The Truth about Traditional Publishing

I’m not gonna lie… my hands began to sweat a bit as I started to write this article, mainly because the subject sounds so daunting. The truth? WHAT TRUTH? What are you going to expose about New York publishing??

Nothing, actually.

But I am going to drop a few truth bombs about traditional and indie publishing, along with expectations. I see it all the time and I hear it even more whispered at conventions.

“If I could JUST get a traditional contract!”

And it’s almost always paired with a gasp from the other person who proudly states, “Well, you don’t need them, I’m indie and proud of it!”

As they should be.

I’m not really sure where this whole “me versus them” thing came about, other than the fact that publishing wasn’t changing fast enough for indie* authors.  We weren’t getting book deals.  I personally had so many rejections from publishers that I wanted to give up. Nobody cared. Nobody wanted what I had to sell. Even after spending hours and hours online, researching publishing houses and agents, it just seemed that it was an impossible industry to break into unless you either had an agent or got lucky and found an editor who was willing to take a chance on your very first book.

Publishing is a business. And publishers stay in business because they make money. Money truly does make the world go round, and at the time no publisher would look at an indie author because–let’s face it–we were brand new and we didn’t have the numbers to back the investment.

It’s business, not personal, right?

Enter the golden age of Amazon, and all of a sudden: we can do it! We can publish, we can write our words, we can make careers out of this thing called being an author, and everything is perfect.

Except it’s not. NO system is perfect. Traditional publishing has its flaws just like indie publishing has its flaws.  So what are the facts? And how do you decide what’s best for your career?

That’s really what this article is about. It’s about your brand and where you want to take it, and let me just throw this out there right now: there is absolutely nothing wrong with going traditional, with wanting your books in stores. Just like there is nothing wrong with wanting to own your own business and stay indie and keep absolute control of your creative content.

So let’s talk about traditional publishing first. I used to think it went a little something like this (again, I was fresh out of college so bear with me here).

  1. You get a publishing deal.
  2. You sell millions of copies.
  3. The publishers love you.
  4. They fly you out to New York.
  5. You have dinner with Stephen King and you summer with Nicholas Sparks.
  6. The world is at your fingertips.

And all you have to do is write your book, and magically it gets shelf space worldwide! They make a poster cutout of your characters, and you get to sign it while laughing with your adoring fans.

So. Not. The. Case.

The real deal:

  1. You sign a contract.
  2. You sometimes get to approve cover art, sometimes they want to go a certain direction, and you don’t get a final say because you signed a contract that says they get a final say.
  3. You get an advance, but you have to earn out that advance and you aren’t really earning out on a high percentage, dang it.
  4. For the most part, unless you are with an Amazon imprint, you are going to be doing 90% of all the marketing, that means that, yes they pitch you too, but those buyers have to actually like your book (from the cover to the colors) in order for it to get shelf space. And a lot of the shelf space is paid for, reserved for their huge authors that they know will make them money.
  5. They may do a blog tour for you, or get you on a few really great features online, but you are the one that has to hit the pavement running and a lot of times you are investing your own money into ad campaigns in order to garner sales.

I’m not saying that any of the above is bad. I just think that there is such wisdom in having your hand in as many pots as you can gather. I also believe that it’s wise to have a print presence in larger box stores, but not everyone believes that way, and it’s cool. But I think there is a misguided assumption that traditional publishing is easier, when sometimes it feels harder because you don’t really get to see any royalties upfront like you would with indie publishing and, this is the kicker–you’re still doing just as much work as if you published the book yourself!

You have to ask yourself the question “why?”. Why do I want to do both? My answer was above: I want a print presence, and I love being able to write books for my publishers that are different than the books I have for my indie titles. I love working with different editors and getting fascinating advice from them. I truly love the traditional experience. That doesn’t mean I still don’t cry every time I get my edits back and eat an entire box of cookies while I’m trying to fix what Microsoft Edit is exposing.

Indie Publishing isn’t always better, nor is it easier. You have to pay for covers, editing, beta reading, formatting. You have to pay for access to NetGalley if you want to use it. And if anyone messes up, you can’t blame the publisher–you can only grit your teeth and fix it. But it’s a wonderful experience. Being able to birth a book and then hold its little hand as you launch it into the world. “Complete control” are two very beautiful words. And maybe that’s what you want as an author. But maybe not.

I think this topic makes people uncomfortable. Because I think a lot of us who are writing now still dream of seeing our books in stores, but sometimes feel shamed for it. There is always going to be an Anti-New York mentality, just like there is always going to be an Anti-Amazon mentality and I’m just going to go ahead and say it right now. I owe Amazon my life. They made it possible for me to do what I love.

There will always be issues with whatever platform you use to create books. Just like there will always be flaws within the traditional system or indie system. Pick your poison, because nothing is 100% perfect.

And remember that you are following your dreams and your heart. Don’t let others dictate the choice you make. This is your brand. Study what you want for your career and know that doing what’s best for you is never the wrong choice to make.

Until next time!



* (yes I still consider myself indie even though I’m technically a hybrid),