Welcome back to our Tuesday segment, where we’ll be revisiting some of our most popular posts from the last few years.  What’s stayed the same?  And what’s changed?  We’ll be updating you on the facts, and taking a new (and hopefully refreshing) angle on a few timeless classics of Self Publishing Advisor.

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[ Originally posted:June 18th, 2010 ]

Things every author consider when considering self-publishing vs. the old-fashioned model…

7 – Traditional publishers lose money on over 85% of the books they publish, so they only accept around 2% of those that are submitted.

6 – They typically accept manuscripts only from established authors who have demonstrated a proven track record.

5 – Authors lose content control of their work during the editing process.

4 – Authors must still invest an enormous amount of time, energy, and money promoting a traditionally-published book.

3- Authors typically receive 5-10% royalty on the wholesale price of the book, and from that have to give 15-25% to their agent. Do the math.

2 – The majority of books published by old-fashioned publishers go out of print within 3 years. Many books that are stocked on book shelves remain stocked for as little as five weeks before being returned, unsold, to the publisher.

1- Old-fashioned publishers acquire all rights to your book and keep them, even when the book goes out of print or the publisher goes out of business. Yikes.

Publishing is hard and weird, and the process takes far more energy and attention than it rightfully should.  If you’re lingering in the balance between opting in to the traditional publishing mechanism or choosing to pursue a self-publishing option, this list from 2010 may just provide the last swing vote.  To pretend that we are unbiased would be disingenuous, I know, but isn’t there another side to this list?  Isn’t there some dirty laundry to air about indie, hybrid, and self-publishing companies, too?

Yes, no doubt.  That’s the honest answer.  The self-publishing model isn’t for everyone, and there are certainly the requisite number of soulless opportunists who have spotted a new means to exploit newcomers, as there are in any industry, but for the most part I do find that the people who work with and alongside self-publishing authors are a good lot.  They’re genuinely interested in helping you succeed–according to your own standards and expectations, not under the unrealistic ones set by traditional publishing.

So here’s my claim for the day, with a proviso:

When self-publishing is done right and all of the people involved in a project operate by the foundational tenets of the indie spirit, the experience provides authors the exact opposite experience of traditional publishing.

7: Self-publishing has no gatekeepers, censors, or men in suits wagging their fingers at innovation.

6: Anyone can self publish, no matter their background or prior experience with publishing (traditionally or otherwise).

5: Authors retain full artistic and legal control over their work.

4: Authors get to see a direct proportional relationship between the time, energy, and money they spend promoting and marketing their book–and sales figures.

3: With no middleman to split the earnings, self-publishing authors can keep anywhere up to 100% of their own royalties.  That’s, well, a lot better.

2: Self-publishing authors have a weapon in their artillery that traditionally published authors do not which resolves both the overstocked and the understocked problems facing traditionally published authors and their distributers: Print on Demand (POD).  Because you can always go back and print more copies of your book, there’s no danger of running out.  And because you get to choose how many books you print in the first place and how they’ll be distributed, you’re not shipping crates of untouched books to distributers who will never be able to move copies.  Precision targeted sales, that’s what POD enables!

1: Nobody will ever own your work except you.  Nobody.


When you cast things in a certain light, it gets really and truly hard to see the benefits of opting in to a broken system that has yet to meet the rapidly-evolving needs of a digital market where they live.  And I’m not just saying this because I’m biased–I am biased, 100%–but because I’ve been through the wringer of traditional publishing.  I know what it’s like.  Like most self-publishing authors, I’ve dipped my toe into the world of traditional publishing and come away angry, hurt, and disappointed.  And I’m committed to making sure as many authors get to move on to far better and more positive things, as I have.  I’m committed to making sure authors know they have another, better option.

And yes, it’s called self-publishing.

Thanks for reading.  If you have any other ideas, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments section below and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.  ♠

2 thoughts on “From the Archives: “7 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS”

  1. This is not entirely accurate and in some cases overstating the idea a bit much. As someone who has worked at traditional publishers for almost two decades, I would raise some issues here:

    7. True

    6. False. Yes, a track record is always a bonus, but proven marketplace presence through media, articles, speaking, appearances, etc. are equally as important as previous book sales (at least for nonfiction).

    5. Not necessarily so. A publisher’s job is to maintain the integrity of the work while at the same time making sure the work has marketplace appeal. If an author is hellbent on retaining the work exactly as-is even when that jeopardizes the book’s potential for sales, how does that benefit anyone?

    4. True to some extent though what is “immense” to one person is reasonable to another. It’s all a matter of perspective.

    3. Royalties can start as low as 5% but can also go higher than 10%. And yes, it is on cash received by the publisher–if the publisher does not receive list price from vendors who purchase copies for sale, how can publishers pay royalties based on list price? Also, I have never heard of any agent who takes a penny more than the standard 15%. If you have an agent who takes more, you should fire him/her.

    2. Books go out of print if they don’t sell–what is unfair about that? If the book does sell, there’s no reason for it to ever go out of print. And bookstores return books that don’t sell–that is their right. What obligation or business sense does it make for a bookstore to carry an inventory of non-selling books?

    1. Can you give a single example of a publisher who maintained rights if they went out of business or if the book went out of print? It’s not just highly unethical but quite illegal to do so.

    I am sorry, but many of your claims about traditional publishing are quite untrue, while many of your claims about self-publishing are biased and assume that every author:

    + is a good writer (rarely so) and that publishers are “gate-keepers” who want to stop writers from getting published (why would a publisher want to sabotage its own opportunity to make money?)

    + must retain all control over their work (and allow for blind spots, flaws, and issues to remain in a work that could otherwise be vastly improved and made marketable)

    + earns more potential royalties (few ever do, and you always don’t account for the initial outlay of money by the author which is never the case with a traditional publisher–nor do you account for revenues lost by not having representation for foreign and subsidiary rights and translations).

    + has to fight for ownership of his or her own material when under U.S. law anything that is created is copyrighted to its creator by default. Some publishers ask that you assign them copyright but you can refuse them

    Yes, self-publishing is a viable option for some, but definitely not for the majority.

    1. Dear Jeevan,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply to our post–I appreciate your taking the time to respond to each point, in turn. And I won’t discount the truth in what you say, just as I freely admitted my bias in the original post. I’m not sure responding your point-by-point rebuttal in a similar point-by-point defense will do much except establish me as antagonistic towards traditional publishing … which I’m not. I think we need to present self-publishing as a viable, respectable, and responsible alternative to the traditional publishing platform–and this has not been the norm throughout indie publishing’s short history.

      I would also say this: I personally take issue with anyone who wants to bar an author from publishing works which may not qualify them as “a good writer” in the eyes of the traditional publishing establishment. Taste is in the eye of the beholder, and to bar an author from publishing altogether based on a subjective evaluation of quality is unethical and unkind. I’m not saying that traditional publishers should lower their standards … I’m saying that there *has* to be room for everyone, or else we have a runaway “gatekeeper” mentality with no possibility for changes in market demand … and innovation. The reason self-publishing’s market share continues to grow at the EXPENSE of traditional publishing is because indie authors are producing work that is being read, and widely.

      I don’t want self-publishing to kill traditional publishing. I want them both to succeed, and I’m convinced indie publishers make traditional publishers better.

      I hope this makes my position more clear? In revisiting an old 2010 post, today’s post was intended to provide another angle on the subject. I’m glad you have challenged to broaden the topic’s reach still further!

      Warm regards,
      – Kelly S.

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