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September 13, 2021

Traditional Publishing - Pros and Cons

 

First...I did a thing...I signed up for TikTok. I didn't think I ever would, and have said as much, but I guess it's true when they say to "never say never," cuz I took the plunge.

Are you on TikTok? Follow me! I'll follow you back!

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NOTE: This post was originally a vlog (video), but I have updated it (2022) to be the script from that presentation instead. It's long but informative.



Why Might A Writer Choose to Publish Traditionally?

Well, there’s several reasons.

For me, I can say that I chose to traditionally publish because I can’t afford to self-publish, which can get quite expensive if you don’t have the means. The other reason I’ve decided traditional publishing is right for me is because I like having a team behind me, helping me every step of the way. While I don’t have money, that is priceless to me.


What Is Traditional Publishing?

Traditional publishing is when you acquire a book deal from a publisher through the process of submitting your manuscript to agents and or publishers.

Self-publishing is when you do everything yourself, meaning you're the publisher. Self-publishers are also called indie authors. Short for independent authors.

Hybrid publishing is when you use both paths depending on the project. You might self-publish one project or traditionally publish another one.

All publishing paths are valid though they have differences one is not better than the other which route you choose is always and only up to you. 


Types of Traditional Publishing:

The big five or big four are the major New York-based trad publishers, such as Hatchet Book Group, Harper Collins, Macmillian Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon Schuster.

Small independent publishers are publishers that are well small and independent of the big five. Some are bigger than others, while others are very small.

You can find them by checking out the latest edition of writer's market or by doing a Google search with something like “Small publishers that accept [fill in with the book’s genre].” If you’re looking for an agent first, same type of Google search. There’s a Literary Agent Market book as well. And you can also look at Writer’s Digest. They often highlight new agents. I’m friends with a blogger who interviews agents who specialize in children’s books (from picture books to young adult). Her blog is called Literary Rambles. You just may find the right agent for you by reading an interview.

Examples of larger small publishers include The Wild Rose Press, Entangled Publishing, and Carina Press, but there's a lot more out there. Throughout this presentation I'll highlight a few of my experiences with small indie publishers.


Caution! 

Hybrid publishers combine trad publishing with self-publishing. Essentially you pay some amount of money to use their cover artists, interior book designers, and editors, but you keep all of your rights and distribute your book yourself. Distribution means you upload your book to Amazon, Ingram Spark, Smashwords, etc. They don’t. What each hybrid publisher offers will differ.

Now, I’m not going to say definitely don’t use a hybrid publisher, but I will say if you are okay with paying money, I’d personally go all with self-publishing instead. You can find amazing cover artists, formatters, and editors by joining communities and getting recommendations from indie authors. Or…if you’re really after the benefits a hybrid publisher offers (mailing lists, inclusion in their catalogue), consider going all in with trad publishing. Now vanity publishers. Two words: steer clear. They ask for a lump sum of money from you so they can publish your book. Never pay a publisher to publish your book you don't pay real publishers a penny.



TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING PROS AND CONS


Time:

Con: It can take a long time to get a book deal or contract. So, if you don’t want to put in the time…or…the wait, you might want to consider self-publishing. However, if you are okay with waiting, even if you give that a timetable of 2 years or 5 years, stick it out. Keep learning. Keep growing your skills. Keep tweaking that query letter. Keep working with critique partners, and keep submitting.

First you have to do your research and find agents or publishers to submit to. When you submit it may take up to three to four months before you get a response if you do. If you get an acceptance and sign a contract with an agent, it'll take more time before you may get a publisher.

Some authors get an agent, but their agent fails to land a publisher for that specific book, for whatever reason. This happens. It sucks, but your agent can’t guarantee that publishers will want your book. They saw something in it, though, and that’s something to remember. Also, just because one book doesn’t attract the attention of a publisher doesn’t mean you and your agent have to part ways. You can continue to work with your agent and send them other projects you finish.

There’s the chance your agent may not want a specific book, again, this is all selective, but your agent may end up wanting to sign every book you create and do everything they can to help you land a publisher. It’s a partnership, which I think is a PRO. If you sign a contract with the publisher, it could take up to a year before your book is published. When you self-publish, you pick the timetable. Although I caution against rushing through the process, especially editing, in order to get your book out there faster.


An Agent:

Pro. You don't need an agent to submit to or publish With most small publishers. You can submit directly to small publishers like The Wild Rose Press, Entangled Publishing, Carina Press, and more.

Con: If you're aiming for one of the big five, they only accept agented submissions.

Pro: Your agent is your ally and they can help you go farther. You can go to your agent with any question or dilemma. You could find an agent who believes in your and your book and will fight for you and your book. Through working together, you’ll build a relationship that can last your entire career, one in which your agent helps you build.

And Con: Not all of these partnerships work out. There may be creative differences or you may have unknowingly signed with a dud. The good news is that you aren't stuck with this agent forever. You can walk away.


Rejections:

Writers are in the business of rejection, so we shouldn’t be surprised by them or let down by them. Editors, agents, and publishers can only select very few projects they like. It’s their process, and writing is ours. 

That’s not to say it’s easy or nice to get rejections. No, they suck. Each and every time. Even when you brace for them. Even when you accept them.

So con: rejections are inevitable.

Pro not all rejections are bad.

Now what the heck does that mean, huh?

Well, it means a few things. Many rejections are form rejection letters that say, “Dear so and so, thank you for submitting your manuscript, but it’s not right for me or my list at this time.” And they don’t say anything else. But...you may get the rare gem of a rejection that tells you what could be worked on to improve its chances. You may even get the offer to resubmit after you make the appropriate changes, which could very well lead to an acceptance. I also believe that an acceptance will come when it’s meant to (when your book is really and truly ready, which is not necessarily when you think it is ready. 

Take it from me, I’ve been querying a book off and on for thirteen years now (I don’t say that to scare you). During that time, I’ve revised it several times. And I’ve done two complete rewrites. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get a deal for it sooner, because it would’ve been a mistake to publish it before it was ready. Another thing that could delay that acceptance is the fact that you weren’t ready then. Things happen when they are meant to.

And finally, an acceptance will come when you find the right agent, yes, at the right time. Some authors strive for 100 rejections as a badge of honor (that’s when they feel they can truly claim they’re writers) or they use 100 rejections as a deadline of sorts, before they give up on a project and move on.

Of course, what you do, is up to you.


Word Count Restrictions And Requirements:

Con: Your story may be too long or too short.

All publishers and agents have word counts listed on their website that will differ from one to the next depending on what they accept. The word counts can go up to 120,000 words (genre depending). The minimum is calculated based on whether or not they accept novelettes and novellas and can be as low as 14,000 words. Obviously, this is a problem if you write really long books. Or if you write short stories. 

If you usually don’t run too long or too short, and stay around 50,000 up to say 90 or 95,000 words, then this may not ever be an issue for you.

For me, I actually ended up self-publishing a couple of short stories that are a part of my series because they were below the word count requirement and my publisher would’ve rejected them. Because they would’ve rejected them, I was free to self-publish them. Now, if I had wanted to self-publish them myself and say they were within my publisher’s word count requirement, because they are a part of my series, I would’ve had to submit those stories to them to give them the first chance at publishing them. If they wanted them, at that point, I just would’ve had to reject a contract. Then I would’ve been free to self-publish them. It’s this way because, in my contract, they have first rights to subsequent works for a series.

But again, this one may not be too much of a concern for you if you don’t run too long or too short. Otherwise, you may need to beef up your story or make significant cuts.


Contract:

I’m not going to clearly label a contract as a pro or a con, because many things inside one can be a pro or a con depending on what’s in it and depending on the author.

You can find many articles about publishing contracts and things to look out for online. They often list many things are cons, but not all of us believe the same things are pros and cons. The most important thing is that you look closely at the contract and understand it and agree to it before signing.

Do you keep the copyright?

Always keep the copyright in your name. This is one thing I will say to look at first and make sure that you retain the copyright and that you’re not assigning the copyright to the publisher. Always keep the copyright in your name, which involves filing it under your real name or pen name.

Usually contracts involve the author granting the publisher exclusive rights to print, publish, and sell their book throughout the world in eBook and print, as well as subsidiary rights including motion picture, television, video, and DVD. Sometimes that may include audio books.

Again, I’m not going to label that as a pro or a con. Those who are dead-set against trad publishing will see all of that as a con, while those who are not, or who are in the middle, may see be completely fine with those terms and even see them as a pro.


Copyright:

REMEMBER, YOU WANT TO MAINTAIN YOUR COPYRIGHT.

It is your job to file copyright when you traditionally publish and when you self-publish.

Pro or con? neither. It is what it is. With this, you are in the same boat as an indie author, because they have to file copyright, too.


Royalties:

One big deciding factor for many are royalty rates.

Pro: You might get an advance.

Con: Low royalty rates.

Royalty rates are a percentage of the sale of the book (usually net total), which traditionally range from 7% - 25% and differ between formats. For example: For one traditionally published eBook priced at $1.99 on Amazon, I receive 40% royalty rate on the net total, which is considered high. The net total is $0.70, and I earn $0.27. 

In the same scenario but with a self-published book, you get the net total of $0.70. I’m not going to show examples with print books, because then it’ll get even more depressing, because with one publisher my royalty rate for print is at that low 7% rate. So, although print costs more, after Amazon takes their big cut, which self-published authors have to deal with as well, and then my publisher takes their part, I get chump change. Now you can see why this is a con.

However, publishing either way may not ever reward you with a ton of money, even if you self-publish. So, if you’re coming into publishing hoping to strike it rich or earn enough to live off of…I wish you luck. Sincerely, I do. Now enough of the doom and gloom. On to the more creative side and more pros, as well as cons.


Title:

Con: The publisher could change the title of your book. You might not like the new title or you might like it more after it grows on you.


Cover Art:

Pro: you don't have to pay a penny for cover art creation.

Con: you don't have as much control over the outcome.

However, you have the chance to get across your vision in the beginning. You can also reach out to the publisher if you receive the cover art and there’s something wrong with it. With The Wild Rose Press, I get a form to fill out that is later given to the cover artist, so I am able to convey what I want and hope for.

A publisher has the right to approve the final cover, but the author should like it and approve it, too. Keep in mind that publishers won’t make changes to the cover art if your concern is that the models don’t look like your characters. However, if the cover doesn’t jive with the genre or doesn’t match the other covers in your series, your publisher would most likely work with you and the cover artist to fix this. 

When it’s time for you to work with a cover artist, tell him/her everything you possibly can, as most probably won’t read your book. Giving the artist the blurb to read to get a feel for your story is often a good idea.

Time and setting: this is especially important for historical books or books set in foreign places.

Tone and mood: example dark and romantic.

Important elements: If your book is heavy with magic, your cover can reflect that. Also think of important visuals that relate to your story. For example, a sword or necklace for urban fantasy, a bridge or road from your story’s setting, even seasonal or weather elements count, such as snowflakes, flames, or holiday d├ęcor.

What does your hero or heroine look? Include age, ethnicity, hair/eye color, and their physique. But remember that the image most likely won’t match your vision. That can’t be helped. A cover artist can’t get the models on the cover to look exactly how you imagine them to be in your head.

Do you like certain covers? Do you have an idea about what the cover could look like? This is where you can give great detail about a scene or scenery as well as font color that might look good.


Interior Design And Formatting:

Pro: You don't pay a cent for this when you traditionally publish.

Con: With self-publishing, if you find a really good formatter or learn how to do it yourself, you can add pretty images before each chapter and play with the font.


Editing:

Pro: You do not pay the editor.

In fact, agents and publishers prefer that you do not have your book professionally edited because they want to work on it with you. They will have their own ideas on what needs to be done or fixed, which could be different from what the editor you paid had suggested. Also, you will hear they say that it’s an unnecessary cost. You don’t need to have a book edited before you begin the submission process. Just have it as good as you can get it through the help of beta readers and critique partners and self-editing. 

Working with an editor can be nerve-wracking. You don’t know what they’ll say about your story or ask you to change. It can be especially worrisome if you’re a new writer, inexperienced, or have never worked with an editor before.

When you get a publishing contract, you will find that your editor is your new best friend. You will work closely with your editor to perfect your book, and you will go to your editor with concerns and questions. You have to be able to trust your editor, and they have to be able to trust you. This is very much a relationship, but please don’t tell him/her about your bad date...keep it professional and all conversation geared toward your book.


The Typical Editing Process:

Your editor will review your manuscript and send it back to you with their edits. When you open the document, you’ll most likely see a lot of Track Changes where the editor cut out words, fixed spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. You’ll also see comments on the side. These comments can be for anything. Some editors stick strictly to pointing out the things that need to be fixed, such as awkward phrasing or point of view issues, while others like to highlight things they like. Try not to panic when you see all the markings. Tell yourself that once you address the editor’s concerns, you’ll have a far more beautiful manuscript than you started out with. Then take a deep breath and begin with the first comment or change. After you finish going through your manuscript, send it back to your editor.

What if you don’t agree with your editor?

Talk it out. You can usually come to an agreement. Through talking it out, you may also realize your editor is right and understand their suggestions or changes.

But what if your editor is slacking?

What if you emailed your editor and haven’t heard back in a week? 

This is when it’s great to have a company at your back. You can go to the publisher or the president (or both) with any concerns you may have. They encourage this! You won’t get into trouble or be black-listed for reaching out when you have a problem with your editor. Just remember to keep your correspondences professional. 

Editing can involve three or more rounds before the book is set into a galley which is usually a pdf, sometimes an actual print book. Reading through your manuscript during each round and for each galley is crucial, since sentences get altered throughout the editing process. And you may have even needed to fix some scenes. During the editing rounds, you can tackle a lot, but during the galley phases, the goal is to address smaller issues, like typos that may have slipped by. The galley is not the time to make huge changes to scenes or chapters. 

Then the galley goes off to a proofreader. You will have the chance to review it again.

Finally you approve the galley and it moves down the line. Soon after you will receive ebook copies: pdf, mobi, and epub, and a publication date.

Pro: You have an entire editorial team behind you.

Now, that doesn’t mean that your book will be 100% error free. That’s not possible, even with multiple eyes on your manuscript, even with a professional editor. And this goes for self-publishing, too. The most an editor can achieve is a 95% error-free manuscript. In the editorial community, a 5% error rate is acceptable. That can seem like a big amount, but personal error rates can be lower and think about the hundreds or thousands of errors that are caught.


Team Effort:

Pro: you're not in it alone you will have a publisher, a president, your editor, proofreaders, cover artists, formatters, a blurb committee. With The Wild Rose Press, they have a “Blurb Committee” that reviews all the blurbs. There may not be a “Blurb Committee” at every small publishing house. Your editor or publisher may be the one who works with you to get your blurb just right. Either way, you will have help with your blurb for more people than just yourself and possibly beta readers.

When you self-publish, editors don’t usually edit or look at blurbs.

You will also have a release team and marketing team.

Now, you do have a few of these things when you self-publish (such as an editor, proofreader, cover artist, and formatter), but with traditional publishing, you have more at your disposal.


Review Copies:

Your publisher will give you eBook copies of your book that you can hand out to reviewers or advance readers. With some larger small publishers, you may get actual print copies. Whether or not your publisher sends out review copies depends on the publisher. So, there’s a chance that you might be in the same boat as indie authors and sending out review requests and copies yourself.

Therefore, this is neither a pro nor a con. It is what it is.


Marketing:

It’s perfectly fine to not want to market. Having written, created, and released your work into the wild can be the prize. Nothing more has to matter. But please don’t be disappointed by the outcome if you don’t put in the marketing effort. If you don’t want to market at all, be okay with a smaller outcome. If you want more, you have to do more. BUT don’t exhaust yourself. Find a balance so you can market and continue to create, which is your purpose.

Authors are expected to promote their own books and put in marketing effort.

For many, that’s counted as a con because they come in to trad publishing thinking that they won’t have to market their book at all, that the publisher will handle all of that for them. And, if you landed one of the “Big 5” and they see a lot of potential in your book (meaning they can earn a lot of money of it), they could dish out money to market your book and may develop a big marketing plan. However, that’s not the case for many. And, again, that’s with the “Big 5.”

With other independent publishers, they don’t have the budget or time to market every single book they publish. It’s your job to do that, meaning you’re, once again, in the same boat as indie authors.

What might a publisher do when your book is released?

A few tweets, a couple of Facebook posts, an Instagram posts, and if they have a newsletter or a mailing list, as they should, they'll mention your book in the issue that goes out closest to your release date. Unfortunately, that’s most likely it.

Now, is this a pro or a con?

Honestly, for me, it’s neither. You have to market you book just like indie authors do. It is what it is.


Sale:

When you self publish you can put your eBooks on sale for 99 cents whenever you want to by changing the price of the eBook yourself. When you traditionally publish, you have to ask the publisher or marketing director to do this. While you can't do it yourself it's not difficult to ask and publishers are usually accommodating.

While some authors may see this as a con, because you can’t just do it yourself the moment you decide, I personally don’t view this as a con. It’s right in the middle. I have no problem setting my books with The Wild Rose Press on sale.


Audiobooks:

Some traditional publishers may want the rights to audio books, but they may not end up ever creating an audio book for it. That is a CON.

With that said, some traditional publishers don’t include audio book rights in their contracts, so when it comes to retaining more of your rights, this is a PRO.

So, this one pretty much balances itself out.




Both publishing paths have pros and cons. All you can do is look at all of them and weigh each pro and con to your own personal views. Some cons may not bother you. Some pros may not mean as much. Everyone is different.

There are 8 pros here, and 8 cons. Perfectly even, and I did not do that on purpose. This list is not exhaustive, though. I encourage you to do more research. Also, I didn’t list the items that I labeled as “it is what it is,” or things that are equal between the two publishing paths, or the things that balanced themselves out.


Thank you so much for checking out this post!


14 comments:

Liz A. said...

You'll have to tell us how you like Tik Tok. I've been pondering jumping in, but I barely check my Instagram, so...

Tyrean Martinson said...

I can't quite get my mind wrapped around TikTok yet, but keep us posted on how you like it!

Natalie Aguirre said...

I've heard that BookTok is very popular, and a great way to get exposure for your book if a book reviewer on BookTok discusses your book. I haven't taken the plunge because I don't even have enough time for Twitter or Facebook with all the time I spend on my blog.

Chrys Fey said...

After I have some more experience with it, I’ll do a post about TikTok. :)

Chrys Fey said...

I’ve posted on TikTok but haven’t scrolled or watched anything on there. I’m still experiencing some resistance to it. lol

Chrys Fey said...

BookTok is very popular. I’m amazed at the thousands of followers authors I know have there. Far more than other social media platforms, but some authors post 2-3 times a day, and I don’t have that energy. I don’t have the energy to post once a day on TikTok, which is the least amount recommended to build a platform there. Those suggestions are just crazy. Social media and “being and staying relevant” asks too much of us. It’s very ableist.

Denise Covey said...

Brave girl. There is just so much social media I can take. Still, TikTok is certainly a shiny new thing. The number of followers you have is amazing.

Toi Thomas said...

I haven't ventured on to Tik Tok yet. I still feel like I'm trying to understand instagram. Still, very exciting to see you expanding onto new platforms.

Jeff said...

I haven't even looked at Tiki's Tok! I tend to only publish online videos of sermons, but early in the pandemic, I did publish some poetry of mine (and others) that I read in a kayak. I'll have to come back and watch your video.

https://fromarockyhillside.com

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Chrys - I am beginning to feel very social media old! But so be it ... life goes and I watch with amazement - I definitely couldn't keep up with things. I've just read an article on BookTok - that certainly ticked a lot of boxes I could see were relevant in today's world ... I'll be interested to see how you go with it. There's so much going on - but anything with books in gets my approval! Thanks - I'm sure your publishing post is very informative too and will be helpful to many. Cheers and good luck - Hilary

Chrys Fey said...

On TikTok, I have like 10 followers. lol

Chrys Fey said...

I trying it out to see what it’s like. At least I’m not getting sucked into it and scrolling endlessly as I do in Instagram. I just pop into TikTok, post, and then leave. I don’t quite understand TikTok’s home page where they show me videos cuz they show me people I don’t follow.

Chrys Fey said...

I don’t know if that was a typo or not, but Tiki’s Tok made me chuckle.

Chrys Fey said...

I feel very social media old at times. I never thought D join TikTok because it wasn’t for me…too hip. lol. It BookTok can be a powerful force, so here I am. Or…there I am. lol