Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Do You Want to be Traditionally Published?

This is the forth question of seven that Bill Petrocelli of Book Passage in Corte Madera, California asked at a writers publishing workshop last month. During the last few weeks I've expanded on Bill's lecture. Here are the past three weeks:

Of course you do, we all want that publishing contract from one of the BIG publishing houses. That means that your work is outstanding, you have a fantastic literary agent, and you have the skills to keep producing a new work every six to nine months. And, by the way, you are thrilled that the manuscript you wrote will be handed over to these people and you will have very little control over the editing, the cover, and the future of the book itself.

These are some of the harsh realities of going the traditional publishing route. It is a tough road; patience and careful driving are required as well as a decent road map. But, for many writers it is an appropriate course and possibly even the best way to go to see your work in bookstores.

The traditional process is as follows (with obvious variations in every case).
  • Manuscript completed,
  • Manuscript edited,
  • Query letters written and sent to potential agents,
  • Agent likes the manuscript,
  • Agent signs you on,
  • Agent offers the manuscript to publishers,
  • You and agent agree to publisher's contract,
  • Publisher publishes the book,
  • You go to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
Easy-peasy. Unfortunately this process absolutely never happens that way. At every level there are rejections, refusals, unanswered query letters, months of wait, and heart wrenching disappointments. This is the way it is. Consider that traditionally published books may make-up less than 20% of the total number of published books you understand the pressure on them to be selective and thorough.

The traditional publishing house does know what they are doing. This is a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of self-publishers that have to learn a whole new business in addition to their writing. The traditional house will handle the final editing, design of the inside and outside of the book, printing, distribution, and promotion. Some houses pay a royalty against the potential book earnings, some don't, but for the writer it's hands-off. I have done both traditional and self-publishing and there are strong merits for both.

The key is finding an agent who can place the right publishing house with your book. Even the big publishers tend to print certain genres and themes. That's why there are smaller imprints within the large publishing house, each imprint may focus on a particular reader and their interest, i.e. romance, thrillers, history, children's, etc. And this applies to non-fiction as well. 

This blog can't give a list of books to read and paths to follow - there's hundreds, all I'm trying to do is lay out the overall issues of self-publishing or go traditional. The Internet and the library and even your local bookstore (i.e. Barnes and Noble, etc.) have references and lists for agents and publishers. Spend a lot of time learning the process, go to writer's workshops, and talk to other writers. Every road traveled will be different.

I'm an impatient person and I also want to be involved with the final product. I don’t wish this curse on anyone, as a result for many of my books I self-published them. I took the time to learn this new and exciting industry and I have some skill in Photoshop and InDesign. But for most writers these skills are difficult to learn and master, it was hard enough getting the damn book written.

So, the decision is yours. But keep in mind that you, the writer, are like a farmer that produces the best corn in all of Iowa. But you still sell it by the bushel to a market that is inundated with millions of bushels of corn. You, the farmer, will be paid by the bushel but that bag of frozen organic corn at the local Safeway is sold by the ounce. That bushel is worth about $5.00, but sold in bags in the frozen section that bushel is now worth more than $250. There are a lot of hands out between the agent and your royalty check.

Next week: If you self-publish how do you control the costs?

More later . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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