Series: Avenues of Publishing (Part I - Traditional)
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Welcome to our new series on how to share your story with a wider audience. This time we deep-dive into the world of publishing. Take a look around these days and you’ll find book after book being published. If you’re like me, you hear about a new book and wonder, how did they get that out so fast, what publishing route did they take, how much did it all cost to get it in the hands of readers, and more. All of these are questions that have kept me up at night pondering my own writing journey.
Today, there are a variety of ways to publish. Whether you’re thinking about the traditional route, the DIY/self-publishing route, vanity press, or a hybrid - there’s much information to sift through to figure out which route works for you. Since it’s altogether possible that if I’m thinking about it, others are too, Present Tense is taking the plunge and doing our best to uncover the dos and don’t, pros and cons, and reasons for choosing one publishing route or the other. Thanks for coming along for the ride.
What does it look like to take the traditional publishing route?
‘Before the year 2000, traditional publishing was the only way to get your book published’. This typical or traditional method of publishing involves crafting and sending ‘a query letter or finished manuscript to literary agents or publishing houses to propose your idea for publication’. If your book is selected, you are likely to get an advance upfront, sign a contract, and then the whole marketing, editing, and getting it into the hands of humans is usually taken care of by the publishing house. While you’ve taken the plunge and the risk to put your book out there, the traditional publisher takes the rest of the risks. They front the cash for everything from editing, to design, to shipping, and handle it all from soup to nuts. While they take care of all of the intricate details, you (the author) continue to receive royalties along the journey.
Why take the traditional publishing route?
If there was one right publishing route for everyone, there wouldn’t be so many varied options. Traditional publishing works for some, while it doesn’t for others. The biggest perk of this route is that once you’ve wrung your soul dry putting the pages of your manuscript together, the rest is taken care of by someone else. You don’t need to learn the ins and outs of copyright or publishing law or handle any of the monstrous tasks of marketing. Upfront money always helps and then there are, of course, the further royalties if your book is a hit. The whole concept of taking your book and making it known is off your list. If you want the prestige of working with a traditional publishing company, and are willing to put in the leg work to write the query and find the agent, then this might be the right route for you. And, of course, it goes without saying, if you know someone in the industry then you have a better chance of getting your work seen and published.
Why wouldn’t you take the traditional publishing route?
If you can hack it, this is a great way to go - yet, it’s not the route for every writer. The process is long and drawn out, the chances of hearing ‘yes’ are rare, and more or less, you sign away the rights to your book. Know yourself - if you’re looking to control the entire process, this type of publishing is not for you. While you’re the creative mind behind the story, since the publishers put up the money, they have a lot of pull in the decision-making of all those bits and pieces that up-level the book from story to shelves. Keep in mind that while the publishing house does pay writers at contract signing, ‘when it comes to your book’s sales, traditional publishing companies will take a percentage of your generated revenue.’
At the end of the day, you’re the writer, you’ve written something and are ready to get it into the hands of the waiting public. While your range of options is the size of a diner menu, it’s plausible that one of the avenues truly calls to you and your writing needs. If the traditional publishing company route feels like it’s made for you, then go for it! Whichever publishing journey you choose to embark upon, consider your options, decide on your bottom line, know your worth, and have faith that your creation will change the lives of those who read it. Channel the wisdom of Toni Morrison – ‘if there is a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’