Monday, March 28, 2011

In Defense of Traditional Publishers

For the past few weeks, news of self-publishing success stories have permeated the Internet. In between talk about Amanda Hocking's brilliant foray into self-publishing (check out her honest blog post What I Can Say Right Now) and Barry Eisler's no-thank-you to $500,000 in order to self-publish (I came across his story via Jane Friedman at There Are No Rules. You can read her summary and find the full interview at Bestselling Author Turns Down $500K Deal to Self-Publish), the cry that "traditional publishing is dead," or "traditional publishing is broken" runs rampant.

Traditional publishing is not dead. It's not broken either.
When something is broken, it does not function. A broken glass cannot hold water. A dead clock will not tell the correct time. If traditional publishing were broken or dead, books would not be published each month. They wouldn't arrive in book stores, grocery stores, or supercenters. Books simply wouldn't be available.

Let's face it, the publishing industry took a massive hit with the economic downturn, similar to the auto industry and housing industry. The housing market still hasn't turned around, and prices for staples such as gas and food continue to rise. Most of us have less money to spend.

Some of the success of self-published authors can be traced to the prices of their books. They typically offer bargain prices--99 cents to $4.99. Readers don't mind spending a few bucks on a new author, much like homebuyers don't mind buying foreclosures. The benefits outweigh the risk.

Can traditional publishers work on their e-book models? Yes, but that's not the point of this post.
Publishing houses aren't witches to burn at the stake, nor are they empty, greedy middle-men. Traditional publishers provide valuable services to authors like top-notch editors, talented artists, detail-oriented copyeditors, and experienced marketers. They offer authors a percentage of profits, and, if an author sells tons of books, the author makes more money.

I don't have a problem with self-publishing. Authors who have honed their craft, are savvy about marketing themselves online, and who are willing to devote a large portion of their day to promoting their books may find self-publishing rewarding and profitable.

Writers unwilling to self-assess their work or who see success stories and have glitter in their eyes about getting rich quickly will be disappointed. Just because we have a product, doesn't mean we'll be able to successfully sell it.

What do you think--do traditional publishing houses provide value to their clients? Can anyone simply plop an e-book on a website and expect it to sell without spending enormous amounts of time marketing it?

On a side-note, Amanda Hocking recently signed a four-book deal with St. Martin's Press for an estimated $2 million. Read about it at L.A. Times, "Amanda Hocking, Self-Publishing Star, Finds 4-Book Deal." Congratulations, Amanda!

And traditional publishing is dead? Hmm...

Have a terrific Monday!


  1. I don't have a strong enough ego to self-publish, which is why I'm glad to be blessed with 2 traditional publishers for my work.

    However, I'll never say never. I used to write for Dorchester as Diana Groe and have had the rights to 3 books reverted. I still love those stories and now they aren't available anywhere. So I'm wondering if self-pubbing that backlist migh be a viable option for me.

  2. No, not everyone can do it. But sometimes books that are excellent and ready are overlooked. And I think we're just going to see more and more success stories from well written self published books. And I think we'll see established authors leaving to self publish too. And we'll see self published authors sign with agents, like Amanda. I'm pretty sure traditionally pubbed writers have to market their butts off too. Where it will all end up? I don't know. It'll be interesting to see. Either way, it's an exciting time to be a writer.

  3. For me, if a book has been published in the traditional way, I feel that it's passed muster. I don't have time to search the Internet or other places where self-published authors market their books hoping to find a good read. I still love perusing the aisles of bookstores or Amazon's website, especially when it offers reviews.

  4. I think traditional publishers are going to keep the standard high. We need them. Otherwise people are going to start publishing their first drafts! That would be a horrible world to live in ... sigh ...

  5. Interesting topic, Jill. I read Laura's response. Couldn't have said it any better. :-)

  6. Good morning!

    Mia: In my opinion, you're in the perfect position to self-publish in e-book format. You have a fan base and you have the rights to your books (covers also?). Now that authors can sell their self-published e-books on Amazon, you could find a reputable formatter to convert your books, list them on Amazon and link them on your website.

    Laura: Good point. Every author has to market her work. Gone are the days a publisher will handle everything. But some publishers still aggressively market author's books by sending ARC's to reviewers, setting up local book-signings, and promoting their authors with booksellers and bookclubs. And I'm convinced just having a reputable publishing house's logo on a book helps sales.

    Em: I don't either. And I try out most new-to-me authors through the library. In Michigan, libraries will not carry any book unless it's been published by a traditional publisher.

    Jessica B: Right on. My first novels, while I adored them, were NOT ready to be published. A huge part of my growth as a writer has been the rejection process. It forces me to analyze my books differently. Who will provide this to authors who self-publish anything they write?

    Paul: Yeah, I agree with her too. It took a few years and a few books to get the newbie kinks out of my books. Who wants to read those?? Not me!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. I know there are always random success stories, but it just seems that unless you're bringing a huge existing platform and audience to self-pubbing, it would be a really difficult road to travel. I like to think that both avenues, traditional and self, offer a value to writers, depending ...

  8. I love a good debate. It keeps everyone honest and open to changes that will happen in the market, like it or not. I'm sure there are still authors refusing to jump into the arena of social networking because it puts too much of their personal lives out there for the world to see, but we all are seeing the benefit of staying open to these changes. The market will always dictate in the end. I think authors out there right now selling books and making contract decisions have to be patient and surround themselves with knowledgeable people in the business. I believe that's exactly what Amanda Hocking has done. She looked at her past success, the business model that has worked for her, then she considered the advice and offers of others in the industry before making a calculated decision. Very smart girl!

    Great discussion starter, Jill!

  9. I admire self-published authors. They have courage I lack. I wanted the security and support of a traditional publisher behind me. They can get my book in far more places than I could. I don't have the marketing skills needed to do the tremendous amount of promotion required by those who self-publish.

  10. I imagine there's an incredible amount of satisfaction in holding a copy of a book that I have written, so I'm holding out for the traditional route - however long it takes! :)

  11. There was a big write-up in our local paper about Amanda Hocking since she lives only about 40 miles from here.

    I love my publisher, the support, the editing, the marketing, the way they are helping me shape my career. :)

  12. When describing the industry as broken I think it's more of the operating model is outdated. The publishers just aren't operating as best they can if they embraced the new mediums for content dissemination.

    Right now we are seeing traditionally published authors jumping ship to Self-publish because they already have an audience base and brand marketing taken care of for them. While unpublished authors are still trying to get in and are dis-heartened by constant rejections. Both through Trad-pub and Self-pub the author has to have a great product and do a large amount of marketing on their own. Most publishers won't swing major marketing dollars behind a first-time author.

    The thing that concerns me most is that while quality may be a piece of getting to publish, it's more about marketing and slot availability. Your work may be flawless, even best-seller material but if you don't hit the right agent at the right time and the right publisher you may never make it through. Worse yet, most will never tell you. So you can waste months of revisions and edits for no reason. It's not about quality.

    When they say it's broken, that is what I see.

  13. Hi Jill-- LOVE this article. I agree that traditional publishers offer HUGE services to writers. For me, I have a (very) small platform and no experience with marketing or editing books, so having access to an amazing editor and copyeditor and artist and marketing team has been a godsend.

  14. Great post, Jill. Like many things in life we'll probably see a great deal of both traditional and self-publishing. There's a tendency to say one should go with either or, but there's no reason what can't use both :) I admire Amanda Hocking because she's able to use each method to suit very practical purposes.

  15. This is a hot topic on the blogs this morning. I'm on board with going the traditional route, but I salute those who self publish and make a good go of it.

  16. I sure hope it's not dead or dying!

    The professional editing alone would be a gift to any author, I imagine, as well as the wealth of consumer interests, marketing, etc. that publishing houses offer. Very few authors can wear all the hats that are needed to create and market a stellar novel in my opinion.

  17. I agree with Laura, it's an exciting time to be a writer. The journey is unique for every author, and I appreciate how God showcases His power to pick! I want my road to publication to follow His will- traditional or not so traditional.

  18. I think people have been predicting the death of publishing for a number of decades. ;-)

    I definitely think commercial publishing is the way to go. Something Amanda Hocking said in one of her posts about wanting to have more time to write really stuck me. I know marketing and whatnot will be involved either way, but I'd rather be writing than having to do all the stuff a publisher has to do on top.

    And I know I'm late on this, but congrats on signing with an agent!

  19. Great post. I've been seeing a lot of posts arguing both sides lately but I agree with all of the points you've laid out. Traditional publishing is not on the way out nor is it broken.

    Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against self-published authors or books. I've read some really great ones. If someone is putting in the time and effort to put out a quality product and market themselves...more power to them. But the reality is its a hard road and it's only going to get harder as self-publishing becomes easier and more people flock to what they perceive as easy money. We both know there's nothing easy about it. I have a TON of respect for those who have risen to the top on their own.

    But I don't understand this new witchhunt against publishers or the theory that because some succeeded theres no reason to have a publisher. They still have a lot to offer authors, new and established.

  20. I really hope it's not dead!! Since I recently signed a deal. :)

    I think Amanda Hocking is awesome. Super level-headed.

  21. This shows that one type of publishing can lead to the other. I believe Mark Twain started this way. Of course traditional publishing is valuable. I hope it always will be. And I like to have choices which self-publishing offers.

  22. Of course it isn't dead; nor will it ever be. We humans overreact to everything from planets to pets; why not publishing?

    I have considered self-publishing, but it's a lot more work to promote yourself.

  23. Joanne: I agree with you. Authors like Mia (first commenter) will benefit from self-publishing because they have a built-in fanbase. Authors like myself (unpublished) would have to devote most waking hours to promoting our writing.

    Heather: Yep. You said it well. Savvy writers will benefit from self-publishing or traditional publishing. Exciting changes await!

    Keli: Good point (and I can relate!). In many ways, self-published authors who succeed are entrepeneurs!

    Lauren: The actual book in the hands--it's a fantastic motivator!

    Erica: It's nice to hear from you--a multi-published author--and hear good things about your publisher. Thank you!

    P.W.: Hard to argue with that, and I won't. I agree with you. With so many authors fighting to get an agent and publisher, and only so many slots each month, it stands to reason very few sub-quality books make it all the way. Many times a rejection is based on an agent or editor's gut-feeling or fear of not being able to market it. It's not the writing.

    Erin: Again, nice to hear from our published authors. It's encouraging to hear the positive side of traditional publishing rather than the negative constantly.

    Aron: Yes, I think many authors will utilize both. It will give authors more opportunities to reach out to their audiences in different ways, say by offering a 99 cent novella a few times a year or their backlists.

    Loree: Hear, hear! Nicely put!
    Eileen: Hi!! So glad to see you here! Yeah, I only have so many talents--I don't think I could do justice to it all.

  24. Tamika: Ooo, great attitude!

    Danyelle: Thank you!! Yeah, social media takes a lot of my time already. I can't imagine what she goes through!

    Sondrae: Excellent. I agree. Publishing is HARD. There are no easy paths. Maybe that's the real lesson here?

    Katie: Ha, ha! Alive and kicking and waiting to release your book!

    Nancy: I do too. It's great to have more than one option!

    Jen: Yeah, it is a lot more work. Agreed!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  25. I like that there are options available to writers. As far as the best option, well that is different just as everyone is different. Good discussion going!

  26. While I haven't ventured out to publish a book, self or traditional, a friend of mine self-pubbed two. She told a group of us she hadn't made any money from the sale of them. She carries them around in the trunk of her car and asks people if they would like to purchase one of both of them. She has had book signings at some events.

  27. My head is spinning with all this information about publishing changes. I think that, for myself, traditional is the way to go. I have a pretty good grasp of grammar and language, but is it good enough to plot it right on a Kindle? Probably not. I need someone with more experienced eyes than mine to make it reader-ready. Great post, Jill.

  28. I admire those who have the stamina to self publish but I don't believe traditional publishing is on the way out. There may be a lot of shifting and adapting going on, but I believe it will survive in a reorganized format. Fewer books may make it through the ranks, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

  29. I guess I need someone to validate me. Having an editor at a traditional publishing house will do that for me. It will mean that someone believes in me enough to back my words. I don't think I have the skill set to do all the jobs a publishing house does. I know there are people making a living as self published authors and that's wonderful, but for me I need that validation and support from a publishing house.

    Great post, Jill!

  30. Karen L: I do too. It's an exciting time to be a writer!

    Quiet Spirit: Thank you for sharing this. I hope your friend sells all of her books!

    Julie M: You really have to pay a company to format your book to be e-book ready. Some are better than others. Also, authors have to pay for cover art. Nathan Bransford wrote an amazing post yesterday at his blog, breaking down the income potential of self-pub and trad. pub.

    Carol: I agree with you on both counts. It does take stamina!

    Sharon M: Nothing wrong with that. I'd say most writers want validation--I know I do!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  31. can I sign a book deal for $2M? :) :) :) No, I'm not interested in self-pub. Not that some can't do it - my book covers would be nasty and it's all in the book cover, right? ;)

  32. I worked for a major self-publisher a few years ago (and I still freelance for them) so I know that business model inside and out. It's very, very rare for someone to make it successful. The success stories you hear about are a tiny fraction of all the authors that use the self-publishing model. It can happen, of course, and I don't discourage anyone from taking that route if that is what they want.

    For me, I'm still holding out for a traditional publishing contract.

  33. Great post. I think the problem is people get stars in their eyes after hearing self-pub success stories and forget about the thousands or hundreds of thousands of people who self-pub and their books totally tank.
    Just like in traditional publishing, there are books that do well and books that don't. However I think many self-pubs dive in without adequate preparation for the work involved.

  34. Great post! I think there are benefits to all forms of publishing, depending on the author and their work. I know my fiction novels aren't ready to be seen yet, or read by anyone outside a small group of people. Therefore, it will be awhile before I pursue any kind of publishing. However, I think that if an author wants both stability, great editing, and help with publicity, the traditional publisher is the way to go. If we want to try it on our own, that's ok. But either way isn't necessarily easier.
    By the way, I have an award for you at my blog, from my Thursday post. Sorry it's taken me so long to notify you.

  35. I think it really depends on what you're looking for out of the publishing experience. Right now, traditional publishing is what fits with my goals, so that's where I'll be looking. I simply don't have the resources or marketing skills needed to pursue the other path. But hey. Never say never. I do believe the publishing industry is undergoing some serious change, and maybe sometime down the line, I'll re-evaluate what looks good for me. Great post!

  36. Hi Jill -

    I think most self-pubbed authors hope their books will be so successful that they'll catch the eye of a traditional publisher.

    While the best-selling author may refuse a traditional deal, he has the advantage of a wide readership. His action will draw attention to his new book. The man knows how to market.

    The truth is publishing isn't for the faint of heart whether traditional or self-published. It's hard work producing that book and then selling it.

    Susan :)

  37. Great post! I don't think traditional publishing is dead at all. I know self promotion and marketing are involved there, but with self publishing, so much more is required of an author.

  38. Jaime: I want one of those too. :) And right on, the cover is everything!

    Melissa: What you say is so true, and in many ways it's true of all publishing. Not every book will sell well, and not everyone will make it to a best-seller list. Our expectations need to be realistic.

    Maggie: Yep. Over 700,000 books were self-published last year. That's a lot of competition.

    Tyrean: Thank you! I'll stop by! And yes, authors who self-publish would be wise to hire professionals to edit their books. Quality counts.

    Icy Roses: Great attitude! I'm with you. Right now, I have a plan based on current information. Two years from now, things might look very different!

    Susan JR: Good point, and sometimes it works. There are tons of talented authors who have quality books and can't find a publisher to take a chance on them. Self-publishing might make sense for them.

    Maria McK: Absolutely. Self-promotion is vital for either publishing avenue!

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  39. Hi Jill, As I read I was shouting, or rather saying softly, "Preach it, sister." My dream is a book between two hard covers and maybe that will be me stapling and gluing it together for my family and friends to read. I like to hope it will be through an agent and an editor that I grow to respect and call friends. To each his/her own. That just happens to me my choice. Tough to accomplish doesn't mean broken. It just means tough.


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