Beta Reader Group discussion

Writing Advice & Discussion > When to give up on traditional publishing?

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments I wrote a 75,000 word manuscript in the self-help/narrative nonfiction genre about resilience in people with Multiple Sclerosis.

I am waiting for a response from a well-known top-tier academic press, and they are going to have a board meeting and make a decision on 5/22/18. So far, they solicited two independent reviews. One was glowing, and the other was damning. The acquisitions editor was very friendly to me, but I have a feeling that I am going to get rejected based on lack of author platform and marketability.

I am thinking about whether or not to pursue a lesser University press or to simply self publish.

So far, I have sent out about 60 queries and proposals. The queries to agents were a disaster. I only got one request for more, and he subsequently ignored my e-mails after I sent him the manuscript. One other lesser-known university press showed interest, but they have not gotten back to me 2-3 weeks after I sent my proposal. I have had several personalized polite rejections from smaller presses.

The only way I got the acquisitions editor from the prestigious University press to read my proposal was to approach him in person at a conference, chat him up, and physically hand him the proposal. I don't have the time, opportunity, or moxie to make this happen again.

I don't really care about money, and I am willing to spend some cash on editing/cover design if needed, but I like the idea of having a real press behind my name.

What are your thoughts? Should I keep grinding or go for self-publishing? This whole process is so exhausting.

message 2: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments This is the challenge many of us face. Without lots of dedicated effort at advertising and marketing, a self-published book is almost the same as a non-published book. If you want people to read your book, your choice basically boils down to the humiliating process of querying and dealing with that rejection, or self-publishing and investing 100's, if not 1,000's of hours, as well as thousands of dollars, working to put your book in front of paying customers. And dealing with those expensive and time consuming failures.

If I recall correctly, I offered a couple of opinions on your query. And, if memory serves, you were intending to make the book available when you gave talks on the subject. If that's correct, you can focus on that. Get your MS edited and pay for a small print run that you can sell when you can sell when you give talks. Expect to put in $5-7K to get to this point. And be totally OK with that money never being paid back, even if you sell your book for $20 a pop.

If you establish a well received author platform and your talks begin to have an impact, it's possible a publisher will approach you later and offer to give you a wider exposure. They may reedit the book, but that happens with second/third/etc. editions anyway.

Summary: after finding the thread on your query (, my conclusion hasn't changed: you should self publish and expect the costs associated will never be recovered (they can be written off, though).

Good luck!

message 3: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thanks for the response Keith.

You were very helpful in the other thread, and it was you who originally suggested that I give up on agents and pursue smaller publishers directly. I have had much greater success with this strategy.

Given that a household name academic press spent money on reviews and appears to have seriously considered my manuscript, would it stand to reason that there but some small podunk academic press which would be interested?

I did get lucky in that the Health and Wellness acquisitions editor for the major press happened to be an exhibitor at a professional conference I attended. I doubt lightning would ever strike twice.

There is something about blindly e-mailing someone which seems to lead to guaranteed failure. I have a hard time personalizing my e-mails because I have sent so many.

message 4: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments I had a nice reply written when my browser crashed. I'm going to reboot and take a break (else I might smash the damn computer) and try again later.

message 5: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments haha. ok. I hate when that happens.

message 6: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments OK, trying again...

I would say that the interest shown to this point suggests you're not wasting your time querying ever 'podunk' press you feel has potential to be interested. You can use the exact same query. The point of the personalization (I'm only talking about a sentence or two) is to demonstrate you've done your due diligence and know there's a reason for the publisher to be interested. The publishing world is small, and they all know each other, so if you consistently query presses (and agents) that have no demonstrated interest in your work, then you can easily wind up on a blacklist. Even if you don't do the personalization, you should have done the research to know you aren't wasting your time and theirs by sending it. The personalization should be trivial to do, if you've actually done the needed research.

Any publisher is likely to have close to $10K invested in any work by the time it hits the book store. Keep in mind that they have to recover the internal cost of the initial review of your MS as well as the time of the internal editor(s) and marketer(s), so while their out-of-pocket expenses for external editors and proofers may be $5-7K, they have their own overhead to cover. And they don't want to make that investment unless they feel sure they can sell enough books to make back the expenses AND make a profit.

The point of the market proposal is to show the potential to sell enough books to push your book sales into the black. If you're convinced that isn't possible, then why should you think they'd contradict you? You need to believe in your own sales potential in order to convince them, yet you've repeated over and over that you aren't convinced there's money to be made.

While I think you should continue querying, I think it should only after you've worked out a viable path toward enough sales to make a profit for the publisher (absolute minimum of 1K). Are there MS societies that might be interested in reviewing your book? Do you have relationships with universities or journals that might also feature your book? Do you have colleagues (who are not relatives) who would favorably mention your book? These are the sorts of questions that the publisher is going to want answered in such a way that they'll feel it's worth taking a gamble on your book.

If you've decided the soul sucking effort to query is just not for you, but you're all set to do your seminars, you can invest your own money in the editors, proofers, etc. (don't forget a compelling cover!) and self publish. You can have enough copies printed to reach the point where the discounts come in (probably over 100) and bring them when you give your seminars. If you are compelling in your seminar, you might actually get enough sales to break even.

You _really_ need to begin building a platform for yourself. Domain names are cheap (I paid less than $200 for 10 years for my author domain) and you can get a Wordpress site with your own domain for a very reasonable price and Wordpress is easy to use (that's what I use to blog (and you need to be active blogging)). Social media is pretty much a requirement to be taken seriously by readers, _particularly_ if you're talking non-fiction where you consider yourself a subject matter expert.

You can invest this time now, or you can invest it later, but if you want to make a mark with your work, it has to be done. The publisher isn't going to do that for you.

You've come this far. If you want to help people with your work, you need to keep on going. Yes, you may get lucky and a publisher will guide you into doing all these things anyway, or you can bite the bullet and do it yourself now. The more you build up your social media presence, the more marketable you become to a publisher in the future. You've said you want to write more. Well, as you're learning (just like all the rest of us), writing is the easy part.

message 7: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thank you for the reply Keith.

I have been working on trying to build a platform. I have been posting on Twitter (though I only have 1400 followers), and I am trying to work with the national MS society to set up speaking engagements. Due to working full time as a clinician, it is very difficulty to aggressively build a platform, but I will do what I can.

I will update this thread in a few days if I get a response.

message 8: by Chris (last edited May 20, 2018 01:05PM) (new)

Chris Liberty | 41 comments Brandon wrote: "Thank you for the reply Keith.

I have been working on trying to build a platform. I have been posting on Twitter (though I only have 1400 followers), and I am trying to work with the national MS s..."

Hey Brandon,
I am an author also, and has published my horror anthology in November, and they're publishing my dinosaur action adventure this summer. They are easy to deal with, so if you get rejected by that other place, you can submit your MS to them. However, you will pretty much have to have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram--pretty much as many social media sites as you can--and they would also want you to have a personal website, which you can get at for free.

message 9: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thanks for the response Chris

What amount of twitter followers do you think would be considered adequate?

message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Liberty | 41 comments That's a very good question, Brandon. I'm not sure. I have about 1200 followers, and I'm following 2800, so it's very lopsided from what I was hoping. Just open a Twitter account, try connecting with as many readers as you can find--it's harder than it seems, trust me. I've not been the most ardent Twitter user, so I haven't connected with my following very much, but if you want a solid following, connect with them, retweet what they post, and chat with them if you can.

message 11: by John (new)

John Graham Wilson | 15 comments Try How to Write Irresistible Query Letters:

message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Liberty | 41 comments I've found query letters don't do much. Literary agents tend to be lazy, wanting clients who are celebrities, politicians, or at least authors who already have a following. Some of the LAs I've sent queries to were surprisingly honest, and told me they don't want to spend a lot of time or money selling a newbie author to a publishing house.

message 13: by J.R. (last edited May 20, 2018 07:16PM) (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments In terms of building a following, I've got 2,600+ followers on Instagram (and I follow about 1,900). Of course, they're following me solely as a photographer, not as a writer. haha. But in terms of building a following on an open social media platform like Instagram or Twitter (versus Facebook which is much more closed off and people mostly only follow their friends/people they actually know), I recommend:

1. Post high quality content. Since you're doing this as an author, it should be stuff relevant to your book. Pictures are always good, even on a text platform like Twitter.
2. Limit commercial postings until you've built a solid foundation. Even then, keep them limited.
3. Follow people who post similar things. Comment on their posts. Like their posts. Share their posts. In other words, make virtual contacts and even friends.
4. Get to know and use hashtags. This is how your posts get discovered.

You can't just post your own stuff and hope people will flock to follow you. You have to engage and become a part of the community. And yes, it's a ton of work.

message 14: by Chris (new)

Chris Liberty | 41 comments Good points, Jen. :)

message 15: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Chris: I have had a similar experience with literary agents. It it not worth their time to work with a client like me because I am unlikely to produce grand commercial success.

Jen: Thank you for the comment. I am doing the things you are advising on Twitter. However, there is a person whom I respect a lot in the field who has been blogging on the topic for a long time and has many speaking engagements and only has about 5,000-6,000 followers. There is a ceiling because this is a narrow interest group.

message 16: by Chris (new)

Chris Liberty | 41 comments Brandon, you never know. Michael Crichton and JK Rowling weren't famous before they became writers. They had to start from the ground and work their way up like we're doing. Getting a glowing review from a top-tier academic press is a huge accomplishment in itself. I wish you the very best of luck! :)

message 17: by J.R. (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments Although focused on self-publishing, Joel Friedlander's "The Book Designer" blog often has good posts which apply across the board regarding building a social media presence and building an audience for your books.

Even if you go the traditional route, the publishers tend to want the author to do a lot of the marketing work themselves.

Brandon, I get what you mean by having a relatively small potential market. However, one big positive you have is you know exactly who your market is, and you can customize your strategy - be it approaching the presses/publishers or marketing an indie published book - to that market.

message 18: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thanks for the encouragement, Jen. There is also an advantage in that the people I engage with are fairly likely to be interested in my book.

message 19: by J.R. (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments I wish you the best of luck, Brandon. Just remember -- even if you end up having to publish the book yourself, it doesn't mean you didn't write a good book or a book with the potential to really help people. I totally get the desire for the recognition and prestige which comes with being able to say a large university press picked up and published your book. I think everyone here would love to be able to say that Random House or Macmillan or whomever their dream publisher is picked up their book. But the book publishing business is a weird one, and they are infamous for bypassing excellent works because maybe they don't think the work is commercially viable, or it's too different and they don't like to take risks, or who knows why. It sounds like you have written a book which can genuinely help people, so while I can't say how long you should keep trying the traditional market, I hope you do get it out there eventually, however that happens.

message 20: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thanks Jen. I put a lot of time an effort into this project, so I will make sure it is published one way or another.

message 21: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Update:

I was unfortunately rejected.

I was told to "revise and resubmit."
They had concerns about that fact that I don't have a platform in the area of psychology or resilience and that I am relatively "junior."
They suggested that I attempt to team up with someone more experienced in this area to be a coauthor, and they had some minor complaints about the content. For instance, they did not like the fact that I had my sister (who is a psychologist) write the forward, and they did not like some of the sections where I discussed spirituality because they felt it was not very-evidenced based.

The acquisitions editor is a very friendly guy, so it is difficult to know if this was his polite way of telling me that they just wanted to pass on the manuscript or if they would seriously consider it if I was able to make some revisions and possibly get a coauthor.

It would be fairly difficult to obtain a credible coauthor as I don't have many connections in this area. I did send out a few e-mails yesterday.

What are you thoughts? Should I seriously attempt to find a collaborator?

Also, do you know of any good sources of small presses and academic presses to whom I could submit the proposal?

message 22: by Keith (new)

Keith Oxenrider (mitakeet) | 1166 comments Based on my research, and personal experience in submitting primary literature in science and operations research, they wouldn't ask for a resubmit if they didn't want to consider it. It costs them time and money to evaluate a proposal and they'll have to spend it again if you resubmit.

Your lack of platform is going to remain a perennial problem. That's mostly likely why they want a co-author with more experience and who most likely has an established platform.

Based on my reading over the years, there's some small amount of meaningful research done on the use of spirituality in healing and, even if nothing more than the placebo effect (which is very powerful indeed; lots of interesting research in that area!), there's evidence that it helps people. Not terribly statistically significant, but it is something you can cite to bolster your case.

I agree that it weakens your product to have a relative or close personal friend to pen the forward. It says that you can't find someone better in the field (unless your sister was a giant, but I believe you said she isn't), which either means you haven't tried, or your work isn't worthy. People use references/referrals to make decisions a lot, so a well-known person having read and found value in your work will sell a lot more books than someone obscure.

Please note that all these issues are directly related to promoting your book, whether they do it or you do it, so I suggest you seriously consider addressing them.

I encourage you to address some of the issues this feedback has given you before you try other presses.

Or, you can choose to go the self-publishing route and sell copies when you give seminars. With enough recognition there, you may be able to get a second edition published by a mainstream press.

message 23: by J.R. (new)

J.R. Alcyone | 303 comments There's a pretty good list of small presses here (I'd sort by narrative non-fiction to narrow them down):

One that immediately jumped out as a possibility for you:

In terms of prestige, Bellevue published a novel in 2010 which won a Pulitzer Prize. Just to give you an idea -- some of the most selective small presses stand toe-to-toe with the big 5.

With small presses, they almost all accept direct manuscript/proposal submissions, but they tend to be very niche oriented. Which means you have to do quite a bit of work going through listings, and likely have to customize your query to try to hit whatever niche or quirk that press looks for in their books/authors.

One other caution with small presses - they do tend to disappear and fold. Try to look for publishers that have been around awhile to prove they have staying power.

message 24: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thank you for the responses.

I am going to try to work on getting a collaborator, but I will try to submit to a few other presses in the interim.

Keith: what you are saying is somewhat encouraging. They did spend time and money on me, so this does show some interest. I already told my sister that I am going to have to discard her forward unless I self-publish. There is some research on spirituality, but I do discuss topics such as Ho'oponopono which are not as well-studied. My chapter on mindfulness meditation is quite well-cited.

I am actually going to discuss the book with a potential collaborator in the next few days, so hopefully she will have some interest.

Thank you for the resources Jen

message 25: by Chris (last edited May 23, 2018 01:23PM) (new)

Chris Liberty | 41 comments I agree with Keith that if they thought your book was not good, they wouldn't tell you to resubmit. They'd simply say it wasn't a good fit for their company, and they'd wish you luck finding a home for it elsewhere.

Jen is correct that small presses tend to fold. They are more of the mom-and-pop publishing houses, so if you do get any of them to accept your submission, don't expect any sort of financial advance that the larger publishing houses give. The "little houses" will put the money into creating your book, but most likely won't even market the product, since you, the author, are expected to do that. Nowadays, even the "big houses" want the author to take on the brunt of marketing their own book.

message 26: by Brandon (new)

Brandon | 38 comments Thank you for your input Chris. I am not really in it for the money, but it would be nice to have the backing of a well-known publisher.

As an update, I got a phone call from a well-known physician author in my field, and she said that she would take a look at my manuscript and consider collaborating with me. I think that if she agrees to this, we may actually have a chance.

back to top