Tag: traditional publishing

What Publishers Do and Don’t Do

What Publishers Do and Don’t Do

I had a run-in recently with someone on a writing group on Facebook. The individual was stomped by the admins of the group, but the discussion is something that sits ill with me and a subject that needs to be addressed. I may have talked about it years ago in this space, but it’s something that bears repeating.

The row was over the fact that authors must market their books, and publishers don’t market your book for you beyond a few specific avenues. This author was utterly aghast that I was saying publishers don’t do that, and got quite haughty over it, claiming to be some kind of bigwig with an agent and a traditional publisher and how dare I, a peon, question them. (Insert gagging noises here.)

Too many authors in the world fail to understand what a book publisher does and does not do for its authors, and it’s something that leads to major issues with authors and publishers, and everyone walks away frustrated from the experience and feeling as though their expectations were not met. This lack of understanding is also one of the major reasons new authors’ early books may flop, even with a publisher’s help.

To start with, to be a publisher of any repute, regardless of the model, publishers (whether traditional, hybrid, or otherwise) must have the following:

  • Acquisitions based on merit.
    This means an acquisitions editor who reads pitches, determines if something is the right fit for the company, and then decides whether or not to pick up the manuscript. Every company has slightly different criteria they look for in a book, and they’ll have differences in genre, preference, and so on. But either way, someone is actually looking at the manuscripts and deciding whether or not it’s a good fit.
  • An editorial process with at least one editor.
    The editorial process at Insomnia has several rounds of editing with a project’s lead editor. This will look at things like word choice, structure, sentence composition, removing excess words, clarifying confusing passages, fact checking as needed, punctuation, and so on. Then the book moves to a secondary editor who looks over it for any spelling/punctuation errors that may have been missed the first time. This happens again after the book has been typeset to ensure the maximum possible cleanliness of the manuscript.
  • Professional-grade typesetting.
    Whether for print or e-book, typesetting is extremely important, and doing it properly really can make or break a book. It’s a skill in and of itself, and while the skills for typsetting an ebook and typesetting a print book are quite different, either one or both are absolutely necessary. If you want to know how good their typesetting is, do a glance inside on their books listed on Amazon.
  • Good cover design.
    Sure, the old saying says not to judge a book by its cover, but a terrible cover won’t sell books. If all their book covers look like an eighth-grade Photoshop job, run the other direction. While not every company has the money for expensive cover design, any decent publisher will put out covers that at least look like they belong on a bookshelf and not at a garage sale.
  • A solid method of distribution.
    Distribution for most of us publishers means a combination of Ingram (or many other such book distributors) and Amazon. If your publisher is distributing only through Amazon’s KDP (formerly Createspace) services, that doesn’t mean they might not be a good seller, but it does show that they’re on the small side. Bookstores will not order through Amazon, so that’s something to be aware of. Ingram is one of the biggest distributers in the world, so any bookstore can order from them. While there’s no guarantee your book will end up in a brick-and-mortar store, having the option is important.
  • Provides an ISBN
    This is pretty self-explanatory. Your publisher should provide your book an ISBN (or multiple in the case of multiple versions of the book).

Now, you see this list of things publishers ought to provide if they’re to be considered legitimate, and you see what’s not on it?


This may come as an unpleasant surprise to folks, and for that I’m sorry, but publishers don’t typically do much in the way of marketing for authors. Those who do will do things like taking out occasional ads on Amazon or Facebook, and they’ll try and get your book into things like BookBub, which is a long shot by all accounts. This means that the marketing will fall to you, the author.

You will have to get out there (metaphorically during the pandemic, please) and sell your book. Your publisher will support this as best they can, but they cannot and will not do it for you. Even if you’re lucky enough to be picked up by an agent and a major publisher (one of the Big Five), they’re not going to do all your marketing for you. Sadly for all of us, writing books is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation. You can’t just get a book deal, publish it, and then do nothing and wait for money to roll in. Lightning may strike, and you may make sales, but I wouldn’t rely on it.

Sadly for all of us, writing books is not a set-it-and-forget-it situation.

E. Prybylski

The reasons for this are multi-fold, but it boils down to two key points: your publisher won’t want to spend the money on it (or maybe can’t) and readers don’t want to hear from publishers. While your publisher may well spring to have your book put into Ingram’s mail-out catalogue or will do some targeted Amazon marketing, this cannot replace the benefits of having the author talking about their book. Your publisher will not book blog tours for you and while they may work to help get your foot in the door at things like radio stations, the station is more likely to respond to an author rather than the publisher. No joke.

Hiring a publicist is extremely expensive, and small to mid-sized publishers cannot foot that bill. And the staff who’s on is often busy with other projects, so they cannot devote their time to marketing your book for you because they have other books to edit, design, and publish. At my company, for example, I am the head editor, typesetter, cover designer, and webmaster (insomuch as I poke at it every so often and hope I don’t break things).

Every book we produce comes through me, and once the book is out, I’m onto the next project. While I may take time to help an author with pre-release marketing and will make an effort to put them on my newly-minted podcast and let them give a lecture to my weekly writing group, I can’t do much more than that except maybe send a couple emails and do some cover mock-ups. I just don’t have the time because the next book is coming down the pipe and I have multiple clients hiring me for editing and coaching.

I’m not trying to complain to you about my workload, but you can see that I have no room to put another hat on the towering number I am already wearing. Most small publishers are in the same boat. In the bigtime (Big Five) they will assign you publicists, but that doesn’t mean you get to sit on your hands. In fact, you are expected to do most of the same things you’d be doing without a publicist. The real difference is that you will have access to expert advice, but you’re expected to run your own Facebook page, Twitter feed, and website and maintain an email list. While the publicists at a Big Five publisher may create a press kit for a new author and use their ties to get them articles in larger news outlets and maybe land them a spot on an NPR show, authors are still expected to use their own networks to market their book.

One of the unexpected surprises of being a new author is how much goes into promoting your books. I was lucky to be published by Penguin’s Putnam imprint for my debut novel, The Golden Hour. Yet even with the backing of a hefty Big Five publisher, I discovered that delivering the manuscript is just the beginning.

Todd Moss

Don’t believe me? Todd Moss, author of the Washington Post bestseller, “The Golden Hour” has a blog post on the subject (and she’s where I got the information on what the Big Five do for publicity.

In short, like any business venture you undertake, authors are expected to market it. While writing is romanticized (and rightly so), the less fun part of being a success is doing things like marketing, and learning how is very much available to us these days. While we might not all have publicists with the connections of Penguin, we can learn how to leverage what we do have and create a larger network for ourselves in order to boost sales.

While writing is romanticized (and rightly so), the less fun part of being a success is doing things like marketing.

E. Prybylski

It’s very possible to write an incredible book and not be lucky enough to have it sell if you aren’t willing to market the heck out of it and work hard to that end. As with many things in life, it’s not enough to be good at what you do–even great at what you do–you have to make sure everyone else knows you exist. After all, if they don’t know you exist or know that you’ve written a book (or books), then how can they possibly buy it?

Caveat Emptor

Caveat Emptor

If you punch “writing advice” into Google you’ll come back with about a billion results with almost as many opinions. Heck, this is true for even me. The key here is to research everything and don’t take anything for granted, no matter who it comes from. Writing, like many arts, has many different parts. I won’t tell you there’s “no wrong way”, because there absolutely is, but there’s no singular correct path. Every writer’s journey is a little different, and this is part of what I mean about not taking anything for granted.

There are many paths to success in writing. Self-publishing, traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, different genres and marketing techniques, and so on. Also, it depends on what you define as “success”. While I think all of us would love to see our name in lights, is success writing a book that people enjoy, even if a million people don’t buy it? Does success mean making back your investment? Does success mean supporting yourself through writing? All of those are valid definitions. So I’d start with defining what success is to you. Once you know, you can take steps to head that way. Those steps might be different for each author, too. Do you like blogging? Do you hate it? Do you enjoy social media? Do you intend on visiting conventions to sell your book? Also, different genres require different marketing techniques.

The place I’d use caution the most is whenever someone claims their way is the only way or speaks in absolutes. “Self-published authors are all hacks!” or “Traditional publishing is worthless and dead!” They might be opinions, and even supported ones, but someone speaking in absolutes opens themselves up to question. Some absolutes are universal (like many rules of punctuation, but not even all of those are universal!), but there aren’t many of them. The only absolutes I know of are things like making sure your work is edited and not publishing first drafts.

So what are authors to do when they have so much information and nothing absolute? Read as much as you can and learn everything available. Formulate your own opinions, and learn about the industry you intend to enter. The key is educating yourself, so read all different types of blogs and information. The more information you have, the more accurate your understanding will be. It will also help you uncover the path that best suits your, personal walk through the publishing industry. There are many wonderful blogs, articles, and publications out there you can learn from, and I encourage you to explore as many of them as you can. It’s a fun and interesting way to spend a few hours. Just make sure you don’t get so lost in research that you forget to actually write!

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part II

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part II

Continuing yesterday’s discussion of what the real differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing are, let’s step into the nitty-gritty and lay out the pros and cons (I was tempted to write “prose and cons”) so we can compare the two side by side.

Now that we have looked at the steps required in putting together a book, let’s consider the differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I am, through this list, going to assume the publisher the author works with is a legitimate publisher who will do right by the author. There are, as I so often say, sharks in our waters. Those sharks can take many forms, so I’m not going to address all of them here.

Who Pays

Traditional Publishing: The publisher pays for the full costs of the publication process.
Self-Publishing: The author is on the hook for approximately $10,000 worth of services, assuming they do it properly.

Creative Control

Traditional Publishing: It varies from publisher-to-publisher, though the publisher retains final say over creative decisions as well as over editing.
Self-Publishing: For better or for worse, the author has full control over every aspect of their work. This means they will, in theory, be able to get the exact cover they want and not have to adjust any of their work they do not want to.


Traditional Publishing: The publisher handles distribution of the book to bookstores and through online outlets. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are more likely to work with a corporate entity.
Self-Publishing: Authors will have to woo bookstores and find their way through distribution on their own. This means they will be able to choose where their book is sold, but brick-and-mortar bookstores are often hesitant to work with unrepresented authors.


Traditional Publishing: Authors may expect to receive 7-15% royalties on print book and 40-55% royalties on print book. This may be off list (the price it’s listed at through booksellers) or net (the amount the publisher receives after the distribution channels take their bite).
Self-Publishing: Authors receive 100% of their profits. This is one of the driving forces in why many authors choose self-publishing. I may write a blog post on this later because it’s not as pretty a number as you might expect a lot of the time.


Traditional Publishing: The publisher takes full advantage of all industry marketing channels it has access to and often coaches the author through things like building an author website and how to handle social media to their best advantage. They also approach and pay for services like BookBub (which is expensive). They may also design and provide marketing materials like bookmarks, postcards, fliers, mailers, and other pieces of promotional material.
Self-Publishing: Authors must learn how to market their book on their own and pay for all services associated with it. Some outlets will be skeptical of self-represented authors because of the amount of contact they receive from authors on a daily basis.
NOTE: Authors MUST be an active part of their promotional team. No one will promote their book with more passion and excitement, and readers these days are hungry to interact with their favorite authors. A publisher can provide tools for authors to promote their book, but authors still must do legwork. 

Access To Experts

Traditional Publishing: The people helping you along the way with your manuscript have been vetted by the publisher and are experts in their field. They can be trusted to do what is best for your book and know the industry in and out.
Self-Publishing: The author must use their own judgment to decide whether or not the person they are looking to hire is going to best represent their book or do the desired task.


Traditional Publishing: The author must give up certain rights to the publisher to enable them to put those rights to best use as well as make a profit for the publisher.
Self-Publishing: The author retains all rights to the book.

Perceived Validity

Traditional Publishing: The author is seen as an author and someone who is an authority in their field or at least someone worthy of paying attention to. This can help an author stand out a little from the crowd.
Self-Publishing: Self-representing authors often struggle against the idea that they self-published because they were unable to gain the interest of a publisher. Many channels of marketing and distribution channels will be closed to them as a result.
Note: This stigma will linger as long as poor-quality books are churned out by the thousands every day by self-published “authors”. Amazon is working to establish quality control on their books, but with the sheer volume it is almost impossible. Yes, there are poor-quality books produced by publishers, and indie publishers struggle to throw off the stigma as well. As much as we might not like it, however, the stigma that indie authors are less valid than traditional authors is a very real part of the industry.

As you can see, there are a number of factors authors should weigh before jumping into the publishing process, and all of these are valid factors. I know the rights and royalty part of the equation leaves a lot of writers feeling like they’re on the short end of the stick, and I addressed that in a previous post. However, the benefits of traditionally publishing are considerable.

However, in my opinion there is a distinct line between who should self-publish and who should traditionally publish.

If the author has good business savvy and has researched the industry enough to understand what they need to do, and they have the money to do it properly, then I would suggest that person self-publish. At that point they are able to provide for themselves almost everything a publisher can, and they can make good decisions on the direction of their book.

Conversely, if the author does not have a strong head for business, marketing, or other aspects of the book together, or they don’t have the money to invest in the book to make it the best it can possibly be, I recommend considering traditional publishing. Having a publisher guide them through the steps, adopt the financial burden, and help them ensure their book’s success in the broad market.

There are probably more areas that I have not mentioned or discussed, and if you feel I missed something please let me know in the comments! I would be happy to amend and add to this to explain things folks are struggling with.

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part I

Traditional vs. Self Publishing Part I

There are lines in the sand, and authors everywhere are examining the decision of how to publish differently than ever before. The change in the modern landscape of the industry is a significant one, and with the rise of e-books and outlets like Amazon and Smashwords authors have unprecedented access to tools only publishers possessed less than a decade ago.

With the option of self-publishing, you’ll hear a great deal of argument over which method is superior to the other, but that’s the wrong way to view the decision. One isn’t empirically better than the other for all authors in all situations. Each author must weigh their individual needs and wants and select the path that best suits them.

Let me say that again: Each author must consider his or her different needs and wants and make an educated decision.

What I mean by “educated decision” isn’t just reading a bunch of opinion blogs and rolling from there. Study the industry and know what is required to get a book to print. Understanding the process, and the inherent costs, will do a great deal to help you make the correct choice for you.

This post is going to be a two-parter because of the amount of information inherent in making this decision. I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much at once, so let’s start by looking at the process of publishing a book and the steps required to get it from manuscript to print.

  1. Editing
    After the manuscript is, ostensibly, in its final form, it should pass by at least one if not two sets of eyes. This may mean hiring an editor freelance or working with an in-house editor if you have found a publishing company. The editing process may happen in several rounds including the final proofread where everyone combs the manuscript for any typos or errors found.
  2. Typesetting
    After editing, the book goes to a typesetter. This process is different depending on whether the book is being put into print or e-book or both. The different formats have different requirements that must be met by the person doing the formatting. This process may also include interior design. If you are producing a non-fiction this may be the time when you add photos, asides, graphs, and other images to your work if this applies.
  3. Cover Art
    This is pretty straightforward, though I will say in the strongest manner possible do NOT make your own cover unless you are a designer. So many authors fall flat on this part of book design because they either do not want to pay the money to hire a professional or they are convinced that they are able to put together something that is “good enough”. In the cutthroat world of publishing “good enough” isn’t. Readers are jaded, and your cover art must stand out in the crowd in a good way.
  4. Printing
    After the book has been assembled, a print book must be sent to a printer. The most common printers for indie presses and authors these days are LSI/Ingram and CreateSpace. Both are good options, and have guidelines for uploads. Ingram is a more professional printer designed to accommodate offset print runs for large orders (1,000 books or more), but it costs money to upload revisions to your document.  Ingram also has a superior bookstore distribution system to CreateSpace, so that is something you will want to consider.
  5. Marketing
    The least fun part of the whole process, marketing is a necessary evil to make sure your readers discover you. I could write volumes about marketing and its importance, but I’m not going to dig into it here. Suffice to say it is an important part of writing a book.

All of these steps, as you may realize, cost money. Paying editors, cover designers, interior designers (if needed), typesetters, and then doing marketing are not a cheap collection of professionals. According to the venerable Dan Poynter, and my own experience, the cost of producing a book rests around $10,000. While you may be able to skirt by on some of these steps by doing it yourself, it is not advisable to try and cut corners too much or else you end up with poor quality books that will not please readers, display your skill and talent to your best advantage, or sell copies.

Looking at the process–regardless of whether you are self-publishing or traditionally publishing– should give you a better perspective to approach the effort of publishing your book. Most authors, when they begin the process of writing, don’t have the end product in their head beyond a nebulous idea of a title on a shelf at a bookstore. That’s not a bad thing, but when you come to the end of the writing/editing process and have your finished copy in your hand the “well now what?” question is the most often one I encounter.

Now that you know more about the steps you have to take to go from manuscript to print, we can begin the conversation (tomorrow) about where the real differences between self-publishing and traditional publishing lie.


The Importance of Social Media

The Importance of Social Media

Social media has revolutionized how we relate to each other as a culture and a society. I can share my thoughts, impressions, feelings, and silly photos with the entire world if I want to. Not that the entire world cares, but I can, which is unprecedented. I’m thirty, so I’m old enough to remember the dawn of internet usage as a home application (and I have the stacks of old AOL disks to prove it), and I remember joining Facebook sometime during college. Now I think I talk more to my friends on Facebook than I do face-to-face. Now, I’m not here to complain about social media’s presence in our lives, but I want to talk about how writers and professionals need to view social media.

Most of us have heard people say, “I’ll post what I want. It’s my wall.” They are correct on that score. Far be it from me to censor folks, but there are certain things we need to be aware of before we pound away at our keyboards.

Your writing is being judged.
As writers, we know the importance of language. If you don’t, then perhaps you should think about that a little longer. Our first customers when we release a new book are often our friends and family who wish to encourage us and see us succeed. It’s not a dirty thing to think or say, either. However, if your usual posts on social media more closely resemble a teenager’s texting habits then you are going to put them off. They might buy the book because they love you, but they won’t be expecting good writing.

This also goes for posts in groups. I don’t care if you are writing from your phone, if you are posting with impossibly lazy grammar or, worse, using netspeak, it closes the door. I lose interest in what you have to say because that shows that you are not willing to put effort into communication which makes me think your writing will reflect that attitude.

Most people won’t care about a few misplaced commas or typos when communicating on social media. I know I sure don’t. My blogs have them, too, because I don’t hire a copyeditor to go over all of them before posting, and I usually am writing out my thoughts rather than trying to polish articles. However, I make an effort to write using good grammar and punctuation because it suggests that I put my money where my mouth is.

Your content is being judged.
As much as your social media pages are your place to express yourself, you need to consider how you are using them. If you are using a fan page to communicate with potential readers and clients, then what you post on your personal page (assuming you use proper privacy settings) isn’t as much of a concern. However, if you use your personal page to communicate with clients, other authors, and readers, you will want to take into account how much of your personal life you want to reveal, what type of content you want to share with your network.

For example, I don’t post a great deal about politics or religion on my page because I don’t want to invite argument, and I don’t want to upset my friends and network. Now, that is a personal choice and not a business requirement. I don’t hide my personal views, but at the same time I try to not bring up topics on Facebook that I wouldn’t at a cocktail party for the most part. I also try to avoid cursing on my page because, again, it’s poor manners in a business setting.

Different rules apply to different types of writers, too. If you write erotica and people are shocked that you write about sex on your Facebook page then they aren’t your target audience anyway. Unless it’s your Aunt Thelma and her little dog. In which case you should apologize before going to Christmas dinner. However, the general rule of thumb is that you should really consider what you post rather than just “like” and “share” whatever amuses you.

Your attitude and personality are being judged.
Even if your posts are mild in content and well written, if all you post about is how miserable or angry you are, or how jealous, or how biased you are, that will affect other people’s perceptions of you. Again, this is your decision, and if you are using your personal Facebook account for personal communication then it’s less of a concern. However, the more a public figure you become, the more of an issue this is.

If you look at recent scandals involving celebrities how many of them involve social media posts? Of course, it’s most often referring to Twitter, but the rest of social media matters as well. The days of authors being islands unto themselves and locking themselves in cabins to only deliver manuscripts to their editors and otherwise being hermits is pretty much over. In today’s world we have to connect with our readers. That means being viewed as likable or at the very least interesting and eclectic. While this puts a strain on us and our communication, it’s an aspect we need to consider when we post to our network.

So where does that leave us?
Well, with any luck, we know how to be polite to people. While being “interesting” is a difficult shoe to fill, we can find ways to do that, too. We need to post what our readers and network would find useful and entertaining. We need to think before we hit “share”. If this sounds daunting it’s only because it is. Most writers, in my experience, are introverts who prefer the company of their pets, Netflix, and perhaps significant others. Interacting with people is tough, and we often see it as cutting into our writing or daydreaming time.

While I’m not going to give a full lesson here on social media marketing, I will say that a good percentage of it is being authentic without being rude, being funny without being crass, and being relatable without being whiny. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Subsidiary Rights–A Rebuttal

Subsidiary Rights–A Rebuttal

To speak as a publisher for a moment, I want to talk about rights here. A lot oauthors want those thrown out because they think they deserve complete ownership and financial gain should the book end up as a movie/TV series/comic book etc. because it’s their intellectual property. This is only half true.

If you are going with a traditional publisher we want (and earn) a portion of these rights for several reasons, but I’m really going to focus on one. During the course of this post, I am going to assume you are working with a legitimate publisher, not an author mill, and are working with a publisher who is taking proper care of their authors to the best of their ability.

Publishers want those rights because we earn a cut of that pie.

While authors often think they do the lion’s share of the work just by writing the manuscript (the work doesn’t end with “the end”), the publisher does the lion’s share of the financial investment, if not all of it. If you go traditional, the publisher pays for everything, and properly producing a book costs literal thousands of dollars. Keep in mind, we professional editors like to be paid for our time, and those costs are typically over $50/hr. The length of the book and how clean it is when it arrives determine that cost.

Then, we have to pay for the cover art which may also include paying for rights to stock photos, fonts, or paying for artwork to be created from scratch. This is not a cheap process if you want good quality artwork. Poor quality artwork is cheap, but having a cover that will sell a book is worth the investment. While there are good artists who aren’t “cheap”, it is still a pricey venture.

We also have to pay for typesetting and marketing (which can end up more expensive than anything else) as well as our overhead of doing business in general: taxes, keeping lights on, website hosting, health insurance for employees if we are big enough, legal advice for contracts, electricity, internet, and about a billion other things both large and small. We also like to eat, so paying ourselves is important. All of those things go into the cost of creating your book. Were I to calculate the average cost of properly producing a book, I would come up with around $10,000 (or more for marketing) in resources. Yes. That is PER BOOK. I am not factoring into that the overhead costs of operating a business because those differ per publisher and depending on the business model.

In a traditional publishing arrangement, the author pays no penny of that, though that is why we generally provide royalty rates of about 15-20% because all of our overheads come right out of that 80%. To be honest, I haven’t drawn a paycheck yet from my company, though we are in the black in the bank. Our authors have been provided payment for their books, but none of the staff have been paid a cent because we are putting the rest of that 80% straight back into the production of other books to try and create a strong platform for all our authors.

There is a strong business reason for that, starting with the old adage “you have to spend money to make money.” Startup businesses oftentimes end up in the red because the spending comes before the making, and the making often doesn’t happen. To show that, I’m going to give you real numbers based on a book. I am going to use real costs and percentages here, though I’m rounding up the paper cost by a penny.

Books Sold: 100
List Price: $16
5″x8″, 300 pages, Createspace Physical Copy

Gross Income: $1,600
Author Income 15%: $240
Amazon Royalties (unsure percentage; calculated on their site): $515
Marketing: $400

Remaining: $445

That remaining $445 has to pay  the editors (who have often invested $1,500 worth of time or more), typesetter, and managerial staff. So we are often looking at four people, so if we give each of them $50.00 which would only pay for about an hour of an editor’s time, we are left with $245 to go toward taxes, cost of our internet hosting ($75/year), ISBN numbers ($200/for 10), subscriptions to various professional organizations we use to market books, and maybe to pay ourselves. Maybe. The money, as you may notice, goes FAST when you start adding in the cost of doing business.

At this point, you are looking at an author who has invested time and experience in writing the book – something I very much respect – and a publisher who has invested a great deal of money. In a traditional publishing arrangement, the ending “who has done more for the book” ends up being about 50/50, which is exactly how we split the sale of movie/comic/etc. rights. The company who has done so much work for this book deserves a portion of that kind of money for themselves because they darn well earned it. Particularly since the vast majority of books DO NOT EARN OUT THEIR PRODUCTION COSTS. Many books fail to sell more than the hundred copies to friends and family. Even if we sold three-hundred books, that wouldn’t even pay for the cost of typesetting, editing, and cover design.

This trend of demonizing publishers annoys me. While I cannot, and will not, speak up for the business practices of fly-by-night operations or companies who treat their authors without respect, the rest of us who aren’t like that deserve and earn our portion of the proceeds.

Why Traditional Publishing Isn’t Dying

This is likely to be a controversial post because I am going to say a lot of things about the industry that I think are hard truths. Truths that suck to hear, but they are things I think need to be said.

Despite pundits saying it, traditional publishing isn’t about to die. It isn’t “dying”. It isn’t even in pain. While the “Big Six” in New York are suffering there are plenty of presses who are still doing marvelously and aren’t on the verge of collapse. In fact, I would even say that the indie publishing world is booming. While there are sharks in the water and idiots floating around in inner-tubes with tin foil hats there are also plenty of good companies emerging from depths. The thought that traditional publishing is dying is a misnomer and is, for some people, wishful thinking. It isn’t going away, and thank God for that.

I do not take issue with self-publishing and have many friends who are quite successful doing it. They are skilled writers who take time with their works to polish, market, and prepare them for the shelves they’re on. I salute anyone who takes the time to do that and do it well. It isn’t easy. However folks like that are rare.

The reason I prefer traditional publishing in 90% of circumstances boils down to a single word: gatekeepers. There is a buffer zone of several people between the hopeful would-be author and their potential audience. Agents, acquisitions editors, editors within a publishing company, lawyers… all of these people make a difference in the quality of the work produced. And they all protect readers from the dreaded Slush Pile.

If you don’t know what the Slush Pile is, it is a derogatory term for the query inbox. It’s a neck-deep pool of horrible that no one wants to be part of, and it’s what acquisitions editors protect readers from. They protect you from such titles as “A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay” or “Taken By The Lightning Bolt“.  Those books, however, almost define the slush pile in my mind. I’ve got nothing against gays or erotica, but those two were the worst things I could dig up on Amazon. If anyone else wants to share links to HORRIBLE books in the comments I’d be happy to add more!

Before you ask, yes. It is that bad. No, I’m not making it up.

Now, before you all shout “BUT I DON’T SUCK!” I believe you. Being that awful takes many years of hard work, and I personally know many successful and skilled self-published writers. However, you are running up against the fact that you are emerging – still dripping – from a pool over three million kids have peed in. No matter how many showers you take and how many times you clean that bathing suit it will follow you around as long as you own that suit.

I know that it isn’t fair. And I know that it isn’t right. But that is the stigma that self-published authors face, and it isn’t going to go away. I know many people believe that self-publishing will gather steam and stomp those mean ol’ publishers right out of existence, but it just won’t happen because: gatekeepers. The lack of gatekeepers is what is causing the self-publishing industry to hemorrhage. There are so many authors and so many of them are so awful that it becomes almost impossible for readers to sort the wheat from the chaff. That job that once belonged to people who defined the writing industry before readers even saw the content is now being passed on to the readers, and most of them just don’t want to do that job.

There are a few dedicated folks who will read only indie books. They will read only self-pubbed works, and they stick up for authors they believe in. I respect them, and I respect the authors who actually “make it” through self-published means. Being able to do that means they have found ways to market themselves effectively to the point where they are likely as educated in marketing as many people who have gone to college for it. It is no easy road. However, they are the minority.

Regardless of the few, the proud, and the intelligent who look at self-publishing for what it is – a business venture – there are far too many folks out there who view it as a shortcut. I recently had a conversation with my friend Jerry Hatchett about this topic. Jerry is an accomplished self-pubbed author who is one of the few authors I know who nearly makes a living off his writing as an indie author. He expressed hope that maybe self-publishing would start to filter itself after awhile, and I hope for the same. However the realistic part of me doesn’t see that happening anytime soon because any moron with a word processor and internet access can put a book up for sale. And they will. The lack of gatekeepers in the industry is what will cripple indie authors from being able to really become the powerhouses they could otherwise.