Traditional Publishing: Obsolete or Still Viable?

In my last entry, I noted that we are in a Golden Age of book publishing. The technology revolution has made it easy and inexpensive for anyone to become an independent publisher, including you. Is traditional publishing obsolete?

Advantages of Traditional Publishing

Of course not. Publishing with them still has advantages:

  • They pick up most of the costs for editing, design, typesetting, printing, fulfillment, and distribution.
  • They can attract big-name endorsements for their books (but so can you if you know how to locate them, ask them, and not give up if you don’t hear back).
  • You have a better chance of getting an advance — which in the academic market is often more than all the royalties you’ll ever receive.
  • They are more likely to get their books translated into different languages or turned into movies.
  • They provide better distribution through print bookstores.
  • You can derive status from having the imprint of an established publisher on your book.
  • If you are an academic on the publish-or-perish treadmill, your tenure committee may not count your independently published book.

Costs of Traditional Publishing

But you pay a price. I won’t go into detail here about the traditional author boilerplate contract. I’ve devoted an entire section of You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You to the subject.

Suffice it to say that the traditional boilerplate contract is written by the publisher’s lawyer for the sole benefit of the publisher. It treats the author as a competitor rather than a partner and serves merely to crush the spirit of authors and remove them from the marketing and sales process, a foolish strategy given that authors have the most energy and long-term interest invested in their books.

Many boilerplate contracts, especially in academia, require authors to forfeit their copyright in exchange for a tiny royalty and then pay so many costs their best outcome is to lose money in exchange for a byline. They don’t allow authors to resell their own books and the books never technically go out of print so authors can never regain their rights.

Finding a Publisher

To learn more about publishing contracts, check out my book and know that, no matter how good or bad your contract ends up, it will be better if you develop a relationship with the in-house editor, who often is an author like you. To find a publisher:

  • Get familiar with Writer’s Market and Literary Marketplace, the two major sources for listing publishers, their contact information, what they are looking for in books and clients, and how to approach them.
  • Study publisher lists that you discover through Internet searches.
  • Browse the aisles of bookstores to see what other books are on the same shelf where your book would go and see who published them. Check the acknowledgments to see if any authors thanked their agents.
  • Do an Internet keyword search and see what books come up and who published them.
  • Attend writers’ conferences and visit publisher exhibit tables or sit in on sessions where publishers speak. Don’t assume all conferences have cancelled because of Covid-19. Many have pivoted to Zoom.
  • Read publishers’ websites, see what genres they publish, and send them what they want. Most often you’ll send it all electronically. If you send it via postal mail, include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Approaching a Publisher

Every publisher has unique instructions as far as what variations and component parts of your complete manuscript they want to see and in what format before they will consider you.

But every book package will include a cover letter in which you

  • Provide an overview of the book
  • Introduce yourself and your qualifications to write the book
  • Explain its concept and purpose
  • Identify your competition
  • Describe your marketing plan
  • Share any testimonials you have already received

Attachments to the cover letter may include

  • Table of contents
  • Chapter summaries
  • Sample chapters

Check their website and read their instructions to learn what information they need from you and what items they want you to send. If you have any questions, call them and talk to a real person.

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This piece was adapted from Ken Wachsberger’s You’ve Got the Time: How to Write and Publish That Book in You. Ken’s other books may be found here and here. For book coaching and editing help, or to invite Ken to speak at your meeting, email Ken at [email protected].

Schedule your complimentary 30-minute coaching and editing session now.

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