published my books, and when they find out I'm self-published, they launch into "Oh, I wanna do that so bad... how did you do it?"

I will never begrudge someone who chooses the traditional route -- different outlets work for different people -- but for me, self-publishing was really the only way to go.

message 5: by M.L. (new)

M.L. What traditional has going for it, aside from well-known authors, is longevity and sustainability - it's a many-headed corporate beast, they bundle, they batch, they do levels of promoting. If the self-published author stops promoting, then their whole brand stops. It would be good if there was a cooperative way for indies to promote in less of a one-off way. Mutual support accomplishes that, but a more coordinated disciplined effort might go a long way.

message 6: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 685 comments M.L. Roberts wrote: "It would be good if there was a cooperative way for indies to promote in less of a one-off way. Mutual support accomplishes that, but a more coordinated disciplined effort might go a long way."

An interesting concept M.L. Do you have any thoughts on how such an endeavour could be accomplished?

message 7: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 685 comments An excellent discussion topic Marie!!

For me, I never even approached the traditional market because I can't stomach the thought of anyone telling me what to write. And make no mistake about it, one way or the other traditionally published authors are told what to write about.

I prefer the control that publishing your own work affords you. Do I wish that greater visibility came along with that control as well? You bet but we live in a give and take world and you can't have everything. It would also be nice if more readers realized that indie authors are not necessarily 1 rung on the ladder beneath traditionally published authors. But hey, in time right?

message 8: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1020 comments M.L. Roberts wrote: "What traditional has going for it, aside from well-known authors, is longevity and sustainability - it's a many-headed corporate beast, they bundle, they batch, they do levels of promoting. If the ..."

But are they pulling through for new authors better than these authors can do it for themselves? Here is another author's regret story, where his sales went down once trad published:

message 9: by Mike (new)

Mike Robbins (mikerobbins) | 264 comments I have one book that was put out by a major scientific and academic publisher (it's about climate change). Their production standards were very high, and their text editor was very good. But they set the price far too high - they didn't seem to have heard of print-on-demand, and insisted on doing a traditional print run that had to be factored in. Moreover halfway through the publishing process they were taken over, and their marketing plans for the book completely collapsed. I was left to do everything myself.

I produced my other books myself and it has been a more positive experience. Some have sold, some have not, but I have at least been in control of the process. I have also been able to set the prices at levels people can afford. Last but not least, publishers won't consider uninvited submissions nowadays, and agents are not anxious to. You can waste a lot of time trying to get even a very good book published; best to get on with it yourself.

I do have one or two cautions about the indie route. First, it is indeed hard to get your books into bookshops (although provided they have ISBNs, they can be ordered, and friends can also order them from libraries. In any case, most of my sales are e-books). Second, keeping up the quality is hard; I used to work in publishing so it's a bit easier for me, but it still takes effort and care to proofread, design and produce the book.

Even so, for most of us, the 'trad' route is no longer open or, if it is, probably not rewarding. Unless someone offers me a five-figure deal (dream on), I'm sticking with the DIY route.

message 10: by Michael (new)

Michael Fattorosi | 477 comments Ive spoken to several romance authors who first went with traditional publishers that were ecstatic to regain their rights so they could self-publish. Mostly it had to do with revenue. Unless you are a top selling author, your book may not be as heavily promoted as you would like by the publisher, which will effect overall sales. And the amount of royalties that a new author can expect is very limited.

Tara Woods Turner | 2063 comments Not to mention the act that you may be on the hook for the advance if things go south. Many tradpub authors feel a great deal of pressure from their publishers and this can lead to writer's block or downright discouragement/stress. I think the happiest writers of all are the ones who start out indie, learn the ropes and struggle to the top and then get courted by a tradpub. They are smart and know how to negotiate great terms because they have proven their marketability. The really lucky ones get to keep their digital rights while relinquishing print and audio to the trads.

message 12: by Joanna (last edited Oct 21, 2016 12:06PM) (new)

Joanna Elm | 145 comments Eldon, you are so very wrong about traditionally published authors being "told what to write." Very, very briefly this is how the process goes: An agent decides to represent you because he/she likes your story. Generally, if something isn't clear agent will ask questions, suggest clarification.
Then, off to publishers. A publisher will buy because it likes your story. An editor will read and might possibly/probably have questions where something in the narrative or characterizations is not clear. Once a publisher buys your ms. they are in business to make your ms the best it can be. If a professional reader does not "get" something in your story, you can be sure that the millions of readers out there who are going to buy it, will probably not get it either.
Publishers are not out to tell you what to write. They decide to buy or not buy on the basis of what you've already written. They either like the story or they don't. As I've said before, another set of eyes on your manuscript is a plus if they are professional eyes. Especially when it comes to the copy editing stage. A traditional publisher's copy editors pick up all the typos and grammatical errors an author's eyes glaze over because you've read the ms too many times already.
In any event, it's always really up to you to decide whether to take their advice unless you sign a really bad contract with the publisher!!!! But, you should really assume that the publisher's editors are there to help you to make your ms a more saleable product.

message 13: by Joanna (new)

Joanna Elm | 145 comments Michael, I think traditionally published authors who regain the rights to their works are in a very different boat than original self-published/indie authors. Readers will know that once upon a time, this book was picked up by a traditional publisher, and now the reader can purchase it at .99 cents or 1.99. That will appear to be like getting a real bargain. Whereas with an indie author, they may not be quite sure what they're getting.
In fact, the link to the author in Marie's original message in this thread is to an author who had his books traditionally published first, and so also had reviews from the time of traditional publication. that's a whole different ballgame to going in cold as an indie author.

message 14: by Eldon (new)

Eldon Farrell | 685 comments Thank you Joanna for that concise and informative blurb about publishing :) Your experience is always helpful.

Perhaps I should've been more clear in my comment before though. I didn't mean that anyone at the publishing house was specifically telling anyone what to write only that, because they own the means of production, they can decide what does or does not get published.

In this way, they are indirectly telling authors what to write about. Give them what they want...or don't get published.

message 15: by Joanna (new)

Joanna Elm | 145 comments Okay. Got it. But that's a very different argument, and also rather specious. The publisher in your hypothetical case is not directly or indirectly telling you what to write. It/he/she is simply telling you that in publisher's opinion, your story ( which you have already written by the way) is not for them because in their opinion it's not going to sell. And they can be so very wrong. as we know from so many tales of authors who were rejected and rejected and then went on to great success (j.k. rowling, anyone?)
Also "give them what they want" is not a very useful characterization. There is only one thing publishers want, and that is mega-bestsellers. But they don't know what constitutes a mega-bestseller unless they publish an author who has already performed to that standard.
That is why so many novels recently were labelled as the next "Gone Girl" when they really were nothing of the kind.
I would agree with you if the "give them what they want" standard meant that publisher X said to you for example " I know that next year's mega bestseller is going to be a psychological thriller set in upstate New York and will involve xyz, with abc happening. And sorry unless you can write that for me, we don't want your ms about space aliens."
But that's never the way it happens. Publishers simply do not know what they want in terms of story specifics. They cannot give you specifics. It's up to you to give them a story and for the publishers and their editors and associates to decide, yeah we love this. We believe our readers will love this.
Give them what they want means give them what millions of readers want. Isn't that what indie authors want too?

message 16: by Marie Silk (new)

Marie Silk | 1020 comments I haven't worked with a publisher, but some of the complaints I've heard are about authors being told to change significant content within their books. For example, take out 20K words, add more sexy scenes, change POV from first person to third, etc. I don't know if this is coming from the agent, publisher, editor ???

message 17: by Michael (new)

Michael Fattorosi | 477 comments Joanna wrote: "Michael, I think traditionally published authors who regain the rights to their works are in a very different boat than original self-published/indie authors. Readers will know that once upon a tim..."

They are since traditionally published authors already have somewhat of a following. But when I asked if they would go the traditional route again, most said no. But then again hindsight is 20/20.

Personally, I would never go traditional publisher route. Unless of course that meant a huge advance check, which will never happen so in the real world, giving up rights and control is simply not worth it for me to say "hey you can find my book in Barnes & Noble."

I just dont see the need in today's world to be with a traditional publisher.

message 18: by M.L. (last edited Oct 21, 2016 02:58PM) (new)

M.L. Marie wrote: "M.L. Roberts wrote: "What traditional has going for it, aside from well-known authors, is longevity and sustainability - it's a many-headed corporate beast, they bundle, they batch, they do levels ..."

I'm sure there are stories on both sides, but this author did not have an agent. He joined the Australian Society of Authors and paid to have the contract checked by their Legal Department. He could not even get an agent - his contract was going to be directly with the publisher. That is scary.

His end paragraph re his own advice:
"Over ride your wish to be published in the traditional way, maintain control and do it yourself. Only reconsider this approach if you have an agent."

Additionally, agents need to be vetted too. The caution is to go into the details, both of people complaining - history is not written by the happy campers - and people that are only praising. Everyone needs to do their homework.

message 19: by M.L. (new)

M.L. Marie wrote: "I haven't worked with a publisher, but some of the complaints I've heard are about authors being told to change significant content within their books. For example, take out 20K words, add more sex..."

Again, what is behind the 'advice' the author received? Cut 20K works - was it bloated to begin with? Add more sex - is the story dull and they are trying to liven it up? Change PoV - sounds like they didn't like the story because this is basically a re-write.

Bottom line, what is behind the complaining statements? The whole picture is usually not given so again, the details are needed.

message 20: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 13835 comments As an indies we'd hired an editor, who cut 60K words from 130k we had. We (with the co-author of the first book) agreed with 40 and sneaked back 20 -:) We didn't feel editor's work infringed our freedom of art and thought his take was valuable. Although in the afterthought, we regretted a couple of deleted episodes...

I'd probably go trad any day of the week, for the following reasons: 1) it makes business right - you start from +3-5K USD instead of minus 0.5-1K; 2) you have at least some professional launch and minimal marketing, done by the publisher; 3) it releaves me from the need to engage in marketing and stuff, which I neither like nor know; 4) interest of a publisher constitutes some vetting, that MS may be worth something; 5) the result may be not much different - a book either gains traction or not, but with the trad I think the chances are higher...

message 21: by Michael (new)

Michael Fattorosi | 477 comments Nik - the downside much outweigh the positives. Ive worked on several publishing contracts for several unknown authors. It really is a take it or leave it situation with most of the contract. Without being a major celeb or a well establish author, the publisher holds all of the cards. There is little to no ability to negotiate.

And agents are in a very difficult position as well. They arent going to push-back hard against a publisher for an unknown author that might have very limited sales. Why would they ruin the relationship with the hand that feeds them for some unknown?

If you can make it as a indie/self-published author, you can step up with your 2nd, 3rd, 4th book to a traditional publisher with a much greater level of bargaining power.

message 22: by Nik (new)

Nik Krasno | 13835 comments Sure, there are also many downsides with the trad route.. And, if anything, Marie's example is an excellent demonstration how DIY can really work well. I guess the choice is individual - there are folks that love marketing, eagerly engage in it and enjoy the non-artistic part.

I assume publishers still pay a small downpayment and cover all expenses. I argue with a trad it's always a small win - because even if you haven't sold a single book, you are left with 3k in your pocket, while probably 95% of indies (somebody mentioned this data?) never even break even.
Now when it's a success, undoubtedly being an indie is advantageous simply because you remain with a much bigger share of royalties (if not with all of them if you sell from your own site) and have all options open..
I really admire those who succeed in DIY. I hope your thorough preparation will pay off big time!
Moreover, as I'm indie, I hope to prove myself wrong-:)

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