The Publishing Shakedown: Traditional Publishing – Fair and Balanced

Let’s admit it:  having a book published is just plain prestigious.  Who hasn’t fantasized about having a successful book published by a big New York publishing firm?

One great perk of traditional publishing is there is no up-front cost or investment involved.  There is no initial out-of-pocket expense for the author.  As a matter of fact, the publishing house might pay an advance!  The average advance is $10,000 to $20,000.  Although that cuts into future royalties, it’s a nice little nest egg.  Some big-name authors such as Hillary Clinton or Danielle Steele command $1 Million+ advances. A traditional publishing company does all the work.  Unlike self-publishing, where you’re left floundering with the tasks of copy editing and graphic design, traditional publishers boast a competent team of professionals to produce a high-quality finished product.

Traditional publishing has many benefits, including the element that decides any given book’s success:  distribution.  The publisher will distribute the book through major channels in bookstores and online, including big names such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Books a Million.

A downside of the traditional publishing route is an intangible cost to the author because the author does not own the rights–the publishing company does.  This eliminates the author’s ability to create future products based on the book:  CDs, DVDs or even sales in other countries without the publisher’s initiative.

That also means loss over creative and editorial control.  Many authors pitch a terrific manuscript that the publishing company falls in love with.  Then the publisher edits the manuscript in whatever manner it deems necessary to maximize sales.  The author loses his or her original voice–and can’t even recognize the book as his or her work once it’s published.

Then there’s timing.  It’s just painstaking.  The average book takes nine months to two years from start to finish to be published.  Publishing companies are backlogged.  If one author’s book is on the press, but another author’s book comes along that’s more timely, the other book will be leapfrogged.  The red tape can be seemingly endless.

As for royalties, traditional publishers typically pay 8 to 12 percent of the wholesale price.  Compare that to the 70 to 75 percent profit margin of self-publishing.  With traditional publishing, an author gains prestige–but not necessarily income.  To make a million, you’ve got to sell a million. And although traditional publishing companies provide marketing and distribution to make selling a million more likely, it’s no guarantee your book will see any of it.  Attribute this to the 80/20 rule:  80 percent of the marketing money is invested in the top 20 percent of the publisher’s books or known authors.  The publisher is hedging bets and calculating risks.  For every one book that succeeds, there are 12 to 16 that don’t.  So one book has to be so successful that it pays for the others.  The publisher is going to spend the most marketing dollars on authors who are already a household name.

When the time comes for you to choose your publishing path, be sure to do an honest assessment of your goals for your prized possession and determine if they align with the tempting offer being presented before you.

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