The All-Time Top Reasons to Pursue Big Publishing, Part 1

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So this is a quick, rather spurious post full of some rambling thoughts. But this is where my brain is and I'm hoping for some feedback from folks on this. It's an intriguing topic…

What are the arguments for pursuing traditional royalty-paying publishing? Some I know of are professional editing, design, & production. And these are usually great b/c corporate publishers tend to have some top-notch professionals. Of course, they're also overworked and understaffed these days, and they are working on dozens of books a year, so it's usually the most expensive projects that get the most attention. This holds all the way down the line too: sales and marketing, publicity and promotion. And with these, there's also the growing public disinterest in traditional advertising and selling methods. Big authors can do better on their own, why not small ones? Same principles for each.

Maybe a key is distribution. I know this can be a big one for mid-list authors who've maxed out what they can fulfill on their own. But with PDQ (check out Dan Poynter on this) and some great partnerships with self-publishers by the top distributors now, I'm not sure even this reason holds much anymore.

Advances can be nice, but they're really just loans and you pay them back out of your own royalties. And usually, you won't make it back as a new author, so you're out for any future deals. And if you do make it back, your royalty rate is lower than it would have been with a smaller or self publisher, so are you really better off with an advance? Most of the time, I'd have to say I've seen it being more of a liability to authors than a help.

Being on the shelves at B&N is a big draw. This is the cache reason. And I get it. It's not fun to have a book out no one can go and get at a bookstore. But just because it isn't stocked on the shelf doesn't mean they can't get it, and if people go in asking for your book, how many times do you think it takes for them to realize they may need to stock it? Maybe you can have friends in strategic places around the country help you out with this and save the hassle of hiring a publisher with a sales force.

What are some others I'm forgetting?

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11 thoughts on “The All-Time Top Reasons to Pursue Big Publishing, Part 1”

  1. What else? Maybe intangibles like collaborative relationships? Writing is lonely. Credentials? Stature? Reputation? Authors need all the help they can get as stepping stones to building the next book deal. But appreciate your out-of-the-box examination of the situation. I’m helping three authors face this decision. It’s hard.

  2. Anita, thanks. These are good reasons. And I realize I’m going to take A LOT of flak for this, may even get excommunicated from some publishing friends, but I’m sincere here. I have good collaborative relationships with people, many largely because of the cred I got working in big publishing. So I can’t forget this.
    But when it comes to an author just starting out, if the words speak for themselves, it seems easier now to build a reputation without the cachet of the establishment behind you. Also, the mindset you encounter in the big glass buildings can be very limiting, as I’m really finding out now.

  3. For me, the big one is validation. I want the gatekeepers to admit that yes, I actually can write. And I want potential readers to see that validation when they’re considering the book.
    I want to be edited by an experienced fiction editor, even if she doesn’t have time to be as thorough as she might like, because I want my book to be the very best it can be.
    Also, I can’t afford to self-publish, and don’t want the hassle of promoting and selling the book all by myself. I want the help of people who are experts at their jobs.

  4. Katherine, that’s it exactly. There’s a lot of legitimizing that happens in getting published with a big publisher. Trouble is, you have no guarantees of selling even with all those “experts.” And most people, when they hear a book is good, don’t ask if it was published with a royalty house or not. One could argue no one would hear of your book if you were just self-pubbed, but no. Good writing, good books stand out. And Kirkus and PW are reviewing self-pubbed authors.
    As for editing, I know plenty of freelancers who left big publishing and now edit for competitive fees.
    Maybe you can’t afford to self-pub a lot of books, but how about a few hundred to start? PDQ (print demand quantity) is affordable and eliminates the big up front expenses. I’m testing this out on a project now to see how it stacks up to trad publishing in quality. I already know the author will make 10x more per sale than he would as a new author at a royalty- paying house.
    I’ll be posting the results here soon. Stay tuned!

  5. In regard to your last comment Mick, please explain… (10x more?)I agree, royalties are sort of meaningless unless you are a big time author. However, as a writer who went the traditional route with my first book, I can order my book at author discount from Random House for $6, which leaves plenty of room for margin.
    I have a friend who self-pubbed with Lulu for a cost of $10 a copy. Her book is about the same size, paperback etc. as mine but feels the cost of print-on-demand gives the self-pub company most of the gain.
    New authors have to do most of the heavy lifting of marketing either way. So in money terms, it makes more sense to have a traditional publisher if you sell your book yourself, through speaking events and such. Are there self-publishing companies that bring the print/ship/costs down to $6 a book?

  6. I think the whole “gatekeeper” issue is huge, but I hope that over time, people will recognize that if you walk into a bookstore, you’ll see hundreds of books–who knows why they were all published? They don’t all have high standards of quality just because they were published by a traditional house. I’ve been frequenting inkpop lately–a site for teens to submit their writing. It’s so cool to see how much talent and creativity is out there, even though you know only a few of those kids will get published. The great thing is that they’re writing and already Internet-savvy enough to spread their message and get a following–all without a big publisher! They even create their own covers. I’m interviewing a 16-year-old on my blog who makes absolutely amazing covers for teens on inkpop. I’ve known people who started out with LuLu and were picked up by a traditional house, so I really think self-publishing is a valid way to get your foot in the door if you’re coming up against brick walls. I think a big draw for traditional publishers is that they come with a marketing plan–but anyone in the business knows that authors are having to do more and more when it comes to marketing anyway. So, while traditional publishing is ideal and wouldn’t we all love an advance, I think that this upcoming generation will find it less acceptable to be turned away by the gatekeepers when they can have their book available through Kindle (or whatever else) in no time whatsoever.

  7. What about the protective quality of going traditional? Contracts can serve to protect when more than one writing party is involved and traditional pub. has attorneys that specialize in this. Also, what if we write something slanderous, or untrue, or that hurts someones feelings just enough to sue us? Trad. pub. would have editors to root this out of a manuscript before it goes to press.

  8. I have plenty of thoughts on Traditional Publishing, but I truly just want to take some time to thank you Mick for your inspirational and encouraging messages at the 14th Annual Christian Writers Conference at your alma mater, Westmont. I heard plenty of appreciative remarks about you from our attendees as well. A recovering editor-chaser myself (I think watching a pit-bull mix hit a bumper helped my recovery), I thought it wonderfully refreshing to see you humbly reschedule a missed appointment.
    blessings, Columbus. :)
    Larry

  9. Susan, there are many factors, but books shouldn’t cost that much to print (paperbacks generally cost under $2 for big publishers, depending on quality and print run and a host of other factors). Check out http://www.frugalmarketing.com/dtb/cheaperprinting.shtml
    and I’ll be addressing this soon on the fuller website.
    Brandy! This is your heart, my sis! Follow it. Those kids are just waiting for your wisdom. Talk to Robin. :-)
    Carolyn, definitely, protective lawyers and contracts are a biggie. But they help AND hurt. And just as many times, I’ve seen rights held onto and licenses not pursued and all kinds of things the author is obligated to because of the contracts in place once the big publisher is in charge. And they are largely put in charge when you sign as a new author.
    Larry, you are hereby promoted to lookout. Forget the barnacles. I need you, man! Stick around…

  10. The only truly difficult aspect of self-publishing is marketing, but since authors are forced to do more of their own marketing anyway, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
    Royalty publishing may validate the idea that you’re “worthy” of being recognized and “completed” as a writer, but I’ve read enough novels to know: it does not. The high percentage of not earning back those advances indicates some major mistakes are being made by pub boards as to what people want to read or what constitutes “good” writing.

  11. It says a lot about the publishing industry now that you have to think of reasons to want to be published by the bigs. (The smell of a new book is mine, also having “Random House” on the spine.)
    But once upon a time, you had to argue that you weren’t braindead for going one of the nontraditional routes — small press, self-published, ebook, Creative Commons license. Now all the publishing models work for a their own varieties of writing, and the bigs are running after the market like Elizabethan court ladies enlisted against their will in a footrace. They’re so tied up in accounting rules that force them to pay taxes on unsold inventory and to get covers ripped off and sent back to them for refunds, in a world that wants to get most of its information stripped down and up to the minute. It’s obvious the whole world of publishing is in the midst of a transition, and how recognizable “big” publishing will be in 10-20 years is an open question.
    The only thing the bigs have going for them is newspaper reviews, since most reviewers won’t look at self-pubbed, and will hardly look at small presses. If there were some other way into the public conversation for fiction, the bigs would become even more irrelevant.

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