6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers
In an age when so many of the “big stories” in publishing are about amazing self-pub successes, people are asking more and more, “Why would I want a traditional publisher?”
Here are six big reasons.
1. Objective validation
To be “chosen” by a publisher means that a group of people who are widely read, and who see dozens of new projects come across their desks every single week, believe your book has value and will find a reading audience. It means that people who see all kinds of writing—from really bad to really great—believe that yours is somewhere in the ballpark of “really great.”
2. Editing and design
Virtually all writers, including the very best, will find their writing improves and their books are better because they’ve worked with talented editors. Publishers also provide a professional and polished interior and exterior look for their books, in both electronic and paper formats.
3. Expanding your readership
Even though writers usually need some kind of platform and they have to do a lot of marketing on their own, the publisher does their own marketing, reaching whole different audiences than the author is able to reach on their own. (See my post Do Publishers Market Books?)
4. Mainstream media
Traditional media is still an important driver of book sales — talk shows, news programs, and reviews in major magazines, newspapers and websites (New York Times, Washington Post, People, etc.) Not every author can get this kind of publicity, but books published through traditional houses have a much better chance. Most of the mainstream media still chooses not to review or feature self-published works, except for the occasional phenom such as The Mill River Recluse or Fifty Shades of Gray.
5. Partnership and expertise
Authors know that when they work with a publisher, they’re partnering with a company that has years, decades or even centuries of experience choosing, editing, designing, marketing and selling books. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’ve got a partner who knows what they’re doing.
6. Emotional payoff
There is just something special about the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. For many people, the dream only feels fully realized when they’re contracted by a traditional publisher.
What are your thoughts? Why are YOU pursuing traditional publishing?
I have nothing against self-publishing! Let’s not get a whole “us vs. them” thing going here. I just happen to work primarily in traditional publishing, so that’s where my focus is. This post is NOT about or against self-publishing.
[…] A concise article written by literary agent Rachelle Gardner about why authors benefit from working with traditional […]
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I am on the verge of sending out my first querry letters for my first novel.
While there are pros and cons to every brand of publishing, I think the reasons posted here for traditional publishing are still true a year later.
The mine of subpar $.99 novels goes nearly to the center of the earth. I look to publishers to sort through the granite and find me the diamonds.
My book–by the way–is a gem, but I will still look to the experts to tell me just how much more polishing it needs before it can really shine in the sun.
Very good post about this subject. While there are lots of good arguments about the advantages of self-publishing, I think most of us still desire to be “published.”
I’ve personally self-published 5 books with several more in process. After getting nowhere with attempts to have my first book traditionally published, I went the SP route. I read somewhere that most successful authors don’t get published until they’ve written about 6 books. Whether it takes that long to develop a marketable style or the reason is something else, I decided to stop spending all my energy seeking an agent and just get on with writing more books.
I’m hoping my next one (the one I am currently working on) will be it.
Your blog is one of the few I have found to be in tune with the current issues for writers. Please feel free to suggest others.
As a writer open to both forms of publishing, I have several friends who have gone the ‘self pub’ route mainly out of frustration with the hurdles of traditional publishing.
I always thought my main reason for seeking traditional publishing was in line with your #1 and to see my books in bookstore windows. This is now a dated notion, since so many people read books electronically.
I have the heart of an entrepreneur so the idea of doing the work is not a deterrent either. I thought I might give tradition a first shot but if it does not work out, it is great to know I have other options for sharing my work.
It is very difficult to get a self-published book into the stores. For that reason, I intend to keep my funny female detective novel making the rounds of agents until someone picks it up.
I may self-publish my children’s picture book on manners, though. I think word of mouth will help immensely. Also, I was told I would have no control over the pictures if I went with the Big Six (or is it now five?)
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[…] the heels of our lively debate the other day on my post “6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers,” today let’s look at the other side of the coin. Many of you are still trying to […]
[…] the heels of our lively debate the other day on my post “6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers,” today let’s look at the other side of the coin. Many of you are still trying to […]
[…] the heels of our lively debate the other day on my post “6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers,” today let’s look at the other side of the coin. Many of you are still trying to […]
[…] the heels of our lively debate the other day on my post “6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers,” today let’s look at the other side of the coin. Many of you are still trying to […]
I don’t need validation. I was something of an internet phenomenon in 2000 when my poetry was shared 300 million times. Even now, I have thousands of fan letters on an old laptop. That and the seven digit contract I received from a company out of Hawaii was enough validation for a lifetime.
But the internet is subject to rapid change and interest in my poetry waned when the online masses shifted to Facebook.
I returned to an old dream of novel writing, and hauled out my first romance novel. Avon had picked it off the slush pile in 99 and rejected it, but the editor thought enough of my potential to pen a handwritten letter with suggestions.
I’ve spent the last year rewriting it (and working on two other books in the series), which brought me to the perplexing and painful question of how to publish it. It would be nice to have professional input, but I don’t want to go through the lengthy process of approaching an agent, waiting, waiting, and more waiting. I’ve waited long enough. So I’ve decided to go the Ebook route.
Within the next two weeks, my novel will go live.
I don’t know how it will do–whether it will float on the wings of my earlier success or never get off the ground, but I’m willing to take the chance as I believe in this novel. And I know from experience that epublishing holds potential. But I also know that success on the net has a lot to do with being at the right place at the right time.
As an avid reader in a particular niche (youth ministry), I also give more weight to books that are published by a publisher. While there are a few gems out there, I’ve found that self-published books aren’t as helpful as those published by a traditional publisher.
I have self-published, made a profit and had lots of fun doing it. Will I do it again someday? Probably, but my current novel is in the hands of a very capable NY literary agent seeking a traditional publisher. Why?
Let’s be honest. Traditional publishers open doors, and not just any doors, important doors. One call from a well-known publisher can secure a review from a critic who has a following of 100,000 active readers. Another call from that prestigious publishing exec can get an author interview on a talk or radio show. Sure, it’s up to the author to secure as much of that marketing hoopla as possible, but there is ONE simple truth about all successful novels. Word of mouth made the success possible.
Have you ever heard the sales term Centers of Influence? Countless potential readers surround us. Only a few, however, have the ability to influence the buying decisions of many others. Those influential people create the buzz that drives viral sales. Publication by mainstream publishing houses means that your work as an author has professional validation. A Center of Influence can refer others to your work with confidence that it will reflect back positively on him or her and will produce many future fans.
Ultimately, traditional publication makes it easier to recruit those critically important Centers of Influence…hence, my current decision to stop playing around in the self-pub market and go for the big time.
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My number one reason for seeking traditional publishing is my readership. I write historical fiction (strong romance angle). I’ve watched the e-book self-pub industry since 2008, and I never felt that market would be radically different from the e-publisher market (the major success stories [erotica & erotic romance, paranormal, & YA] have so far proven my point).
The 70% royalties, the control, the freedom to write whatever, whenever, and however, are tempting, but I feel going it myself creates extra work and steps I don’t necessarily have to take. Right now–and possibly for a long while in the nearby future–readers of my genre are traditional in their approach to finding new authors, and it would be foolish of me to ignore this fact simply due to the excitement and enthusiasm whipped up by self-pub successes like H.P. Mallory or Amanda Hocking.
Would I kick myself if tomorrow a self-pubbed HF author suddenly skyrocketed to fame and fortune? Maybe, but the only thing I can truly kick myself over is letting my own opportunities pass me by in pursuit of “what-ifs”.
Your number one reason of external validation has to be the biggest reason that most writers would like to be ‘tradtiionally published’ that and the being able to get books into the places that a self published work is never found – normally the bookstore. However, I find that once an author starts selling books and getting reviews that the first reason starts to fade away because the validation then comes from the audience of readers which is far more valuable in the long run.
Great post! I believe I agree on all points! I am a writer who hopes to soon be published. Indie vs. publishing house? My personal preference is definitely publishing house although I can see how so many authors today are trying the indie route. I want that personal relationship, the professional cover artists and editors, that sense of validation other comments speak of…
Would I try publishing my own ebooks? Based on the experience of many others these days I would honestly consider it. But I still would prefer belonging to that publishing house family.
[…] the heels of our lively debate the other day on my post “6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers,” today let’s look at the other side of the coin. Many of you are still trying to […]
It is validating and reassuring to have a publisher take an interest in my manuscript. I know that he/she will ensure that my book is presented in a professional manner.
I am a commercially published author and have never wanted to self-publish. I always wanted to be commercially published. It fits me better. I never wanted to wear all the hats you have to wear with self-publishing. I think a lot of commercially published authors or those who want to be want to be because of the main reason I do. A lot of writers don’t wanna deal with the business side of everything. That’s something people don’t seem to realize when it comes to self-publishing. People say you have more control but that might not be the most important thing to every writer. We’re all different. I’d rather have a publisher and someone who is working with me and helping me promote than to do every single thing alone. I am a writer and I just want to do what I do, write. I don’t wanna deal with all the things a publisher normally takes care of.
I admire people who want to take it all on their shoulders and self-publish but that’s not me.
I believe that there are different paths for different writers. Some writers might be better suited for self-publishing and some commercial publishing. It depends on what fits you, your goals, etc.
Simply, YES. All of the above!
All of what you said and then some. It is validation when a traditional publishing company decides to publish your work. Anyone can self publish, but to know that someone else really wants to put money behind your work because they believe in you. That’s something. Plus, you know you’re getting help to make the book the best it can be. You’re getting help from the industry.
Yet if you are typical of literary agents in that in 2010 you say you did not take on a single client from 10,000 queries it seems similar odds to buying lottery tickets. I enjoy writing and self-publishing both under my own name and a couple of pseudonyms. With Amazon, I can cover my expenses and make a little on top. Everyone has different goals and I’m happy there are options.
I would add that “validation” isn’t just emotional. Most fiction writers, even almost famous ones, can’t make a steady income from their books. Being traditionally published opens doors to college teaching jobs and benefits including a steady cash flow and uh benefits.
Most writers who self-publish have done so because the choice was to self-publish or not to publish at all. This includes the never published as well as traditionally published writers trying to get out less commercial material or those dumped by their publishers for economic reasons.
The ease of self-publishing does give all writers a bit more power in the equation, and maybe once they try it, they’ll like, but it probably helps if they’ve already established themselves and built credibility before going out on their own. However, Rachel, if one of your authors was rejected by a big house and wanted to go out on his or her own with a book you believed in, wouldn’t it make sense for you to help them create a hybrid-model, assisting with publicity, book design, even hooking them up with an editor to create the best product available and even provide at least 5 out of your 6 advantages to trad?
Well, sure it would make sense, but this assumes the author has a few thousand dollars to spend; and this assumes that somehow I’ll be able to actually make a living doing this. More complicated than it looks, but basically, we’re already do a lot of this.
I self-published my first two books. I am pursuing traditional publishing for my most recent book, and will with the book I am currently working on as well.
The reasons you have listed are the same as my reasons, with an exception. I don’t believe there is objective validation in being published traditionally. The way I see it acceptance is subjective. While publishers and agents have the experience with the industry, and are better able to predict which books will do well, the readers determine best sellers, and the experts are not always right.
Even though I have self-published, as a reader, I prefer to read books that have been published traditionally. It is distracting to me to read a book that has been poorly edited, as many (but not all) self-published books have been.
I will continue to seek representation for my books to be traditionally published at this point. I appreciate your blog, Rachelle! Thank you!
Love the blog, great information especially from the comments. I’m glad it seems to have stayed somewhat controlled and hasn’t turned into an ‘us vs. them’ free-for-all. Probably because most commenters here would love representation from Ms. Gardner, lol.
I believe there is room for both because of individual writers needs. You never know who will notice your work whether self or traditionally published. I self published because I wanted to inspire my oldest bipolar daughter to write, which was an epic failure, but my indie book has won a contest and nabbed the attention of a screen writer. I was offered an incredible deal but passed because at this time my five other homeschooled children is my number one priority. So I will continue writing and maybe one day, Ms. Gardner, I will jump the self pub ship and pursue you.
Early on I realized that a traditional publisher would be a very long process. I wrote a book for a very limited audience. While I’d love the validation of someone saying “this is worthy,” it was more important to me to get the information into the hands of those who needed it. I didn’t see the point in the delay (that was if someone would like it enough to publish it). I was concerned, given the limited appeal, that no publisher would want to take the time with my project. Self publishing has me helping many people much faster. That said, I am totally open to a “real” publisher picking it up and distributing it after this summer…especially after I write volumes 2 and 3!
[…] April 10, 2012 – 0 comments Agent Rachelle Gardner, in a blog post titled, “6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers,” sent my mind to thinking. I’ll note right up front that she is not attempting to say […]
I was recently pitching an article about the self-publishing phenomenon that would essentially advise doing so only in cases where the work was extremely focused in content and therefore also likely to have a limited but easily identified readership. For example, if someone were writing a history of her local community, it might be logical to self-publish and then market to area residents and organizations…
Having since read some of those self-pub success stories to which you refer, my thoughts on the entire subject are going through a bit of a transformation.
In my own case, though, I think the divide between traditional and self-publishing goes back to the very start of my writing career, when ‘self-publishing’ meant Vanity Press, with visions of driving around with stacks of books in your trunk, selling your precious words by the shovelful in the parking lot at Giants Stadium or something…
Nowadays, with nearly 30 years of seeing my byline attached to things I’ve written and having authored a 3 volume encyclopedia and a history book, I still get that same ethereal shiver every time I look at my name in print or online because I know that having it there represents the faith an editor has placed in my abilities as a writer, or researcher, or reporter…
Writing for a “traditional” publisher of any sort of project (book, magazine, online video, etc.) is kind of like wearing the jersey of your favorite team – it’s not just the logo or the colors or the economics of the thing; it’s what it says about the relationship, and how it makes you feel beneath the shirt.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post!
[…] Rachelle Gardner on 6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers. […]
Off the topic at hand, but did anyone else notice this blog marked as “Best of the Best” in the newest issue of Writer’s Digest? Congrats and thanks Rachelle!!! Your blog is very informative and helpful to all of us!
Numbers one and two are the biggest for me. Also, I’m old-fashioned and like the idea of a traditional publisher.
I’m an unpublished author and honestly would love to have a traditional publisher. But, I think soon your six points would not carry as much weight. The trends are pointing towards a reducing dependence on big name publishers and even agents.
I want to pursue traditional publishing for one reason: unlike the author of Fifty Shades, I don’t have a degree or experience in marketing. It does concern me, therefore, that many publishers aren’t doing as much marketing as was done previously.
I also am pursuing the traditional route for the reasons you’ve mentioned, Rachelle. The value publishers can add, as well as agents, is worthwhile.
It’s really a good post. I have learnt a lot from it. I will recommend it to my firends. Hope they ill like it too.
Wow – I always learn so much from not only you, Rachelle, but from the reader comments here. What a wonderful community.
The biggest reason for me is the invaluable education I believe authors gain working with industry experts.
When I completed my manuscript, I initially sought information on self-publishing. I have a Marketing background and thought I could manage the Platform on my own.
The more I learned, the deeper I dug. Just before commiting to a self-publishing resource, I met and hired an editor. Stacey reviewed my memoir and gave me an awakening to working with a professional. She is the best investment I could have made – I hired an editor rather than investing in the self-pub route.
Working with my editor, I learned the Marketing piece of an Author’s platform is only a part of the strategy. I realized if I wanted to deliver something I could take pride in, I need the support of a Community – a Team.
She (editor) pushes me to every limit, and I learn to be a better writer every day. I think that my drive towards traditional publishing is a gift from my editor, and we share in the experience together. I am relationship-focused at my core, and I want to hold out for the benefits and education that comes from working through the Traditional route.
I may still end up going the self-pub direction in the end. We haven’t started approaching agents yet – the book isn’t quite ready. After I get some experience under my pen I’ll revisit. However, I feel far more confident entering the Industry with my editor supporting my every move. Love her!
Last little bit: I have self-published a short How-To eBook in my market, and I’ll put out more of them. My eBook is really just part of building a platform. I’m taking an integrated approach to hopefully realizing my dream.
Thanks so much!
What self-pub successes? I hear some make it big, but most of the time I hear from self-pubs how they don’t sell as much. One particular author social networked and did everything to sell. I loved her self-pubbed book (reviewed it), but I wasn’t surprised when her sales weren’t good. We can only do so much marketing on our own. I want to go traditional because it’s more than affirmation. The marketing is better and the editing teams are better. Also, I don’t have to pay for it with money I don’t have in the account.
What self-pub successes?
Reply: What about these?
112+ authors who have sold more than 50,000 ebooks
1. Amanda Hocking – 1,500,000 ebooks sold (December 2011)
2. Barbara Freethy – 1.3 million self-published ebooks sold (Dec 2011)
3. John Locke- more than 1,100,000 eBooks sold in five months
4. Gemma Halliday – over 1 million self-published ebooks sold (March 2012)
5. Michael Prescott – more than 800,000 self-published ebooks sold (Dec 2011)
Chris Culver – over 550,000 (Dec 2011)
Heather Killough-Walden – over 500,000 books sold (Dec 2011)
Selena Kitt – “With half a million ebooks sold in 2011 alone”
J.A. Konrath – more than 500,000 ebooks sold (November 2011)
Stephen Leather – close to 500,000 books sold (Nov 2011)
Top 50 Indie Authors for March 2012
1. Barbara Freethy
2. CJ Lyons (Estimated 114,109 sales)
3. Andrew E. Kaufman (53,984)
4. Marie Force (51,000)
5. Bella Andre (50,131)
6. J.R. Rain (Estimated 45,539)
7. Michele Scott
8. Scott Nicholson (Estimated 41,984)
9. T.R. Ragan (40,835)
10. Kathleen Brooks (Estimated 39,060)
48. Joseph Nassise (Estimated 10,155)
49. Caryn Moya Block (10,001)
50. H.P. Mallory (Estimate 9,666)
51. James Somers (Estimated 9,634)
52. Michael Wallace (Approximately 9,400)
5 years ago, the above would not be possible.
There are pros and cons to self-publishing. It might work for you. On the other hand, it might not. Traditional publishing still have a lot to offers (editing, getting books to store, reviews etc..).
Either way, success is hard to come by, whether you are publishing on your own or trying to get a book contract.
I fear this is true, Rachelle–and for most small-press publishing as well. My novel The Rescuer’s Path came out this January, with glowing cover comments from Ursula Le Guin (“exciting, physically vivid, and romantic”), Cheryl Strayed (“held me from the first page to the end”), and many other noted authors whose opinions, one would think, would count with the media; yet, except a notice in Small Press Review (“lyrical and poetic, the characters vividly drawn, the story captivating”) and elsewhere, and mostly 5-star Amazon reviews, media critics and bookstores will not so much as open the book. Indeed, our not-so-independent-as-all-that bookstores here in the Portland area apparently don’t even bother to read the cover blurbs (since these stores feature and proclaim the very authors cited, yet will neither schedule a reading from this novel, nor accept except–after much pleading–a very few copies on consignment. I’m a former museum publicist who could get museum exhibitions review in all the media in the Bay Area and many across the nation, as well as p.r. for that museum’s published books–and a former journalist with good press rapport–yet the book is still blanked by the media. If any had opened the book, read a paragraph, and decided NO, then okay it’s their expertise—but they don’t do even that much. So obviously a small-press-published book hasn’t a chance in our society, let alone self-published books.
I think it’s not really about a strong bias against small presses and indie pubs. It’s more about the fact that they’re overrun with far more books they can handle, just from the traditional pubs. Drawing the line and simply deciding not to look at books from smaller houses just makes their workload easier. It’s one way to cut down on the overwhelming amount of “incoming.”
Thanks, Rachelle. But then don’t we have to look at *why* they take such a way to decide which books to look at (even the cover blurbs of)? I mean, they could decide to look only at nice thick books, or only at green books (on Mondays, maybe blue-covered ones on Tuesdays. . .), or the like. If they choose to look only at “large publisher” books, it’s because they’ve bought (or are required by their publishers to follow) the “books by other publishers are no good” line, even when a commentator whose review is right there on view on a book’s cover obviously knows more about literature than half the editorial staff (even good ones) at most large publishing houses. It is ridiculous–not a conspiracy but what in other industries would be called restraint of trade.
Paula, without exception, every librarian or book reviewer I’ve ever heard discuss this says that the self-pubbed books they DID look at were so overwhelmingly bad that they just couldn’t spend the time anymore. When only one in a hundred proves worthwhile (or whatever the number is), you can see that it makes sense to say, “No more.” This isn’t restraint of trade, but common sense.
Blame all those writers out there, who (unlike most of my blog readers, I’m sure!) are putting truly awful stuff out there in self-publishing land, and always have. They have made things much more difficult for those of you who ARE talented writers, who HAVE gotten the necessary editing, and are taking care to self-pub quality books.
I’m going to wade in here, since I am a librarian by trade and the Director of a medium sized library. The question of why it is hard to get us to look at self pubbed, or ever small press books came up in the comments so I thought this might help a bit:
1)Every Quarter my library receives upwards of 20 publisher’s catalogues, both large and small publishers. Each catalogue contains maybe 150-1000 books, including new releases, back catalogue and reprints.
2) We don’t have a dedicated stock librarian, so the assistant director and I have to fit going through the catalogues around our main duties of running the library.
3) Once a year we make a point to attend the regional bookfair, where we walk away with four more bags of catalogues.
4)We have a limited book budget. I can’t afford to buy a 10th of the books I actually want in the library as it is.
5) We can only get a certain number of books on our shelves – for us that is 50,000 items across all categories. You are competing against the other 5 million books currently in print to get a space on that shelf, and even then only if existing stock is dumped to make room for you. In our library we avoid duplicate copies as far as possible, but not everyone does.
6) Every book has to earn its place in this library. If I don’t think it will circulate / it does not circulate within a set time, then it does not get a place on the shelf. Here unknown authors are always at a disadvantage.
7) I have perhaps 10 self published books in the library. Most were donated by local authors so I was more or less guaranteed 5-10 checkouts on that book. That means it earned a place.
8) Contrary to popular belief, librarians don’t spend their days sitting around reading. I run a small – medium sized business here. I don’t have time to read your book to vet it for quality and / or fit. Most the time I don’t have the time to spend more than 2 seconds glancing at the thumbnail of the cover. I don’t read 90% of the books we buy in, either, so self pubbed and small press books are being treated just the same as those published by the Big 6. The difference is that I trust my sales reps and I trust the overviews in the catalogues. If your book isn’t in the catalogue, the odds of me even hearing about it are pretty much zero. Even if I do hear of it, the odds of me buying it are still very slim.
9) If – and only IF – an unknown author is recommended via a trusted friend, a staff member, a colleague or a blog/tweet that I follow and trust, or I come across one through my personal reading and can think of people who would borrow it, I will consider putting that book into the collection.
10) Getting hold of self pubbed and small press books can be a royal pain in the ass. If your book isn’t available for me to buy through one of the library suppliers or from Amazon or Chapters (should have mentioned I am in Canada, eh?) then I will probably not bother trawling though your website / your publisher’s website to find it, even if it has been recommended to me. Why? Because I just don’t have the time.
Anyway regardless of your thoughts on libraries, indie bookshops or even big bookshops, I hope this helps explain to trad and self-pubbers alike why they may not see their book on our shelves, ever. Even if it is an awesome book.
I really want to go with traditional publishing for all of these reasons. Also – just saw that your blog made “best of the best” in Writers Digest! Very cool! Congratulations!
For me, I’m pursuing traditional publishing (but I’m open to small presses), for two main reasons:
1. The onus is not entirely on me for selling. I have to do marketing, but I can do it in a way that’s comfortable for me.
2. I would get easily overwhelmed if trying to self-publish and stop the process before it got off the ground. All the different formatting requirements for all the different outlets, things which operate on an assumption of knowledge which is above my head. Yes, I could learn, but if I’d put that pressure on myself to self-publish, and it was do-or-die on the formatting, I think I’d be more likely to curl up in the corner and wave the white flag in self-publishing’s face.
I need support and the collection of minds greater than my own.
You’ve nailed it, Rachelle. Those are all the reasons. Plus, my father was a librarian, and my mother was a teacher. I grew up around books and in libraries. They always let me read as much as I wanted, no matter how late into the night. I want to make them proud. 🙂
Would the dialogue be different if the newbie authors (like me) don’t write for a living, but rather have one book, a memoir (in my case) to share with the world?
I have spent one year editing. The manuscript was edited chapter by chapter by editing groups, read to writing groups and most recently I paid for the services of a professional editor.
I would LOVE the validation of an agent and publisher and all they have to offer.
Is the wait time worth it?
I’m pursuing traditional publishing because I want to work with a team of talented people who can help me make my book the best it can be. Writing is a solitary career, and I look foward to meeting/working with some amazing new people one day!
I’m published with Simon and Schuster. I highly value the editorial/marketing/sales etc support that I receive. While ebooks are growing, print is still the majority of sales. Getting into bookstores as a self published author is extremely difficult. As ebooks grow I expect to see traditional publishers taking a larger marketing focus.
S&S provides weekly sales reports to their authors so I can see how many books I’ve sold (ebook or print) and also who sold them (indie bookstore versus chain versus places like Costco etc) They also have a great service to tackle piracy (a huge prob with ebooks). I send them the link and they send over the take down letter and follow up etc. All these things free me to focus on my primary job- writing.
But as others have pointed out it doesn’t have to be either or- I’ve also self pubbed. That’s the beauty of this brave new world- we have choices.
I can’t stress enough not to self pub just because you think it takes too long to be trad published. Often (not always) the first book we write (or second, third in my case) aren’t ready for publication. We don’t expect that once someone does their first painting that they should have it hang in the Met, if they learn the piano that they should get a record deal- why would it be different with writing? It takes time to learn to write. My first published book is my fourth completed manuscript. I’d rather not think about how many half started books there were or how many times I re-wrote those first books.
Learning a craft takes time and none of that time is wasted.
These are exactly my reasons, and what I tell people when they ask why I don’t self-publish omgrightnow. Not only do I want the editing services and help with publicity that could come with a publisher deal, but I want the validation that my book is good enough to be published. I could change my mind in the future, but right now my goal is a traditional print (and e-) publisher.
There’s one simple reason I want a traditional publisher: I can’t evaluate my own work. If it’s not good, I certainly don’t want to self-pub it and have the world see my 80K word drivel. I don’t want to look back on it someday and have to admit, red-faced, that I wrote it.
I’ll go with reasons 2,3 and 4. I’m a good writer, but I suffer from self-editing myopia. After 3-4 passes through a work, I can’t see the flaws. I need a good/smart editor, but can’t afford to hire an independent.
And I suck at marketing. I really need help in this area.
Thanks for starting this great discussion, Rachelle.
If I end up with a story I believe people will benefit from, but no one wants to take a chance on it, I might self-publish, buy a red wagon, and go up and down the streets giving books away.
My memoir, Dear Mom and Dad, Please Send Money, is just now, today, ready for POD publishing or agent query. I prefer that YOU love my manuscript and represent me to traditional publishers, but my concerns are many-fold. I’ll list two: I’m a newbie author so it will take a special agent willing to see the success in my book; and my research indicates that it can take YEARS to get published with traditional publishers. It’s a hard decision.
For me, it all comes down to who I am and my calling. My calling is to write. I market my work, but I’m not interested in managing the entire publishing process or a marketing campaign on my own. Unless you have $2,000-3,000 to really publish a book right on your own, I personally find self-publishing draining and destructive to my person calling to write and to market where I can.
Self-publishing has it’s place, but for most newbie writers out there, a platform is missing and so nothing would get sold as a result. Therefore, neither traditional or self-publishing would be helpful.
Traditional publishers are able to offer suggested changes/edits that reflect their current knowledge of readers interests and project marketability, not to mention their expansive resources to get the books out there. Great conversation you’ve generated here today!
For a broad interest book, there are so many more doors open through a publisher – allowing me as an author to focus on the more niche or off-the-wall ideas. I have a book that fits this at publishers through my agent now.
Another idea, however, is more likely going to be self published. I discussed it with my agent and he feels it would be tough to get a publisher to jump at it, but my connections within the industry may be a far better distribution plan than bookstores or Amazon.
Best of all, there is a simple connection between the two, so successfully working with industry insiders on the self-published booklet will expand my platform for the book project!
7. If you don’t have an editor, you have to buy your own drinks at conferences.
Because I want a cool looking book cover that I’m not capable of producing on my own!!! 😉
Ok – it’s the truth, but the not the primary reason I pursue traditional publishing. Everyone listed my other reasons though, so I dipped into my “shallow” tank. 🙂
All of the above apply for me, including the idea of having a support team. I’m good at writing. It has always been one of my strongest skills. I’m a darned decent editor, too. I even have some marketing background, so the idea of promoting my own books does not terrify me. That said, I do know my limitations.
For one thing, an agent has contacts that I would have to struggle for years to develop. I’m not a spring chicken. I don’t have time to devote to that.
I’m also not an artist. I need help with book design and cover art. I imagine I could learn enough to come up with something acceptable or hire somebody to do that. However, I don’t feel like U have time to deal with it or filter through the options and come up with something really good.
I want an agent and I would prefer to go the traditional publishing route because I know what my strengths and weaknesses are. I need a partner who is knowledgeable and can manage the things I’m NOT good at, so I can concentrate on the writing.
I’m not ruling out self-publishing, but I see it as sort of a last resort. I want my books to be the best I can possibly make them and I’m afraid that if I try to do the whole thing myself, they’ll turn out sub-standard.
Though my first novel isn’t quite ready to start sending out, I will be pursuing a traditional publisher. Mostly due to the fact that I would love to be able to work with a good editor to help make the work as good as it can possibly be. If I can’t find a publisher willing to take it on, then this book just isn’t going to happen.
I’ve looked into a few self-publishing firms and reviewed their material and unless I win the lottery or some unknown relative wills me a truckload of cash there is no way I’ll be able to afford it.
I’ve been working on my artist platform out ahead of the book getting done so as I ponder worst case scenarios I figure I’ll, at least, be able to afford to print a few copies at Kinko’s and send them out to my developing circle of friends.That counts as self publishing, right?
Whatever the outcome it won’t deter me from starting my next novel. It just might keep a wider audience from reading a good book.
I love your blog, Rachelle. I find something new to ponder every time I read it. It has been invaluable as I work at learning the ins and outs of the business end of being a writer. I can’t wait to see your next post!
I would expand on #1. It’s my main reason, as most of the others are in flux and may well change to favor self-publishing in the future.
But not only do I appreciate objective validation from a personal fulfillment point of view, I also know, as an editor, that it’s impossible to fairly judge your own writing–even when you’re a great editor for others. And I am loathe to put something out there that is less than my best work or even, perhaps, embarrassingly sub-par.
But just because a self-pubber pays an editor doesn’t mean the work she puts out is good work. The best editor in the world can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse and even if one freelance editor tells you straight-up that your work isn’t good enough, trust me, you will be able to find one to edit it as best she can, wash her hands of it and let you do as you wish with it.
Traditional publishers aren’t going to do that, because it’s their work too. And while a freelance editor (like me) makes more money simply from more work, a traditional publisher’s editor makes more money from higher-quality work–and suffers at least in reputation from association with low quality work.
I agree completely! I applaud those who self-publish, but when my book is complete I want to find an agent and publisher. I need to know it’s not just me who enjoys my story.
I’m pursuing traditional publishing because my work is marketable [yes, I do honestly believe this], and I don’t have the resources to put together my own editorial and marketing teams. I don’t think there’s an actual great divide between independent people and collaborative types. All artists must be somewhat independent to create their masterpieces, but, unless they’re jacks of all trades, they have to be collaborative, too. This is the reality for trad- or self-publishing.
I am pursuing traditional publishing because I want to know that my work is meaningful to more people than myself. A publisher validates that. A good publisher will also push me to write better which is a primary goal.
I am seeking representation and/or traditional publishing for all the reasons you stated. As one who just recently began seriously trying to publish children’s picture books, I can see how easy it is to become discouraged. When you have done all the right things, get good critiques, follow submission directions to the letter, write the best story you know how and then some, revise revise revise and still are not published, and this goes one for years and years, self-publishing must start looking pretty good. I still think having a “team” behind you to guide and support you must be a better feeling. Nothing to do but put a smile on your face and a song in your heart and keep trying.
Lively discussion here. Rachelle’s points are all good reasons that I’ll continue to pitch and query, but… (There is a but)after years of doing this and being finalist in several lit contests, I decided to self-pub one of my novels.
It’s been an amazing journey. I have learned so much about publishing an marketing my book and getting it noticed. I made sure it was edited, got a great cover for it and found ways to get traditional reviews. It’s being picked up by book clubs and libraries. For the life of this book, I’m happy as I never could get the interest of an agent for it. I plan to self-pub its prequel, but I’m also seeking traditional publication for another novel.
I think in the end, publishing is going to be a mix of both worlds. And yes, it is a wonderful thing to see your novel on the shelf at your local indie book store. I smile every time I see it there and see it in the hands of readers.
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I am chasing traditional-publishing for the reason that when my novel is acquired, purchased, edited and then sold, that I will have the *very* best product I can possibly have when all is said and done. If I self publish…I can’t guarantee that because I still don’t and never will know everything there is to know about publishing, marketing and editing. I’m not for/against either one, this is just the best option for me personally with my personality and needs at this time.
Your entire list resonates with me. I agree with the team mentality. There are many others who are strong in areas where I am weak. I feel I would be blessed to benefit from those who have more training and skills in areas that are weaknesses for me.
I’m going for the trade publisher for two main reasons – I want to be a writer, not a publisher; and I don’t want to spend my money – I’d rather they spent theirs. After that come all the other reasons – validation, editing, etc, etc.
Yes, and yes, Janelle!
I started out in self-publishing and everything you listed is EXACTLY why I’m pursuing a publisher!
Thanks for the reminder why we keep pressing toward the goal 🙂
Daphne, I think it’s interesting that you started out self-pub and are now pursuing a publisher.
It makes me wonder if, perhaps, some of the most satisfied publisher clients might be those who have previously self-published.
It seems that a self-pub author might go into a publishing contract with more realistic expectations, a better idea of what is required for marketing, and a better sense of publishing goals.
Just a thought…
Yes, there’s some truth there. I had a good experience self-publishing, but for all the reasons Rachelle listed here, I see great benefits in the traditional publishing route. But I definitely agree that I have more realistic expectations 🙂
I see writing as very similar to building a new home and as with writing, there are several options. When building, I can choose to do everything myself and be my own general contractor searching out each electrician, plumber, brick layer, etc… and coordinating their efforts to achieve the finished product. Or, I can choose to hire a general contractor who will be a partner in my building dream. In this instance, while I would make the decisions on style, color, and content, my gc would find and coordinate all the other persons needed to make a great house.
Writing is the same. As a self published author I would be the general contractor responsible for finding an editor, an illustrator, a cover designer, and so forth. I would coordinate everyone’s efforts to achieve the finished product known as a book.
While I am probably capable of such an undertaking, I do not feel inclined. That is why I choose to hire a gc, so to speak, by opting for a traditional publisher who will do the coordinating for me.
I wouldn’t mind publising both ways. When I finished my first book and after writing about 30 Query Letters with no successsful response, I just happened to be in the right place and the right time to meet my Independent Publisher. It seemed right, just meant to be and it’s been a wonderful experience working with her and becoming published. As I work on my second book now, I plan on writing Query letters as well to seek an Agent to reperesent me. I’m thinking perhaps I’ll have a better chance at that with the experience I’ve gained through the first publication. I know my book is good but I can only do so much on my own to get the word out.
I am old fashioned and have weighed all other publishing concepts. I am also thinking new is not always better.
When I was little my parents got a toaster for their wedding. It was a good toater, and they never needed to replace it because it worked.
Every morning my dad still drinks his coffee and makes his toast in that same toaster.
Moral – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
or They don’t make things like they used too.
I am a 38 year old stuck in the 50’s LOL!
All six reasons resonate with me to pursue traditional publishing. I have this desire and intention even after a positive experience of self-publishing a trilogy of small town church fiction. I queried and submitted that project along the way, but timing and having the available resources made self-pub. the right choice. As I continue to promote and develop my platform for the trilogy, my fourth novel is taking shape. I will vigorously pursue traditional pub. for it.
I’m going to try that route, but I’m also changing my mind on the waiting game. I’ll be patient…but I’m also not willing to wait 10 years for my book to finally get chosen by an acquisitions editor. I will go out on my own then.
I guess for me, I don’t really want to be a HUGE bestseller. I mean, it would be nice, but I’m not sure I have what it takes to go out and do lots of interviews and give book talks in front of dozens or even hundreds of people. The thought of doing that makes me nervous. 😛
Thank you, Rachelle. I want to be published the traditional way for all of the reasons you’ve stated. Number one especially resonates. For me, it’s the “emotional payoff.”
I hope you had a good Easter and got some rest.
I want a traditional publishing deal, for the very reasons you listed. Either way a person chooses to go, there is a lot of work involved, and neither is inherently better or worse. For me, self-publishing would be a disaster. I know that and I own it. I may be able to reach the world myself, but if all I’m handing them is the southern product of a north bound bull, I doubt anything with my name on it would be highly regarded.
All six are valid reasons to pursue traditional publishing (what I prefer to call “publisher-financed publishing). Number 1, validation, was probably the most important to me, until the personal rejections started coming. The ones saying my writing was strong, but not right for that agent or editor; or the ones where the editor/agent said only a few tweaks were needed, but that they were passing for whatever reason. To me that’s validation enough. It says my writing and story telling is ready.
Now I suppose number 3 is my main reason to keep an ember of hope burning to someday have a mainstream publisher accept and publish something I’ve written.
I would MUCH prefer the traditional route. However, I’ve independently hired an editor who serves me well with amazing feedback, so I feel relatively comfortable with that. I would love the self-validation of having an agent represent me, but it’s all about the timing. I have a certain timetable for taking the book to market, and I’m very comfortable in the self-marketing and promotion realm. So it’s a paradox … and what am I to do? Help.
Yes, and yes, and yes and yes. I’m traditionally published, and for me, it was the ONLY way. I needed that validation. It’s subjective and may not mean anything to others, but for me it’s vital. Being signed with a traditional publisher also means one other thing: you’re not alone anymore. You have people around you who support and encourage you through the writing process, who are looking FORWARD to what you’re going to do next. I know, if I run into problems, where to take them, who to talk to. And they are always there, always more convinced it will work out than I ever was. Yes. It’s fun not to be alone anymore.
Yes. You are right on all counts, Rachelle. I could not agree more. I have, and will, pursue publishing in every way – traditional or innovative-that presents itself; but traditional publishing would be a nice feather in my cap. Kind of like getting a college degree after a lifetime of learning, experience and success.
As in most situations I think it’s healthy to look for “and” solutions rather than “either/or.” This is one of those situations – as a writer I will never limit myself to one option. For full-length tradebooks I still like working with traditional publishers. BUT I seed those books with hundreds of reasons for readers to connect with our ongoing 48Days community. They then attend live events, participate in teleseminars, and purchase everything else I self-publish.
If we are just creating a single product with two covers we will have serious limitations regardless of how we “publish.” If we are building a community, there is no end to the new ways we can generate income and the method we use for publishing is a small component of the big picture.
I think it’s important for any author to not limit his or her options. Go traditional. Go self-publishing. Do a little bit of everything.
You nailed it for me. I choose to pursue the traditional route because I want my work to be the best it can be when it hits readers. Going the traditional route is more of a guarantee of that than self-publishing. It’s a personal choice.
I’m pursuing the traditional route because of my team mentality. I’m aware I could create my own team, but my time and resources aren’t as plentiful as what a traditional house could offer. I appreciate the wisdom, support, and encouragement teamwork provides.
I’m getting ready to start coaching young girls in soccer again. There’s nothing like watching our team come together and witnessing their excitement after a successful game.
Game on, I say.
I think validation is the biggest reason for me, but the others are definitely in the running, especially the fact that publishers are “well connected to various media and marketing opportunities. Thanks for the post, Rachelle…I’m bookmarking it for the future!
I think number six is the reason for me.
“Virtually all writers, including the very best, will find their writing improves and their books are better because they’ve worked with talented editors.”
Yes! Exactly! The problem with many of us, especially when we’re starting out, is that we don’t think we can get better, we’re already so darn good. And it’s a shame to allow oneself to fossilize at that stage, and then go off and self-publish because the “traditional” publishers don’t recognize one’s genius. (Definitely not the only reason people self-publish, but sometimes the reason.)
A thought about publicity: if I google the title of my latest book, which is a unique combination of words, I get ten times as many hits as copies of the book have sold so far. There is no way I could possibly have generated all this publicity on my own, even if I worked my tail off. And it takes a lot of publicity to sell a book.
I self-published (print on demand) a niche non-fiction last year; totally happy about every aspect of it.
I’m about to be traditionally published (small press non-fiction); expecting to be totally happy about every aspect of it.
Of Rachelle’s six points, objective validation is the most important to me in the second book.
I am going the traditional publishing route because I believe there is value in the process of it. I believe it will make me a better writer. Also, it’s a childhood dream- I want my stories to be on those library shelves.
Go for it, Kate! Sounds like a dream worth pursuing!
Rachelle, this is an excellent list of valid reasons to seek the traditional route. As someone who is a “both-and” author, I don’t see any reason for someone not to try to scale the walls of the Forbidden City. It’s good discipline and makes you a stronger writer. All the while, if you’re productive, you can always opt for self-publishing later.
For the sake of fuller understanding I would like to add a couple of thoughts to your points. This is not to turn this into an “us v. them,” but simply to clarify the “them.”
1. Objective validation To be “chosen” by a publisher means that a group of people who are widely read, and who see dozens of new projects come across their desks every single week, believe your book has value and will find a reading audience.
True, although they reject many more projects than they accept, and those rejected books may also have value. The real “objective” measure is readership. A book that readers read and pay for and talk about is the ultimate validation.
2. Editing and design.
True, this is what traditional publishing does very well . . . most of the time. But with cutbacks in staffing editorial work might not be as hands-on as before. New and even veteran writers sometimes get handed off to young editors, who can make matters worse (this has happened to me on a few occasions, and I had to work hard to undo the damage). I’ve also had author friends endure terrible covers they have no power to stop.
My own traditional covers, I’m happy to say, have been stellar. I think this is the norm. Cover design is something the trad houses do very, very well.
Yet quality editing and design services are abundant now for a fee. Self-published authors can produce traditional-quality work now (and should).
3. Expanding your readership.
The amount and scope of marketing publishers do is usually tied to track record. That’s good business sense. So don’t expect, as a new writer, to be given gold star treatment. And in the digital age, it’s often the case that the writer can do just as much, and maybe more, than a traditional publisher in finding new readers.
4. Mainstream media
For a small number of non-fiction titles, there’s a shot. For fiction, fuggedaboutit. In non-fiction, publishers want to see that platform. For a writer of non-fiction without a platform, blogging and self-publishing may actually be the better, or the only, option.
5. Partnership and expertise. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’ve got a partner who knows what they’re doing.
True, this is what a good publishing company will do for you. A self-publisher needs to create his or her own “team.” This can be done, but it takes work. (I hope no one thinks you don’t have to work, inside or outside the walls of the Forbidden City).
6. Emotional payoff. There is just something special about the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
True, when it first happens. Just be aware that traditional publishing cares about your dreams only so long as they are profitable for them. This is not a criticism; it’s a simple truth, because publishing is a business.
I have other author friends, multi-published, who have been dropped and can’t get another contract from a traditional house. This is when you wake up from the dream in a cold sweat. For many such authors, self-publishing is a lifesaver, an option they never had before.
So make all these decisions and look at the long term with a mix of both hope and hard headed realism. Nurture your dreams but major in realism.
Great post and thoughtful response, here.
In regards to points 1 and 2, I am in the middle of a book published by a small press and it’s so frustrating. On the one hand it’s a fantastic story. Just the kind of story I wish we had more of. On the other hand I am so frustrated with the fact that it could be stellar if it had better editing.
Self publishers and small publishers always seem to have trouble with editing, but if the small publisher hadn’t picked up this book, would a bigger publisher have eventually picked it up? I don’t know. I think the bigger publishers have blind spots and refuse to publish great books all the time. Maybe because they are reading so many proposals that they don’t have the time to find the stories that the smaller publishers are digging for.
I am still a fan of traditional publishing because I think overall we have better books when we have the expertise of the bigger companies behind us. No matter how much I love the story in the book I’m reading now from the small publisher, I may not be able to finish it, because of several things that keep yanking me out of the story and tempting me to set the book down and forget about it.
Nice dialogue here between James and Rachelle. I see pros and cons for each, but I’ll throw in an extra pro for traditional here: Upfront money, and no financial risk. For many self pubbers, it’s not good business sense to spring for the type of professional quality editing, copy art, and production value that makes for *good* self publishing — especially if they are a poor first time author with unproven work. If you go traditional, then you get these services up front for free, plus a good chunk of cash you can use for marketing. Though, on the flip side, you’re giving up higher royalties in the long run.
I have to agree with all six of your reasons. While I did self-publish a couple of devotionals, I want a publisher for my fiction. I’ll have to cross that bridge when I have a manuscript worth the attention.
This post expresses what I’ve been thinking. I’m pursuing traditional publishing for a number of reasons. The validation, but also, should my story be selected some point down the road for publication, there will be others who will help it with the tweaks of editing that I have no experience with. Also, getting the book into places I’d never have access to.
Exploring self-publishing has given me a deeper understanding and respect for the work involved with publishing. I may end up self-publishing, but given the choice, I would rather partner with an experienced professional
Either way, there is a lot to learn, isn’t there, Carol?
Joe, when I started writing fiction, I thought I knew something because I had read hundreds of novels.
I look back on how much I did not know about writing and story craft, agents and publishing, and cannot believe how far I have come.
Though all of the above are good ones, number five would be first with me. I love the idea of a group of people, using their particular expertise, completing a project. I love to develop a story and tell it in such a way that a reader can feel as though they were a part … But unless someone else, who is not inside my head, proofs it for me, I don’t know for sure if the reader will experience it in the way it was meant. And yes, I confess, my spelling and punctuation leaves something to be desired. I’d love someone with the eye for detail I do not have to help me with those. Marketing? I know I’ll have to do some, but a little help and guidance along the way would be greatly appreciated. I do not presume to be gifted in all these areas and hope to work with professionals who are. They can fill in my gaps and I can learn from them to build from weaknesses. There are many out there with experience in these things who don’t want to “tell the story.” I’ll do my part and hope to find others who will do theirs.
I’m trying to decide which way I want to go. There are some pretty convincing arguments on self-publishing (read about Amanda Hocking) and there’s the same said for publishers. I just know that I do not want to wait years for a publisher to send me a nibble of interest (How many times was JK Rowling declined?) I may try for a certain amount of time, to find a publisher or agent, then if it doesn’t pan out, I’ll strike out on my own. 🙂
I’ve posted my reasons on my blog. The basic summary: I am not a publisher. I am willing to work with a publisher at every step of the way, but the editors, layout people, cover artists, marketeers, et al. all have far more expertise in their fields than I do. That’s why.
Amen to that!
I like your first reason about quality of the ms. I might think my ms is great and so might my two critique partners. However having professionals willing to risk money on publishing my book–something they selected out of thousands of competitors–means I won’t look back and wish I did something better.
It must *really* be at a pretty good standard! That’ll make me happy (when the time comes).
Which kind of publisher? This is certainly a hot question. I guess one should decide based on their goal. Either way, pursue that goal and pursue it with all diligence.
Traditional publishers will offer a healthy level of accountability. I know I need accountability. Self publishers offer a level of accessibility. Some are too accessible. But I know I need accessibility.
I’ve self published a book I feel confident I can sell on my own and I’ve submitted another book to a traditional publisher that I feel will be helpful to represent me and that I can helpfully represent.
Both choices have to do with how my different platforms work. My public speaking gives me a very personal market. I self published a book related to that platform. My expertise is a platform that is less personal but just as valuable and I’m seeking to traditionally publish those books.
Thank you for the post; I’ve lately been having so much fun being self-published that when my wife asked me last weekend, “weren’t you planning on exploring the traditional publishing option with the Elf Queen [my next series]?” I remembered that I had been, but I couldn’t recall why. The reasons you list, though, are fairly solid ones for making me at least consider going traditional publishing (and giving up another 55% of my book sales to someone else) with my next series.
Please keep in mind, though, that there are some very strong pluses to being self-published, in spite of the many misconceptions people have regarding the topic. If I do go the tradpub route, there are sacrifices I’ll be making to do so.
Yes, I’m well aware of the pros and cons of both self- and traditional pub. I do talk about them a lot on this blog as you know, but the fact is, the bulk of my work is still in traditional. And with so many loud voices screaming “self pub is better!” all the time, I think we sometimes need to point out that many, many authors are still having great experiences and reaching significant audiences the old-fashioned way. Thanks for the comment! I always appreciate your perspective.
Boy, did my post come off wrong. I apologize. I was reacting to a couple of fellow commenters’ misconceptions rather than your comments, and I should not have done so.
In any event, I was sincere in expressing my thanks for reminding me why I had wanted to re-consider traditional publishing in the first place.
In 2008 and 2009, the economy was so bad that the warnings to first-time authors were the following:
(1) Traditional publishers are cutting way back and will seldom consider new authors. As a result, agents will rarely consider new authors.
(2) Traditional publishers are no longer providing editorial support like they used to — your work has to be perfect to be considered.
(3) Traditional publishers are no longer helping much with book promotion except for their top authors. A new author with few contacts and little experience must take on the challenge, not that they are expected to be a partner in promotion of their book, but that the promotion of their book is ALL on them.
That is why self-publishing became so attractive to so many writers, especially new authors.
If the economics are getting better and the pendulum is starting to swing back in the traditional publishing market so that a new author can have faith that they can interest an agent/traditional publisher, and can expect reasonable editing and promotional assistance/training, then traditional publishing definitely has it advantages.
My feeling is never say never. After years of “good stuff, but no cigar” rejections from quality literary magazines, I found an indie epublisher for my women’s fiction short stories. Once upon a time I’d rather have died. Now the stories are available for (like) ever, and the validation is giving me the moxie to keep on writing my novel about a dysfunctional Quaker family.
A good state of mind is priceless.
You hooked me at No. 1. I have tried to explain that so many times to a friend who prefers self-publishing; even if it takes years or never happens, I’d rather be published traditionally for the sense of worth and validation. Nothing wrong with her way, it just wouldn’t work for me. 🙂
Thanks for another great post!
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All great reasons listed. The objective validation and emotional payoff are important to me.
I might self-publish someday, but if I do, it means I’ve given up my hope of being represented by an agent.
I haven’t tried hard enough yet to let go of the dream.
Because I’m a book-publishing snob. Frankly, I pass over over most self-pubbed books because the ones I’ve read have been disappointing. (Yes, I know there are good ones out there. But, in my experience, you have to sift through a lot of not-great ones to find them.) And I want a book that someone like me would pick up and want to read.
“Because I’m a book-publishing snob.”
I think they have a 12-step program for that condition, Bryn! 😉
Best of luck! 🙂
First off, thanks for all the wisdom you share here, Rachelle. I am pursuing traditional publishing because I can read and read and read and yet, I am still not an expert.
Great reasons! I also go the traditional route because I’m uncomfortable self-publishing for a couple of different reasons.
Traditional publishers still do have clout. Maybe that will change with e-readers but I’m not sure?
Point 1, being accepted by experts, was the most important one for me. However, as my publisher is only a small one, I’ve been disappointed by having only minimal editing consultation and no marketing (apart from on the publisher’s website). So why do I continue to seek a publisher? Because I’d rather be writing than spending time on all the technical aspects of self-publishing.
I’m an advocate for quality self-publishing as part of my work, but it’s not always the right answer for a particular author or a particular book. In fact, I’m pursuing the traditional route for my own first novel, even though I have the skills and the contacts to do it all myself.
The reason? While I’ve been writing non-fiction for years, I’m a newbie novelist, and I’ve got a lot to learn. Fiction is a whole other country; they do things differently there.
The hoops I have to jump through on the agent/publisher journey force me to keep on honing both this book and my fiction-writing skills. I’m in this for the long haul, and it’s worth it to me to take a bit longer getting the first novel in my series into print, if it makes a better foundation for an ongoing career.
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All good points. Yet one only need to point to Snooki and other celebrities to see that objective validation from a big publisher is about how much money can be made, not the quality of the writing. Although I’m sure high quality ghost writers are employed on such occasions.
This us-and-them mentality does no-one any good apart from the few lucky enough to be entrenched on either side.
There is good and bad to both trad’ and self publishing, and that may vary author to author or even title to title.
We’ve had great success with self-publishing, but are currently enjoying working with a trad publisher in France taking us places we could never reach on our own.
All writers want readers, or else they wouldn’t put their work out there in the first place. Traditional publishing means that my book is in all the shops, has been serialised on national radio,extracted in magazines. I have had no end of interviews and commissions to write in newspapers. I could have self-published but don’t see how I could have reached anything like the same audience. And there’s reason 7, which is the advance, which gives you a minimum guaranteed income from the book.
I certainly do not fault anyone for choosing to self-publish. Heck, I might even find myself in the predicament of shelving my series or self-publishing at some point. But for me, this is my dream. Years back, I was in a bookstore and I realized (at random!) that I desperately want to walk into a store and to find my book on the shelf.
As for the point about mainstream media largely ignoring self-published titles, that is absolutely true. 50 Shades of Grey only got the kind of publicity it did because it had a built-in fan base of nearly 5,000 Twilight fans when it was published. And of course, the author did some amazing marketing. But even that route left her work tainted with the “fan fiction” label. The landscape may be changing, but it seems that authors who are contracted with a traditional publishing house are more highly regarded than those of small-time epublishing houses or those who are self-published.
The reluctance of major outlets to review self-published books will change,I believe, but not quickly. The major outlets themselves will eventually reflect the “publishing industry’s” inevitable recognition that quality self-p’d books are legitimate players. In other words, “the publishing industry” will not be in ten years what it is today.
A lot of dust will have to settle first, possibly as social media attention develops broad patterns of quality recognition–a virtual sorting hat, if you will.
I think the dust will settle. THings are changing rapidly. I think the old rules will fade out just like rotary phones and television antennas.
Oh, I agree completely. In time, self-publishing won’t have a stigma attached to it. I’m just not ready to make the leap yet.
It is not just about the stigma – it’s the fact that most reviewers don’t have a lot of time to waste, and they’ve found out the hard way that agreeing to look at self-pubbed books wastes a tremendous amount of time. They have to go through a LOT of them before they find something they like. Librarians have said the same thing – the reasons libraries don’t look at self-pubbed books is that it takes too much time to wade through the muck to find the good stuff. Easier just to have a “no self pub book” policy. It’s not as if they can’t find enough books to stock their shelves.
That is a really good point, Rachelle. I have a hunch, though, that some kind of screening process will evolve among book reviewers, perhaps around some version of nepotism/networking–either where outlets within certain “elite” lit communities will begin reviewing talented self-published people who are also connected with the same communities– or sufficient numbers of intrepid bloggers will have the tenacity to weed through the jungle and sniff out the good stuff to review, creating a critical mass of well-reviewed, non-tradionally published authors. …It could happen!
Why did I pursue traditional publishing? Because a dozen years ago, when I refocused on the writing road (as a writer intent on magazine articles)there was no other option. And so, when I expanded my writing to a non-fiction book, that’s what my goal was: a traditional publisher. Now there’s been this wild ride, watching the industry change. More choices = more ways to succeed — and fail.
When I crossed to the Dark Side, i.e. writing fiction, I still wanted a traditional publisher. One reason: I appreciate being able to say my publisher is so-and-so, and people recognize them as an established publishing company. It gives me credibility as an author. Yeah, I’ll take that.
All MY life!
Thank you for stating the reasons so clearly. Those are exactly my reasons, validation by those whose published works I have enjoyed all life being the strongest requirement. I am at the ‘rejection by agents stage’ with my second novel; my first is resting for major revision. Everyone asks me why I don’t self publish. Now I can respond with precision. 🙂
I sought a traditional publisher for all the reasons you stated above. I didn’t feel “qualified” to go it alone. I do have writer friends who chose to self publish and I have the utmost respect for them. My publisher is a small indie publisher and I appear to be marketing my book through the same channels as my self published friends, but I think my publisher has been able to open a few more doors that would have otherwise been closed. I’m writing a sequel now and if my publisher doesn’t pick it up I might chose to go the self publish route.
I agree with the reasons you posted here. There is an important validation that comes from a publishing company that is absent from self-publishing.
After sending numerous queries and waiting for months to get back rejections of my queries, self-publishing seemed the last hope. I did it, not because my work was rejected, but because it was never looked at. A huge wall appeared that said, “Keep Out! We have too many queries already!”
Self-publishing is a salvage mission for the disheartened looking for some tiny oasis of hope. Unfortunately, the oasis is most often a mud puddle on a drying sidewalk.
I went the self-pub route and it left me feeling like I punted on first down. It showed a lack of character on my part when I was unwilling to go through the improvements needed to gain the interest of serious literary market. Being published would mean that I fought through the walls and entered the front gates of the literary market. That’s a worthy endeavor!
Tough lessons. Best of luck, P.J. !
P.J., if you punted on first down, then I must have punted the kick-off return!
I had a message I felt would be beneficial to many. When I checked into what it would take to get a publisher’s attention of a non-fiction Christian book, I realized that it simply wasn’t going to happen…not without a large platform and/or official credentials, of which I have neither.
So, I chose the self-pub route without even sending a single query.
No regrets, so far…but also not many sales, so far…
I would love to work with a publisher, but since that option seems completely closed for now, I found an open window…
Joe, your decision to self-pub a non-fiction book makes complete sense. While first time fiction writing depends upon the book itself, non-fiction is tied heavily to platform.
My decision to self pub was done out of frustration, therefore I decided from a bad place. You decided on the same course for practical reason and so you have no regrets. I respect that!
That which motivates us will ultimately leaven our life’s bread.
“That which motivates us will ultimately leaven our life’s bread.”
There is a lot of truth in that sentence…and leaven has a way of growing and spreading doesn’t it?
Gotta love the football metaphors. I think I punted on second down.
P.J., it’s Monday; don’t be so hard on yourself!
Seriously though, I can relate to your discouragement. Although my goal is to have my manuscript published the traditional way for all the reasons that Rachelle (and Kei) mentioned, I’m holding out self-publishing as a last resort. I admit that being published by a trad. publisher would be a “ego boast,” as some commenters have mentioned, but the main reason I want to be published at all is to share my stories and my characters. So, if I can’t get them out of the desk drawer any other way, I’ll self-publish too.
In regards to your punting on the first down, it worked. You’re book is published. But the game isn’t over. So back to the offense. Write a new book and focus on getting a touchdown (if that’s what trad. pub. would be for you). As you go back in the game, you bring with you all that you learned from the first play.
I’ve told you, I’m still waiting for that pre-Arthurian historical / fantasy / sci-fi book.
Thank you, Christine! It took me a while to come to the place that I am now. Previously, I just wanted a book out. Now I want a book out correctly. Self-pub got me over the “I just gotta get in print!” syndrome. However, I won’t feel truly published until the publishing companies stamp their insignia under my title. Good thing I have a day job that I love!
When the fantasy/historical/sci-fi hits the shelves, I’ll send you an autographed copy! 🙂
I look forward to it. Thanks!
“Want” is the key word in the post title. Do I want a publisher? Yes, I do. Can I get one as a new non-fiction author? Apparently not without the magical platform.
Whether I want a publisher or not then becomes moot, doesn’t it?
My options become: self publish or die. My awesome wife of almost 40 years spiritedly argues for the less permanent option…
You’re right, many are going to self-pub because they haven’t been able to get an agent or traditional publisher. MANY valuable and worthwhile books fall through the cracks this way – it’s just a numbers game. There are many more good books than publishers to handle them.
And lots of bad, traditionally published books. BUT. Overall, I trust the general way it works and what I see is that traditionally published books are a better bet than self-published ones. GENERALLY.
What if your AGENT recommends going with an e-publisher? Do you see this as a different scenario or as an indicator they’ve lost faith in your book’s ability to go the traditional route?
Well, maybe this is splitting hairs but perhaps it’s not just “an indicator they’ve lost faith” but rather an indicator that in their professional opinion based on the evidence, they believe your best path is self-pub.
As I’ve pursued the question of self publication, two factors emerged:
1. An unknown non-fiction author has to build a platform of sorts to become known. No matter how you slice it, that boils down to marketing.
2. If I do the marketing well, the self published book will sell. (Of course, this assumes the actual content and writing are worth a damsel, but that’s true regardless of self-pub or trad-pub.)
If the self-published book sells, everything changes: on a traditionally published book, the author gets one or two dollars. On a self published book, the same author gets $10 for every book sold.
THAT is a different equation entirely. The breakeven number is much lower and the rewards of success so much higher.
Would I prefer to collaborate and work with someone? Absolutely! But the question seems to be evolving to: can I afford it? Somewhat like: a Mercedes is a nice car to drive, but can I afford it?
Am I missing something? 🙂
Yes, you’re missing the fact that even when someone has a terrific platform and does tremendous personal marketing, traditional publishers can often grow that audience beyond what the author can do on their own. This is one of the reasons the publishers still have value.
You’re absolutely right, and that’s why several self-published authors (Rick Warren, notably) have gone on to have their work published by traditional publishers.
In the end, traditional publishing is still the best (like a Mercedes) for the very reasons you mentioned. For an author (for most authors?) the trick of course is to actually find a publisher. Your slush pile is evidence of the magnitude of that quest. Self publishing does offer a chance to get started when denied access to a publisher.
By the way, quite the topic you got going here! What’s your record for comment count? 🙂
I think that self-publishing is quickly becoming the minor leagues. Traditional publishers are picking up books that have been proven successful through the self-publishing route, repackaging them, and providing a wider distribution and audience than the self-published author could have achieved on his or her own.
It’s really a win win for everyone and it’s where I see this publishing revolution headed.
You’ve hit the nail on the head there, Rachelle! Those are all reasons why I want to be traditionally published. Working with a good, professional editor is something I want very much!
I wanted to go the traditional route for all the reasons you mention. My debut novel releases in two months, and I’ve seen what having the backing of a traditional publisher has done for me.
!. I know that publishing pros saw promise in my work, which is a confidence booster.
2. My book went through a major rewrite after I received my agent’s input. Once it sold, it went through two rounds of copyedits and two proofreads, so I know it’s nice and clean. My publisher’s design team gave it a great cover.
3. My publisher has gotten my book listed on bookseller sites around the world. The book will even be on the shelves of some Walmarts. No way could I have accomplished this on my own.
4. I doubt the major networks will come calling (grin), but because my book, a romance, is being released by a traditional publisher, it will be reviewed in RT Book Reviews, which will help it get publicity.
5. I’ve learned how to write a marketable book, but I rely on my publisher for their design, marketing, and sales expertise. They know what they’re doing.
6. I spent 40+ years dreaming of holding a traditionally published book I wrote in my hands, so the emotional payoff I’ll experience in just a few weeks is enormous.
One day I want to feel as you do – however long it takes. CONGRATULATIONS.
Marilyn, I hope you get to enjoy the experience one day. I’d been writing four years before my agent offered me representation, and I’d completed five manuscripts plus numerous rewrites. Perseverance, an ongoing study of craft, and lots of practice are key. But the practice can be lots of fun. 🙂
Thank you for that :), it’s very encouraging. I do absolutely love writing. So yes, I’m on fourth revision of second book and will just keep going. But achieving what you have some day would be something else 🙂
You’re absolutely right – the feeling of holding the fruit of your work in your hand is priceless and a dream come true.
Sounds so wonderful to hear that somebody is getting their dream- way to go girl- hope its a big best seller.
Thanks, J. I hope your dreams come true as well.
And thank you for your concise, cogent illustration of the advantages of being published traditionally.
I hope my statement doesn’t push any buttons or bring a “us versus them” response. It is not intended to. This post is about the reasons why some writers, myself included, want to pursue the traditional path to publishing, and I think you have demonstrated it beautifully.
Julia, I like your use of the word “team.” I’m so grateful to my Dream Team and wouldn’t be where I am without them.
I admire those who have what it takes to self-publish, but I lack the knowledge and experience. I’d say I lack the courage to go it alone, but it takes courage to go the traditional route as well. Courage and a wagon load of patience and perseverance. A helping of humor doesn’t hurt either. 🙂
Eek! My comment was supposed to be addressed to Christine. I didn’t realize the comment reply box appeared below the most recent comment and not the one I was responding to. My bad.
Slinking off with flaming cheeks.
Easy to make a mistake, especially on a Monday.
She did mention though that she didn’t want to get into a “us vs them” thing.
I still hope to be published the traditional way. Every way has its advantages and its drawbacks. A friend of mine is self-published and was “misinformed” by the service platform he used in a variety of ways. No matter what path you choose, somewhere along the line you have to rely on someone else for something.
The first reason mentioned in the post is a big reason for me. For the same reason I check with the Better Business Bureau and such before I hire someone to do a job for me (just because a plumber tells me his plumbing is good is no reason to believe him), I see no reason for anyone to buy book just because I think it is great. Granted, self-publishing has ways to help with this–review sites, free stories available first–but that isn’t the way I want to go right now. Maybe later? But it won’t be exactly my dream come true.
I think all writers want an ego boost. Otherwise we’d write out stories and be happy to leave them in a drawer. But we aren’t happy with that. Traditionally published and self-published authors all want readers. We’re all saying, “I spent time on this story, it comes from MY imagination and work, and I think you should take time out of your life to read it.” Big ego boost! And all it cost is the time it takes to write a novel…and to promote it, learn platforms, edit, format…
Hats to any writer who works hard to write something great and put it out there for the world to see–in whatever way suits them.
I totally agree with your article. I’d love my book to be published with a traditional publisher, but so far no takers. And in the meantime, my book is out there as I believe in the message. And yes, no-one has noticed my book yet, but if I cannot get validation, as you say, from a traditional publisher, I need to believe in it and go it on my own. (I realise it may not be any good.) But it’s that, or leave it to gather dust in a metaphorical drawer. And I poured my heart and soul into my book hoping it will make a difference. Sometimes there may be no choice!
You did not mention the low rates of Financial return for an author when traditionally published, nor do you mention the fact that authors rarely get the opportunity to check the accuracy of the book sale reports against the real accounts of the publisher. Nor do authors get the opportunity to retain rights ESP in world zones where the publisher does not operate as an example. Knowing or suspecting your trade publisher is cheating u, with holding rights the author could use, being useless at marketing and authors can now hire book packagers to do the slick things on the page & cover are all reasons NOT to waste time seeking a publisher.
Getting published is v expensive EGO boost IMHO
Thanks for your positive, uplifting message this morning. (Did I mention this post was NOT about self-publishing and that I did not want to encourage an us-vs.-them mentality?)
Thanks for YOUR truly positive and uplifting response, Rachelle:)
I’m pursuing traditional publishing because I feel like they add an instant “brand name” to my work.
I could go on forever about how publishers should really leverage their brands more often, but that’s for another day.
Too many of the self publishers are just in it for the money and they can’t or won’t get your book out there…
…and most self-publishers don’t even say they’ll do anything about marketing. I think many writers go into it “assuming” their small publisher will help market.
Exactly. While validation from writing professionals resonates with me emotionally as a reason to want to be published traditionally, the business side of me also is concerned with the promotion / distribution aspect
of publication. Of course I am working on building a platform, but I think a traditional publisher can offer me so much more than I can do on my own. I especially appreciate the expertise of publishers and agents. I am a neophyte (at best) in the world of publishing and I need mentors. Being part of a team really appeals to me–with me doing what I do best and agents, publishers and editors doing what they do best to the benefit of all.
Self-publishing companies have no stake in what happens to my manuscript after it’s published. As Josh brought up, they’re in it for the money. Well, of course, traditional publishers are too. The difference is: the traditional publisher’s name is on the book (so reputation comes into play) and the publisher has invested money and will be interested in getting a return on the investment. My idealistic self also hopes that the flesh and blood people connected with publishing the book are excited by it and actually want it to succeed.
I think that last sentence is demonstrated by you, Rachelle, when you get excited by getting a great deal for a client or by selling a book at auction.
I think many writers pursue traditional publishing assuming that the publisher will do a lot or all of the marketing. Since this seems to be less and less the case, and more that the author has to do most of the marketing, the old guard publishers are pushing authors toward self-publishing.
As mentioned above – if the author goes the traditional route, does most of the work and makes the least money, doesn’t this give one pause to consider why he or she shouldn’t go straight to independent publishing?
I’m not afraid of the work of self-publishing, but a traditional publisher has a better reach than I do on my own. I’ll take whatever route available to reach the audience for my writing.
My publisher only reaches NZ & Australia! I can publish to the world!
Not meaning to be snarky, but while authors can indeed publish to the world, would the world have any reason to listen (or read)? A traditional publisher who says, “We’ve published this book and it’s worth reading,” means something to a lot of readers.
You do realize it can be a year or more before the book is published, and another year before you earn money.
NY just moved too slow for a lot of us. And as for validation, sure. But those of us who have dealt with NY understand that most of those “widely read” editors assigned to new buys graduated from college last year and are trying desperately to live in NY on $26K a year.
I’m all for traditional publication as a sideline– did it myself when there was no alternative– but there’s one real advantage I see– validation or prestige. All boils down to that, unless you’re lucky and actually get editing and publicity and ARCs sent out and all that. (I seldom did, with 12 books by major publishers… never any publicity, little editing, very little money over the small advance, sigh.)
But some writers do get it all, the great collaboration with a great editor, the burnishing by marketing, a great cover… go for it!
Just understand– that’s the exception, not the rule. I know, no one will believe me.
I do realize it takes time…and that doesn’t discourage or dissuade me from pursuing traditional publishing. I’m not saying I would never self-publish anything, but it certainly will not be right now. As far as editors go, sure, they can be hired to edit for a fee, and hopefully you’ll have a nice, edited book to release to the world. Hopefully. However, hiring an editor who has no vested interest in my book once they cash my check isn’t something I’d care for. I’d much prefer a partnership, most especially with the just out of college editors trying to scrape a living on $26,000 a year…they’ve got a lot to fight for, wouldn’t you say? I’m not knocking self-publishing, it may be great, but one or two specific experiences with traditional publishing doesn’t preclude the success of others.
I am collaborative by nature. With a traditional publisher I know that others have a stake in making the project work. I don’t feel so alone. I like that.
I think a lot of people are like you, “collaborative” by nature. I resonate with that- I like being a team player.
But then an equal number of people see themselves as renegades or simply “independent” so self-pub is probably better for them!
My day job at a large financial institution has taught be the value of being a team player where I’m constantly working on collaborative projects. As writers, the stakes are high to turn out a quality product. I know I don’t want to go it alone.
I rarely comment on posts like this – I know very little about the trad-pubbed world :). But you seem to have a civil conversation going here, and I appreciate that, so I thought I might contribute my two cents.
Looking over from the indie author playground, I wanted to say that smart indie authors have great teams (and some include agents…).
The difference is the position you play. Indies need to be the team captain – and that’s not a role everyone wants or handles well. Recruiting awesome team members can also be a challenge, as can knowing when to shut up and listen. But putting out the book that is the result of that team effort? Watching that book find loyal, demanding readers? Lots of validation available, and not just for the lone cowboys :).
I like that teamwork experience, too, Olivia. I’ve also noticed that there comes a point when I can’t tell anymore if my novel needs more work. That usually happens to me in about the 5th or 6th draft. When my agent or an editor makes suggestions for revision, I’m always energized and excited to get the novel back on track.
I am seeking traditional publication for all the reasons you listed. The ones that resonate with me the most would be validation – people who know what they’re talking about feel my work is worth something, talented editors – people who know what they’re doing can always improve my work, and marketing efforts – people who have connections helping me get my book into readers hands, which is the ultimate goal. What an amazing honor it would be to have a publishing house backing my work!
1.) Because, at least today, “in person” bookstores are still important, and traditional publishers have a much better chance of getting your book “in” those stores across the country. Especially as a fiction author, I think (again, at least for now) this is still a super important piece.
2.) All your reasons listed!
3.) While I “like” to learn knew things and be very hands on most of the time, my golden nuggets of time that I carve ot of my day are better served trying to write good fiction rather than trying to learn how to “be” my own publisher.
I totally respect those that take the self-published route though. It’s just not for me at this point. (Never say never, right?!?)
I think having a traditional publisher is a wonderful goal for me as a writer. All your reasons why are reasons I agree with.
For me it is an elusive goal. But I will continue to pursue it. I know my writing has improved. The question for me is when it will be improved enough.
Self published? Yes I am. Published with a small on-line publisher as well.
Successful enough as a screenwriter? Yes again but I will never quit trying to get better, find a larger audience and I will always have goals to meet.
For some authors, traditional publishers is the a better choice.
For others, self-publishing is a better alternative.
As more people buying ebooks and less physical books, indie success stories will be more common.
For example, this partial list has 112 indie authors who have sold more than 50,000 ebooks.
With 70% royalties for books priced at $2.99 or above, 50,000 books sold at $2.99 means $102,000 in royalties.
Though for most self-publishers, they won’t sell nowhere near that.
an easy answer-MONEY
self-publishing a first book has no money associated with it.