Why Traditional Publishing is Still Not an Option for Most Writers

One of the questions I get asked the most by other, “serious” writers, is “Why aren’t you trying to get a traditional publishing deal?”

First off, I, like most other writers, don’t have the option or luxury of writing full time. We have bills to pay, families to feed, and all those pesky little necessities that insist upon being paid every month, like electricity and the mortgage. So for a huge chunk of us, with me being right there in amongst them, we have to have a full-time Evil Day Job that helps pay those bills and support our families. It’s a simple fact of life. Trust me, if I could afford to write full time and not have to work, I would quit this gawd-awful hell I go to each day and plop my happy arse down in front of my PC for 12 hours a day and pound out a few books a year. Unfortunately, I live in the real world, so I have to have my job to help pay the bills. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of my kids needing to have food in their bellies and a roof over their heads.

So I guess the next question for most everyone would be, “So what does that have to do with getting a traditional publishing deal?”

In the past few months I have seen numerous authors in my FB feed overjoyed that they finally got a traditional publishing contract, some of them from really big name companies. I’m happy for them, really, and I’ll admit, I’m absolutely pea-green with envy. But my first question to them, after congratulations, is “Did you get an advancement?”

I already knew their response even before they answered me, because I have already been down this road so many times over the past twenty-five years. The vast majority of them have responded to state that the companies, even the large ones, did not offer them any type of advancement, just a book deal that covered X number of books to be published over X number of years. Some were lucky and got offered a few thousand dollars, but most were not offered any type of advancement.

My next question to them was, “Okay, so what about marketing and promotions? How much are they going to spend towards marketing your books?”

Again, I knew the answer and was not shocked when they told me that they companies hadn’t really mentioned anything about it, or they hadn’t confirmed any hard marketing plans yet. What I was shocked to hear was how many of them never once broached the subject of promotional ventures and budgets with these companies. Those few who did think to ask or had the information provided to them in the contract all reported the same thing: the marketing of the book would be left up to the author until such a time as the publishing company had recouped the money spent on editors, printing, and graphic artwork.

As I said before, I have to work to pay the bills, so signing a contract with a company, even if it were Random House, would not be feasible for me if it did not come with a large enough advancement to replacement my current income. Now that I have said that, let me clarify this by saying I could not sign a contract with a regular publishing company UNLESS they either offered a large enough advancement to replacement by current income OR they were willing to spend money to market and promote my books, i.e. get them in major bookstores across the country with prime shelf space, ads in major publications, get it in front of critics who could help launch my career, and possibly some talk shows or radio shows.

So you are probably wondering why on earth I would pass up signing a contract with a publishing house, even a big one, even if it meant I didn’t get an advancement or any type of marketing support? Wouldn’t the exposure of having a big name publishing company printing my book help launch my career? The answer to this, unfortunately, is not so cut-and-dry, and is both a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ question.

First off, most readers, and even authors, can’t tell you who publishes the majority of the books they read. Sure, you probably know who publishes your favorite author of all time, but 99% of people who read have no clue who actually published the book. Why? They don’t care. Readers don’t care if Random House published the book or if Joe Blow Press published it. All anyone cares about is whether or not it’s a good book, so having a ‘big name’ publisher means absolutely jack-shit to a reader.

Second, if no one cares who publishes the book, then how is having a big name publisher print my book going to help me? If they are not marketing my books, not getting them into book stores, not getting them in front of critics and major publications, then exactly WHAT are they doing for me? The answer to this is N-O-T-H-I-N-G.

If Random House offered me a deal today but refused to pony-up any type of marketing dollars, it would not help me one damn bit so far as readers are concerned. Sure, authors would be jealous as hell, but readers honestly don’t give a rat’s ass. The readers I already have would be overjoyed for me, but those who didn’t want to read my work in the first place are not about to go rushing to bookstores to snatch it off the shelves just because I announced that Random suddenly wanted to publish me. Trust me on this, it isn’t going to happen. How many times have you used the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, or read a teaser on FaceBook, and groaned over the storyline and writing style? What happened? You rolled your eyes and didn’t bother to purchase. Now imagine if that same author announced that Random House had picked up their latest series. Are you suddenly going to rush out JUST because Random House decided they could make a quick buck off it? Um, NO, so it’s not like having their name on the inside of your book is going to make people hunt you down UNLESS they are marketing the shit out of your books.

I’ve seen dozens of authors signing these deals with big name publishers and a year later I still have not seen their books on the shelves of book stores, they have not become a house-hold name, they are not being offered movie deals and they are still having to do their own marketing and promotion through FaceBook and begging bloggers to review their work. They have to pay for those ARCs out of their own pocket because, when a publisher publishes on Amazon for you, you no longer have an ecopy that you can send. Instead, you have to purchase them through Amazon and gift them to readers and bloggers, costing you the precious little bit of royalties you have earned.

So now the big question is, if being picked up by a big publisher isn’t going to help an author in any way, then why on earth would they do it? The amount of royalties they get are far less than they are when self-publishing through Amazon. They are still going to have to do their own promotion and marketing and pay for all that out of their own pocket. Readers don’t really care who publishes them so using that name as a marketing tool is not going to garner them a whole lot of extra readers. So why do it?

For some writers, just getting that contract is enough. And to be honest, even if I did not get offered an advancement or any type of marketing plan behind the deal, I would still sign just to say that I was “good enough” for someone to take notice. However, this simply is not enough for most authors. And while I might be willing to sign a contract for one book, I can’t see myself signing a major contract for numerous books UNLESS it came with a large enough advancement to take the place of my current income. Because let’s face it, I’m already doing my own marketing, my own promotion, lining up my own blog tours and paying for my own editing and graphic work PLUS I get to keep 70% of my royalties. A better question for authors is, “If you are already doing all that, why would you sign a contract with a publisher who is going to make you continue to do all that AND take half your royalties away from you?”

Why indeed.


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