The Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing
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Both traditional and self-publishing routes give authors the opportunity to share their stories with the world while building their writing careers. But which publishing path you pursue shouldn’t be decided on a whim.
There are disadvantages to working within the publishing industry just as there are for indie authors publishing online. Knowing the pros and cons of both publishing routes is the key to making the best choice for your writing career.
Last week, in the second installment of our publishing series, we broke down the path debut authors are likely to experience should they choose to pursue traditional publishing.
If you’re brand new to publishing and are unsure of how traditional book deals work, I encourage you to check out that article first. Then, come back to today's post for an in-depth look at the pros and cons of working within the traditional publishing industry. Sound good? Let's dive in!
The Advantages of Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing is often considered the most valid publishing option for aspiring authors.
And while I firmly believe that self-publishing is just as valid an option, there are indeed several advantages to traditional publishing that make it a more enticing option for many writers. Let’s break down those advantages today!
1. Literary agents.
As a traditionally published author, your literary agent does more than just shop your manuscript around to publishing houses in hopes of snagging you a book deal. Your agent is your champion. They fight on behalf of you and your manuscript to help you get the most out of your traditional publishing experience.
Agents negotiate book deals and subsidiary contracts, cash advances, royalty rates, and other business-related matters. They also help manage an author's income affairs after their book deals have been signed, make sure authors stay on top of deadlines, and provide them with advice and encouragement as they navigate the industry.
Perhaps most importantly of all, agents mentor authors as they build their writing careers, helping them achieve long-term success in publishing.
2. A team of dedicated professionals.
When an author inks a book deal with a publishing house, their book is assigned a team of professional editors, proofreaders, formatters, cover designers, marketers, and more that will help bring their book to life.
While self-published authors can (and should) hire professionals to help them as well, authors who choose traditional publishing don't have to pay a single dime upfront to work with their team.
3. No upfront costs.
In fact, traditionally published authors don’t have to pay any upfront costs to publish their books. Should any agent or industry professional insist you pay them any sum of money, run the other way, my friend. They're almost certainly trying to scam you.
4. Cash advances.
When an author signs a book deal, they'll likely receive a signing bonus called an advance. So long as the author fulfills their contract requirements, they are guaranteed to earn this advance regardless of how well their book sells after it’s been published.
Advances for debut authors tend to fall between $2,000 and $15,000 USD, depending on many factors, the biggest being the size and prestige of the publishing house. Advances are typically paid out in several installments over the course of a year, most often after the author reaches major milestones in their publishing duties.
5. Greater visibility and reach.
While it isn’t impossible for self-published authors to have their novels shelved in major bookstores, to negotiate international book deals and subsidiary rights, or to book author events like tours and readings, these opportunities are all far easier to attain when an author chooses to publish traditionally.
The visibility and reach traditional publishing provides can also help writers grow their careers faster than self-published authors, giving them a far greater chance of becoming a well-known name in fiction.
6. More time to write.
Self-published authors must coordinate everything involved in the publishing of their books, which can lead to far less time spent on the actual act of writing.
However, traditionally published authors don’t have to worry about organizing their book’s cover design, blurb, formatting, copy-edits, etc. because their publishing house has already assigned their book to a team of experts.
7. Greater opportunities for acclaim.
In addition to having a better chance of becoming a well-known author, writers who choose the traditional publishing path also have more opportunities to win book awards, earn starred reviews, and land on bestseller lists.
8. Marketing assistance.
While most traditionally published authors must still market their books, they do have the opportunity to organize marketing plans with the team of experts at their publisher.
Additionally, as traditionally published authors’ careers take off, it’s far more likely that they’ll receive additional marketing help as the publisher looks to capitalize as much as possible off of their success.
9. Less stigma.
Unfortunately, there are still many readers who refuse to read self-published books because of the stigma surrounding them, which leads many to believe that self-published books aren’t as high quality as those from big-name publishers.
There are also many readers (and I’m guilty of this as well) who simply don’t take the time to seek out self-published books. Publishing traditionally can help an author avoid this stigma and get their books in front of as many readers as possible.
The Disadvantages of Traditional Publishing
Whew! As you can see, there are quite a few advantages that come with pursuing a career in traditional publishing. But with those pros also comes a fair share of cons.
Let’s break them down below...
1. Lower royalty rates.
Unlike self-published authors, traditionally published authors don't get to keep all of the royalties from their book sales. In fact, an author won't even begin earning royalties until they make back their advance.
In other words, if an author receives a $5,000 bonus upon signing their book deal, the author must first earn back that $5,000 before they can lay claim to a cut of the royalties. And keep in mind that the $5,000 isn’t just $5,000 in total royalties...
It’s $5,000 of the cut the author would have received after the publishing house and agent have taken their own cuts. Which means the book might need to bring in upwards of $50,000 in profit before the author will begin receiving royalties.
Traditionally published authors also don’t receive 100% percent of their book's royalties. Both an author’s publishing house and agent will take their own cuts of the profit. Typically, an agent takes 15% of all royalties, while the publishing house’s cut will vary depending on the format, leaving the author to make about 10% on physical copies of their book and 30% - 40% on ebooks.
For a more detailed breakdown of the business of books, check out this excellent article from Alan Jacobson.
2. Infrequent pay days.
Publishing houses typically only pay out royalties twice a year, regardless of how well a writers’ book sells. These infrequent pay days can, in some cases, complicate an author’s financial life.
3. Loss of creative control.
Publishing houses almost always have final say in a book’s cover design, title, back cover blurb, marketing angle, and more. Additionally, major disagreements concerning the direction of a story can arise between editor and author, making for a fraught publishing experience.
4. Long publishing process.
When an author signs a book deal, their book is typically placed at the end of the publisher's publishing line-up, meaning it can take anywhere from 1 to 2.5 years for an author's book to finally arrive on shelves.
5. Hard barrier to entry.
Breaking into the publishing industry is extremely difficult. Writers can face dozens, even hundreds of rejections from both agents and publishing houses before their book makes it to print. Additionally, if their first book doesn’t sell well, it can be even harder for an author to land subsequent book deals.
6. Loss of rights.
Unlike self-publishing, when an author signs a traditional book deal, they give away their rights to their book (in some cases, only for a certain period of time). This can cause many complications for an author for a number of reasons, particularly should an author disagree heavily with their publisher or should the publisher not want to pick up additional books in their line-up.
7. Complicated contracts.
Any time an author signs with an agent or inks a deal for their book or subsidiary rights, complicated contracts come into play. In most cases, an author's agent will fight on their behalf to negotiate the best contract for everyone involved, but the tricky nature of legal contracts can always cause complications, especially if the author doesn’t understand their rights before going into the signing process.
8. The shifting industry.
The publishing industry is always changing. Market trends shift. Editors come and go. Members of an author's professional team switch houses, quit, get fired, or earn promotions. Publishing houses fold or merge. In some cases, the messiness that comes with the publishing industry can leave authors in a lurch, throwing a major wrench in their plans for their publishing career.
As you can see, traditional publishing truly is a give and take. Along with every fantastic advantage a traditional book deal provides, concessions must be made. But, of course, the same goes for self-publishing, which we’ll begin discussing in the next installment of our publishing blog series!
Do you think traditional publishing might be the right choice for you? That’s awesome! I highly encourage you to check out our upcoming articles on self-publishing before making your final decision. Self-publishing has many wonderful benefits that many writers don’t take into consideration before beginning to pursue publishing.
Choosing which publishing option you’ll pursue is one of the biggest choices you’ll make in your writing career. It will irrevocably shape the future of your writing, so understanding all of your options before making your final decision truly is key.
Sound like a plan? Check back next week for more information on self-publishing!