My Vanity Forced Me Do It – Why I Signed a Trade Publishing Contract

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Publishing a book is hard work. If you decide to do it on your own, it’s even harder. Unfortunately, writing the book is just the first step. From creation to completion, publication involves a lot of professionals. Once the book is written, it still has to go through editors, proofreaders, formatters for the different platforms, graphic artists for cover art, and then the hardest part of all – marketing and promotion. If you are an indie author, you either learn to do all this on your own or you contract it out to other professionals. The one constant which remains, however, is whether you are trade published or indie published, the vast majority of marketing and promotion will fall to the author.

There are many reasons for authors to decide to try to get their books published through traditional brick and mortar companies, just as there are many reasons for them to take on the work and responsibilities of being their own publisher. For some, going traditional seems like much less work. They either do not have the technical know-how to acquire the skill sets required to become their own publisher, or they do not want to break up their time between writing and publishing. Some authors are still under the “Happily Ever After” notion that once they are accepted by a trade publisher, all they have to do going forward is write a rough draft and pass it along. If only it were that simple.

For me, the reasons behind me tracking down a trade publisher were simplistic and selfish – vanity, and time.

In the beginning, I set out to prove to all the newbie writers who were still under the “HEA” guise that having a trade publisher did not equal large advancements and a lot less work than being indie published. I had been offered trade publishing deals on and off for years but still maintained publishing under my own house for one simple reason – none of the contracts stated anything about the publisher doing any marketing or promotion on my behalf. All those responsibilities fell onto my shoulders, while the publisher still only offered me the standard 25% royalty rate. The way I saw it, if I still had to do the majority of the work – and one of the most important jobs in publication – then I wasn’t going to sacrifice my royalties.

Yet so many newbies kept insisting I was wrong, despite me being able to point to at least six different trade published authors on my FB friends list who had been picked up by Random House and were still working upwards of four part time jobs just to keep food on their tables, and, oh yeah, they had to do the largest part of promotion and marketing on their own. But hey, what the hell do I know, right? I mean, thirty-two years of being a writer and more than half of that time spent wading in the muck with traditional publishers apparently made me know even less than the ones who woke up a month ago and decided they wanted to be a writer. What could I possible do to convince them otherwise?

Well, you know me, and so about a year ago I began to send out query letters and submit to those larger publishers who were still taking unsolicited manuscripts. Some of them I never heard a word out of, even after a year, and I’m assuming that was a “silent” rejection on their part. Others had submission pages where I could watch them reject my manuscript in real time. The record for rejection goes to Kensington for rejecting my manuscript in exactly 45 minutes from the time their editor clocked in at 8 a.m. I’m assuming they make a habit of rejecting all manuscripts as soon as they are submitted and then take their time reading through them. It’s a great way to keep the authors from blowing up their email with update requests. Yeah, they don’t know me very well either, do they?

After spending a few months being reminded why I hate the publishing business so much, I was growing tired of breaking what little bit of time I had for writing into the different aspects of running my own publishing house. I mean, my ass works a full time day job to pay my bills. I did not have the time to do everything, and so when I was actually offered a publication deal with a fairly large hybrid house, I went against my better judgment and signed the contract.

WHY? Like I said, my vanity made me do it. I must admit it was nice finally having someone in the “industry” to “validate” me as a writer. And that is all it was, my ego and vanity needing a bit of a pick-me-up from someone who supposedly knew the difference between a well written manuscript and someone who pumped out as much gutter trash as possible to make a few quick bucks. Let’s face it, it is one thing to have a few hundred readers tell you they like your work, but nothing makes you feel like you actually ARE a real writer like having a publisher offer to publish your work.

So I signed the contract. I will say this, if you know absolutely NOTHING about being a published author, have no desire to learn the business or do not have the technical know-how to do it, then getting a publisher is a great idea. But if you already know the different aspects of the business, have already published work on your own and are working to get better at it, are hiring the right professionals to produce the absolute best work you can, then getting a publisher is probably not the best move for you, and it certainly isn’t going to lighten your work load. If anything, it is going to drag out the publication process, it is going to create more work for you, and if you are used to doing things yourself, you are going to find yourself at odds with your creative team.

Trade publishing is not for everyone, just like indie publishing is not for everyone. There are pros and cons to both paths, which I will cover in another blog post. I will only say that for me, being indie is probably going to be my path from here on out. After spending 5 months revamping a book for publication using time I really needed to devote to writing, I can honestly say I have no desire to go down that path again. The only thing about that entire ordeal that I found even remotely helpful was the FB group, and that has its limits. I can say that for the first time in years, I don’t feel a twinge of jealousy when I see other authors announce their writing contracts. If anything, I pity them, because I have walked both paths. I have seen the amount of time and work which goes into both sides of the business, I know what a trade publisher will and will not do for me as an author. And in case you are wondering, NO, there was no money spent on promotions or advertisements by anyone other than myself.

Well, after giving this a go just to see if things had changed over the past fifteen years, I can now say I was right. And I didn’t want to be right. If anything, I had hoped the industry had changed, were starting to take authors more seriously and offering to do more for their careers. I had really hoped all I would have to do was write a rough draft and hand it off to my publisher and then wait for my shiny, new proof copy to arrive. Unfortunately, if anything, the indie revolution has pushed the trade publishing companies to offer even less for their authors. What more can you expect with so much competition?

I can’t say that my experience was all bad, and if I didn’t know as much as I know about the industry then it most likely would have been a pleasant experience. Knowledge, it would seem, was my undoing. There are many, many authors who happily sign with trade publishers and are happy as clams to do so. I, however, know it is not the right choice for me.

So, for now at least, I will continue to publish under my own house. Whether you like to admit it or not, the only person who really cares who publishes your book is YOU. I still feel if I have to go behind someone and check their work, be my own proofreader, my own copy editor, and market and promote my own works, then I’ll do it with 70% royalties, thank you very much. No, being indie isn’t for everyone, but being trade published isn’t for everyone either. My only words of wisdom are: know what you are getting into, don’t be afraid to ask questions, trust your instincts, and above all, do NOT be afraid to learn things on your own.


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