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.

Open Call to All Publishers – Have I been Wrong All This Time?

I began writing when I was only eight years old. By the time I was thirteen, I had already written my first full length novel. Less than a year after its completion, after everyone and their brother at my middle school had read the book, I took their words of encouragement to heart and began researching on how to get my book into publication through traditional publishing houses. The next ten plus years saw three more novels written and several hundred query letters, novel summaries, chapter submissions, and more rejection letters than I can count at this point. I’ve been turned down by everyone from Random House to Aardvark Press. I never took it as a sign that I should stop writing, because, after all, there are some really, really crappy books in publication. I just took it that I was young and needed to keep writing. Practice makes perfect, or so the old saying goes.

I took a reprieve from trying to get published for a while, allowing ideas to begin to form inside of my head before I once again took up the call of the pen in 2002. I wrote for fun off and on for about a year, posting short stories to social media sites. I wrote under the Avatar name of “PoisonRunner” and soon had tens of thousands of readers crashing my Yahoo! 360 page on a daily basis. I was bombarded with messages and posts of encouragement, everyone wanting to know why I wasn’t trying to get published. I decided, “Why not?” After all, I had spent more than ten years learning the business inside and out. I was older, wiser, my writing style had greatly improved over the years, and despite all the rejection letters (some of them incredibly harsh, by the way) I had received over the years, my passion for cultivating a well-told story could not be dashed by mere words from some of the top publishers.

Soon I was scouring the internet trying to get the scoop on some of the well established but lesser known publishers. What I discovered was much more of the same that I had encountered all those years ago when I was just starting out. More rejection letters, but now the rules had changed a bit. Most publishers were no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts, forcing me to add yet another person to the mix in the form of a literary agent who would ultimately take a chunk out of the royalty pie.

The contracts that I got shown were atrocious to say the least. Most of them either had me signing away my copyrights altogether or had me giving the publisher an exclusive prints right to my work that never expired, meaning that if the book flopped with one publisher I could never take it to another publisher down the road in hopes of getting it spruced up and re-released with a new publisher. Most of them were doing little more than allowing me to use their name as the publishing house on the inside cover.

There were no advancements offered and none of them were going to put forth a single penny towards marketing and promoting the book, two things that determine if a book lives or dies in the literary market. The publishers kept 100% complete control over all aspects of the final product, including cover art and the final draft that went to print. For those who do not understand the full weight of this statement, it meant that the publisher withheld the right to rewrite the story and change it any way they saw fit, without my approval and oftentimes without my knowledge. Ultimately the publisher was turning me, the creator and writer of the work, into little more than a ghost writer, being just the person who came up with the initial idea, leaving the publisher to hammer out the details and rewrite it into whatever they thought they could make a quick buck off of.

I hoped that this was not the norm, so I continued to look into larger houses, smaller houses, indie houses, anyone and everyone that I could think of, find on the internet, and even some odd-ball houses that other authors suggested or that I found on blogs and other websites. The end product? The exact same thing: contracts that took away any future printing rights for anyone other than said house, no advancements, the publisher kept 100% control over final product, 0% upfront money being spent on marketing and promotion until I had cleared several hundred thousand copies or money earned off the book, whichever came first, and absolutely no marketing plan for me to follow in the meantime to help get the ball rolling. Ultimately, the publishers were telling me that they would lend me their house name for the inside cover, but all marketing and promoting would not only have to be handled by me, but the cost of those endeavors would have to come out of my own pocket.

Needless to say, my first reaction to all of this over the years has been, “If you are not going to help market and promote the book, then why would I bother signing a contract with you?” My next questions were subsequently, “If I have to do all the work that you should be doing, why am I having to share my royalties with you?” and finally “If you are not helping to get the word out on my book, then exactly what is in this deal for me?”

It is these questions that go unanswered that has driven so many authors to just self-publish their work. With traditional publishers, it is all about compromise. You write the initial draft and the editors and publishers turn it into whatever they think will make them money. It isn’t the author’s story, it is the publisher’s version of their story. You don’t have that in self-publication. It is the author’s story told how the author intended. About the only compromise you have is how much money and time you can invest to get the best cover art work and editors and which platform you want to publish to. You keep complete control, you keep your copyrights, you keep the print rights, and best of all, you keep all the royalties. Of course there is always the cost of editors, graphic artists, swag, etc. if you decide to purchase all that, but those costs are factored into royalties received from a traditional publisher, so you have to pay for all this regardless of whether you go traditional or self-published. The only difference is that if you are one of the lucky authors who is savvy enough to create your own cover art work and do all the PR work yourself, then you cut out a huge chunk of costs that you can’t cut out if you go the traditional route.

I know, this has little to do with the title of the article. But I’m getting there. As I have outlined above, I have more than 3 DECADES of experience with traditional publishers and nearly ten years experience as an independently published author who owns her own publishing house. I shouldn’t have to constantly repeat to everyone that I KNOW what I’m doing and I KNOW how the traditional publishing model works. Yet, I find myself constantly having to repeat this to fledgling authors on FB all the time. They keep asking for advice, and when I give them the straight-up dirty truth on how it all works, they immediately turn on me, screaming that I don’t know what I’m talking about because I didn’t give them the rose-colored happy ‘now-I’m-famous-and-rich’ ending that they keep dreaming about. Those authors who don’t know any better are bad enough, but when I’m also constantly being told that I am not a ‘true’ writer because I no longer seek out traditional publishers and also told that I would suddenly become a well known author if I would just try to get a mainstream publishing deal by authors who claim to actually BE in the mainstream publishing business, then that just pisses me off. I may not can account for what someone else knows, but when I have already been through the process more times than I can count and I know FIRST HAND how it all works and they still want to sit there and tell me I’m wrong, then sorry, no, I will no longer put up with your delusions of grandeur.

Which brings me back to the whole point behind this article. After all, I did say it was an open call to all publishers, and it is. I am sending out a major SOS call to ANY publisher, be it small, indie, large, whatever, who is willing to prove me wrong. You read that right. I want to sign a publishing deal with any house that is willing to put up with me. I want a publisher to prove to me that I’ve been wrong about them. I want a publisher to prove to me that everything I just posted above is wrong, that I am delusional, that what I wrote is not the way the publishing world works. I want a publisher who is not going to just take my work, slap it up on Amazon, and walk away with half my royalties. In other words, I want a publisher who is actually going to help me get my work out to the masses, support me, and not just have me do all the work.

So here is the deal. I’m willing to come off my most popular erotic romance, Vindictus, The Dark Lord to whichever publishing company can do the following:

1. Advancements are up for negotiation. Whether you offer them or not is up to the rest of the contract and are not a deal breaker.

2. Marketing and promotion plans are a must. Even if you do not plan to put any financial backings into the endeavor, you must at least provide a detailed marketing plan that you plan to use to market and promote the book. There also must be a separate or joint marketing plan that I can follow as well as I do not expect the publisher to do all the work. HOWEVER, if you are not putting up any financial backing into either the marketing of the work or advancements, I expect you to take on the majority of the marketing. This must be provided prior to any contracts are signed so I know how much work is expected from me and how much work the publisher is goingto put into the marketing. Again, if you are not actively marketing the product then what are you doing for me as a publisher?

3. Limited exclusive printing rights. Unless you are willing to offer me a half-million dollar advancement or are Random House, I will not sign any exclusive printing rights contracts. I know this is not the norm for most contracts, but if you are a small indie house then I am not about to sign away my printing rights in hopes the book doesn’t bomb and then never be able to take it to another publisher. I am, however, willing to sign a limited printing rights contract. Basically, depending on any advancements and your overall marketing plans, I will sign a limited time exclusive printing rights contract. I will give the publisher up to 3 years of exclusive print rights on the book dependent upon how well the book is doing. In other words, if the book is doing well then I am willing to extend the print rights to the publisher indefinitely, but if the book is not doing well we are both going to cut our losses and allow me the chance to take the book to another publisher if I so wish.

And that’s it. I don’t ask for much. Advancements are not needed and honestly not expected, but I expect a marketing plan to be in place prior to any contracts being signed, and if the book is not doing well I reserve my right to terminate the print rights agreement and take the book to another publisher.

So traditional publishers, prove to me that I have been wrong about you all this time. Prove to me that you are not out there just taking authors’ works, slapping it up on Amazon, taking royalties, and not providing any type of marketing and promotions. Prove to me that you are an actual asset to authors, that you are needed, and that you can do for authors what they can’t do for themselves self-publishing. Or have I been preaching the gospel this whole time?

I’m interested in finding out……