In this series we will address one of the biggest questions facing authors today: how will I publish my book? As little as ten or fifteen years ago, this answer would have been simple: get an agent, who will then pitch the book to major publishers on your behalf. Now, with the wide variety of options available, it can be hard to decide what route to take. This is why, one post at a time, we’ll dissect each of the options in an effort to help authors better answer that question.
Today we’ll begin at the beginning and talk about “traditional” publishing. Rather than dive into a history of publishing, let’s keep it simple: traditional publishing happens when you sell the publication rights of your book for an advance and royalties on the sale of your book. This is generally the type of deal you’ll find at the “Big Six” publishing houses in New York—Penguin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, and Macmillan.
So what does striking a deal with a traditional publisher entail exactly? We thought it might be easiest to break it down into pros and cons.
- Credibility. Since traditional publishers have been producing high-quality, salable books for quite some time, authors are afforded automatic credibility just by working with them.
- Distribution. Again, because of their reputation in the business, the Big Six’s wholesale and retail connections are very strong. You can rest assured that they know how to get your book into retail, and your agent can help you sell your translation or foreign rights.
- Low up-front cost. Generally, traditional publishers pay for all aspects of book production (which can be rather expensive), and authors are usually responsible for at least some, if not all, of the marketing and publicity. For someone looking for a lower financial investment, this is one of the cheaper options.
- Quality. Acquisitions editors at traditional publishing houses screen all projects so that the overall quality of the publisher’s line is very high. The production process includes everything from seasoned editors working on the book to dazzling design and printing.
- Lack of brand/creative control. As an author, you have little say in the titling, design, printing, or editing of your book. This may be an issue if your brand is tied to your book.
- Low royalties and advances. First-time author advances can range from $2,000 to $20,000, which you have to pay off in sales before you start receiving royalties. Royalties for paperback are typically five to seven percent, and ten to fifteen percent for hardcover. You’ll also need to account for paying a portion of your advance and royalties to your agent, usually around ten to fifteen percent.
- Slow time-to-market. Unfortunately it can take anywhere from two to three years to secure an agent, get a publisher, and actually have your book published and released.
- Ownership. Under the traditional model, authors sell the right to publish their work for a defined period of time. Selling the publication rights gives them little say in the direction, distribution, or amount of time their book spends in the market. If for any reason the author is dissatisfied, they must either buy back their rights before the agreement ends or wait for the book to go out of print (at which time rights revert back to them) before they can take it elsewhere.
How do you get the ball rolling if you think you’d like to go with a traditional publisher? Get an agent! Traditional publishers rarely accept proposals directly from the author, so you’ll need to find an agent to represent you. Here are a few resources:
- Check out the Association of Author Representatives (AAR). Members follow an ethical code, so any agent who asks for a reading fee or money up front is not included in this organization.
- Also take a peek at the Guide to Literary Agents (GLA), available in both book and blog formats, sponsored by Writer’s Digest. The blog discusses the types of work the agent represents and their submission guidelines. You can search by genre to locate agents who will represent your work.
So does traditional publishing make sense for you? If the pros mentioned above sound like what you want and you can live with the cons, perhaps it is. If what you want doesn’t quite fit what this model offers, stay tuned for future installments of the series on publishing. In coming weeks, we’ll be covering new technology, vanity presses, independent publishers, and self-publishers.