In 2014, I sold my YA book series to Philomel, which is an imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers. I knew pretty early on my writing life that I didn’t have the skillset for self-publishing, so it was traditional or bust for me. Four years and two books later, I’ve seen the traditional publishing world from the inside, and while it may not before everyone, it was definitely the right place for me. But, there are a lot of pros and cons of being traditionally published. So, if you’re on the fence and trying to decide if traditional publishing is worth the wait and the work, I created this post to help!
Here’s what I see as the top pros and cons of being traditionally published.
Traditional publishers have deals in place with major and independent bookstores and retailers. They have the means and the connections to get your book into the hands of booksellers who can, in turn, get your book to your readers. The internet has made it easier than ever for self-published authors to get their books into the world, but it’s still a challenge for those authors to get their books into a physical store. And trust me when I say, browsing a bookstore in another state and finding your book on the shelf is pretty damn cool!
Get paid up front
I don’t have to tell you how many unpaid hours of work writers endure. If you’re anything like me, you may spend at least a year writing your book. And during that time, you probably put a lot of time and resources into your project knowing you may never see a return on it. This is why it’s really nice to sign a contract and get a check in the mail before your book even has a cover. How much you get will vary based on the specifics of your deal, but if you’re traditionally published, you will get something up front.
Also worth noting: You may have heard that since this is an advance on royalties, a publisher can ask for this money back if your book’s sales don’t earn your advance back. This is true, but also incredibly rare. In my experience, this only tends to happen if you violate your contract in some way. Otherwise, you get to keep the money. It’s seen as a good-faith gesture since you did, in fact, do work for the publisher. However, you won’t get any more money on your project unless you earn out.
A professional team (that you don’t have to pay for)
If you want an editor, proofreader, or cover artist as a self-published writer, you have to find and pay people to do these things for you. That can get both expensive and time consuming. But if you’re traditionally published, you don’t have to worry about any of that! Your publisher has a staff of professional editors, proofreaders, and graphic artists who will take on the task of physically producing the book. They will handle everything from creating your cover to obtaining an ISBN number to registering your copyright with the Library of Congress. You don’t have to sweat the details! They are pros and they’ve got you covered!
Marketing and sales support
Traditional publishing means you aren’t alone in selling your book! Publishers have entire sales and marketing department whose job it is to market their titles–including yours! Of course, how much support you get will vary, and no matter what, you definitely have to do your share of promotion. But if you ask me, it’s still better than going at it alone.
More doors will open for you if you are a traditionally published author than a self-published one. This may not be fair, but it’s true. Traditional publishers are not easy to get into, so being picked up by one is a sign of talent to many. Granted, this may not be true if you’re a self-published author with truly outstanding sales and/or readership–there are exceptions to every rule. But by and large, having your book picked up by a major publisher will get you opportunities that self-publishing won’t.
Less of a say in everything
Remember that cover art that you didn’t have to pay for? Well, since you’re not paying for it, you also don’t get that much of a say in it. So, if you hate it, you may also be stuck with it if you’re traditionally published. Now, in my experience, publishers do want their authors to be happy, so if you truly hate your cover, there can be a discussion, but they ultimately get the final say. This is true in nearly every aspect of book production. Since your publisher is the one taking on the financial responsibility of publishing the book, they also get to make a bulk of the production decisions.
If you’re traditionally published, you will have a deadline that you have to meet. Sometimes there’s wiggle room, but sometimes there isn’t. Publishers have a production schedule for all the books they put out. If you are late turning in your book, you will mess up the production schedule. This means your book won’t be ready by the scheduled release date (among other things). So if you’re traditionally published, you have to meet your deadlines, which can be intense and stressful.
Only get a fraction of each sale
When you self-publish, you get all (or nearly all) of the proceeds of your book. If you’re traditionally published, you get a small fraction of the sale. That’s largely because there are a lot more people to pay. The publisher, who put out the money to make your book, gets a cut. The bookseller, who is getting your book to readers, gets a cut. And you get your cut. Again, how much you get can vary, but as far as I know, 10%-12% is typically standard.
You might not be a priority
Publishing houses can be big, busy places. They have a lot of books and authors. You may not be a priority. Whereas, if you’re self-publishing and sending emails to your editor or cover artist, you’re more likely to be a priority to them since you’re paying them directly.
Barrier to entry
This is the biggest and most obvious con. It is not easy to get into traditional publishing. First, you need to get an agent, which can very well take years. Then your agent needs to get interest from editors. And just because your book was good enough to get you an agent, that doesn’t guarantee that an editor will want to buy it. If they do, they then have to convince their publisher that your book is a good investment. If they don’t, you need to write another book so you and your agent will try again. It can be a long process, so be prepared for it!
I hope this gives you a good sense of the pros and cons of traditional publishing!
With all of that said, don’t give up on traditional publishing if it’s what you want. I’m really glad I stuck with it and I wouldn’t want to do things any differently.
Now it’s your turn: What are your thoughts on traditional publishing? Tell me about it in the comments! And if you have any experience, please share that too!
Pin it up!