day two: the highs and lows of traditional publishing

When I decided to self-publishing EVERY SHATTERED THING, I knew I wanted to do it right. Going through a traditional publisher has probably always been a dream of mine, and always will be something I hope to accomplish. But my first go-round with a small press left me less than thrilled with lack of information and communication and I was so energized and empowered with the prospect of gaining full creative control over my book.

There was so much I wish I would have known about traditional publishing. So much that would have completely changed my decision to pursue the small press outside of choosing myself and going the indie route. 

THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

With traditional publishing, it takes about 12-18 months (if you're lucky) from the time you write the book until it's on bookshelves. When I was with the small press, my release date kept getting pushed back without warning. First, it was October of 2011. Then, after reading my revisions and loving the development of characters, they wanted to produce paperbacks as well (good thing!) and so they extended the date to early winter of 2012. Then, there were problems within the production of books or something (I don't even really know) and so it turned into "definitely by the spring." 

That's when conversations kind of just stopped happening. I'd go weeks without hearing anything from anyone: my editor, my marketing manager, the director of publishing. Sometime in April, my book appeared on websites to order. A few months after that, a PR agent was hired to assist in releases and we were told all of our books would be pushed back to allow for deeper focus on each manuscript. Sounded good to us, but again: there were no solid dates.

In July, without me knowing, people started receiving their books in the mail. When I found an agent and began actual dialogue with my publisher after months of silence, I was told the release was actually under a soft launch and that the actual date was September of 2012.

My story with them is rare, but it still happens. A few things different for me: I didn't have an agent and was going at the relationship with my publisher alone.

RED FLAG. 

Get an agent. Even if you're wanting to publish indie, still consider finding an agent to help you with legal rights conversations way above your level of expertise. Just because you publish your book by yourself doesn't mean you won't receive emails and hits from acquisition editors. Be ready. Have an agent.

Also, when I agreed to publish with this press I never received a contract. 

Hello.

I roll my eyes at that now, because not receiving a contract is probably a huge indicator that sister, you're never gonna get any royalty out of this deal. And I didn't. But I was so keyed up about actually having my book on book shelves I wasn't paying attention to the intricacies of business. Find an agent. They'll spot the scary ones and won't even touch them with a ten foot pole. 

So you don't have control over the publishing calendar (how long it takes to edit, the time in between you revising and them sending back notes, developing a marketing plan, etc), and you don't have control over release dates. You also don't have control over pricing. 

I've had a more than a few friends frustrated over the price of their eBooks. Most of these people have experience with indie publishing and so they know that freedom of setting the price that fits best for their audience as well as the occasional sale. In traditional publishing, you don't decide the price of your book, the publisher does. 

Which brings up the next point: when I say publisher, what does that mean? It means an entire team behind you — 

agent
editors
editorial assistants
copy editors
designers
publicists 

These aren't bad people. In fact, having a team on your side is actually really, really nice when it comes to allowing them to assist in getting your story out into the world. It's just, aside from your agent, you often don't have any choice on who you work with in the publishing process. Typically, an acquisition editor is who originally saw your work (or is one of the first people who began actively fighting for your manuscript within the publishing house). If it's not them it's the editorial assistants. Either way, if you're lucky these will be a built in support system during the process. 

Probably the biggest lure in traditional publishing is the advance. I didn't get an advance with the small press I signed with in 2011, but again: my story is not your usual-run-of-the-mill-publishing-story.

Advances are definitely a bonus in pursuing traditional publishing and take away a lot of the guess work in how much you'll make once the book is published. However, just because you get offered an advance doesn't mean you're going to be rolling in the green. Most advances aren't massive lump sums of cash. An advance is an investment on the publisher's part — a calculated risk on the potential they see in your book. You don't get it all at once. Often installments are agreed upon and you receive the payments after certain perimeters are met within the writing / publishing process. 

I've had friends land book deals with advances around 20k, and I have had friends with book deals in the six figures. And before you freak at the amount of money I just wrote, consider this: advances cover the entirety of the publishing process (and often) include multi-book deals. So it's not just this book you're getting paid for — it's the entire series. Or this standalone and another standalone you're expected to write once this one is published.

Puts things in perspective.

Nothing is set in stone with how much you can receive as an advance. If you have an agent, this is why you'll often hear about wanting to have multiple publishing houses say yes to your manuscript so a bidding war occurs. Bidding wars are good and beautiful things for an author because it means higher advances. Whatever you make, whether it's significant or simply helps you pay the electricity while you write, having capital going into the process means less stress, especially after the weeks or months you've spent negotiating the deal. 

Finally, the industry is changing at lightning speed. In his book APE: How to Publish a Book, Guy Kawasaki mentions that it wasn't until 1777 that books were even sold and the only people who could sell them were members of this elite book selling guild. Royalties didn't enter the picture until the 1830s. And in the 1900s, when a man began sharing his idea of the paperback book, people laughed. 

A publisher finally said yes, but only because they wanted to prove him wrong.

And in the dawn of self-publishing, literary houses scoffed at the idea that regular humans could choose to sell their books and not wait for the gatekeepers to say they were good enough.

Now who's laughing? E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, began her career publishing fan- fiction through Amazon's KDP. She now is the highest grossing author in history, having passed literary greats like JK Rowling and Stephen King. And she's not the only success story. Every day I hear about someone else who wrote the book and hit publish and watched their dreams come true.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with traditional publishing. I said it at the beginning and I'll say it again: it's still a goal of mine to get a book deal. But until then? What of the stories I have waiting? The ones that get me all breathy-with-excitement because these are books I would want to read?

Here's what I know: you can either sit on your hands and wait for someone to say you're good, I want you. Or, you can go ahead and write the story you're meant to write and then share it with the world, no wait-time or permission needed.

What will you decide?


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Posted on October 2, 2014 and filed under indie publishing, writing.