6 Reasons Authors Still Want Publishers

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

In an age when so many of the “big stories” in publishing are about amazing self-pub successes, I’m hearing some writers asking, “Why would I want a traditional publisher?”

Here are six big reasons.

1. Objective validation.

To be “chosen” by a publisher means that a group of people who are widely read, and who see dozens of new projects come across their desks every single week, believe your book has value and will find a reading audience. It means that people who see all kinds of writing—from really bad to really great—believe that yours is somewhere in the ballpark of “really great.”

2. Editing and design

Virtually all writers, including the very best, will find their writing improves and their books are better because they’ve worked with talented editors. Publishers also provide a professional and polished interior and exterior look for their books, in both electronic and paper formats.

3. Expanding your readership

Even though writers usually need some kind of platform and they have to do a lot of marketing on their own, the publisher does their own marketing, reaching different audiences than the author is able to reach on their own.

4. Mainstream media

Traditional media is still an important driver of book sales — talk shows, news programs, and reviews in major magazines, newspapers and websites (New York Times, Washington Post, People, etc.) Not every author can get this kind of publicity, but books published through traditional houses have a much better chance. Most of the mainstream media still chooses not to review or feature very many self-published works.

5. Partnership and expertise

Authors know that when they work with a publisher, they’re partnering with a company that has years, decades or even centuries of experience choosing, editing, designing, marketing and selling books. Sometimes it’s nice to know you’ve got a partner who knows what they’re doing.

6. Emotional payoff

There is something special about the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. For many people, the dream only feels fully realized when they’re contracted by a traditional publisher.

What are your thoughts? Why are YOU pursuing traditional publishing?

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32 Comments

  • Jeanne T says:

    I hadn’t thought through all these reasons for pursuing traditional publishing, but you’ve covered some of my reasons. I hadn’t put it into words, but there is the validation factor. Also, knowing that a publisher has the resources (editors, graphics department, and more) to make my book the best it can be and get it “out there.” One day. :)

  • Rachelle, these are all great reasons, and ones I have definitely considered as I pursue my dream of being represented. Numbers 2, 4 and 5 have been my largest focus. I felt I had a fair amount of input on the design of my two books released with small presses. I’m glad for it, but I also know I am limited in knowledge, so professional people who design covers and interiors on a regular basis might have different ideas I never thought of. I’m also not the best self-editor.

    My work in online book promotion doesn’t mean I have access to more traditional avenues, and I feel this is a weakness in my marketing plan. And the support a partner brings to the table is priceless for me, since I don’t have the support of a spouse.

    Thanks for reaffirming my desire to seek traditional publication.

  • All good reasons Rachelle.

    For me, validation and emotional pay off would give me more confidence and incentive to market my book…and of course, would rock my eighty-four year old Momma’s world! (She’s one of my Accountability Partners…cause whenever we talk, she never forgets to ask, “And how’s your book coming?”)

    Editing is super important to me! I appreciate and hope for an honest editor.

  • I’ve thought through this a lot, Rachelle, as I’ve examined my motivations for writing. For me, I’d say every single point applies. It gives me goosebumps to think of the thrill of partnering with an agent and a publisher to create fantastic books that touch and entertain and encourage readers.

  • Good points, Rachelle. I got into this mess…I mean, profession a few years ago, when self-publication was equated with vanity publishing. At that time, it was either go with a conventional publisher (if they’d have you) or be looked down on.
    The ready availability of e-publishing has changed all this. Right now, I’d still go with a conventional publisher, but things seem to be changing, and down the road the answers may be different for a lot of us.
    Thanks for sharing some excellent thoughts.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    Thanks for this post, which will help me craft a response to the many people who ask me, “Why don’t you just self-publish?” as if it were some magical solution.

  • Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you, Rachelle, for your objectivity.

    I think, too, that the literary agent becomes more critical now. Word coming out of the London Book Fair is that agents are becoming more like career managers. Considering the fact that more literary agencies are warming up to managing their authors in self-publishing as well as traditional publishing, this is a very positive development. As a hybrid writer, I welcome hybrid agents.

    “Why are YOU pursuing traditional publishing?”

    Singularly, it’s for the validation. At the same time, I keep in mind that I am not looking to have my name slapped onto the cover of a book or eBook. My publishing goal (second to my spiritual reasons) is to have a publisher’s authentication that I not only “made it” as a writer, but that I have a sustainable writing career. Since I have all these stories, series, and trilogies in my head that are begging to be written, I am looking for a long-term publishing career. I believe that the agented publishing route is the way for me.

  • Larry says:

    I would say that if a writer can consider Rachelles’ points, and find that they are capable of accomplishing them without a traditional publisher, that said writer may want to indeed consider the New Wave of publishers.

    Because they are, for some writers, very valid points: some writers do perceive there to be some sort of emotional validation in having a book traditionally published, for example. Some writers may absolutely need the help of a traditional publisher to sell their book.

    The only point I absolutely disagree with, though, is the first one: any quick look at the shelves of a library or bookstore shows many, many, many titles which invalidate the “objective quality validation” narrative of traditional publishers being the arbiters of what makes a “true” book. (Or even just a good book….)

    “Why are YOU pursuing traditional publishing?”

    I can say why I was, once:

    It seemed like it was the only way to actually get published.

    Now there are many valid options for a writing career which is not dependent on traditional publishing industry, and many valid options for readers as to how they want to read.

    I am, however, watching as some changes are made by the traditional publishing industry. If the right changes are made, it might actually become a career choice to consider once more.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      Does it have to be an either-or situation? The hybrid author is open to both traditional and self publishing concurrently. Check out this article in the New York Times about literary agencies in their new duality: http://tinyurl.com/bq5yasu

      Larry: “The only point I absolutely disagree with, though, is the first one…”

      I agree with you, Larry, that bookshelves in libraries (and bookstores) do not reflect the quality of work put out. As many have said in various places, bestselling books are not necessarily the most well-written works.

      However, even there, the question is: What is quality? Quality means differently for different people. What constitutes quality to an editor might not go down well with readers. Which is why some books sell, and some never gets printed again. IMO, anyway,

      However, I wonder if Rachelle might have meant #1 to be a personal validation rather than something that applies to everyone. You know what I mean? For example, some people don’t think that they need to have a PhD to be an expert in a particular field, but some others feel like a PhD “validates” their knowledge in the same field. Who is right? Both are.

      Larry: “Now there are many valid options for a writing career which is not dependent on traditional publishing industry, and many valid options for readers as to how they want to read.”

      Larry, when you emphasized “readers,” IMO you hit the core of the matter. I think as writers we need to produce the best possible product, and let the market decide. Ultimately the readers are who we’re selling books to, whether by way of agents and publishers or through direct sales.

      • Jan, you are so right,’bestselling books are not necessarily the most well-written works.’ I have read some pretty mundane things that I still cannot figure out how they got published. I have also read some manuscripts that were excellent and the writers couldn’t get an agent or publisher to save their lives.

      • Larry says:

        Hmmmm….I’d say for now it is an either-or scenario, at least for me. The traditional industry is changing, yet it still is nowhere near the sort of industry I would want to be a part of: not just due to the lack of respect given to writers, but it just seems like jumping onto a sinking ship. Closings and mergers as an on-going process due to not knowing how to adapt to change is one the industry is still working out.

        From how I read Rachelles’ post, #1 seemed to be stating that publishers are objective arbiters of quality, applicable to all writing, whereas #6 was more of the individual validation writers may feel if traditionally published: in other words, #1 stated objective qualities held by publishers to define what is a “good” or “true” novel, whereas #6 was the subjective quality of the emotional validation of the writer.

        Indeed, readers are key to the process: it isn’t a publishers approval a writer should seek.

        It shouldn’t even be approval of the readers, because that misplaces the function of a reader and writer and book:

        Being a reader-focused writer means finding the approval of the story and art of writing, so that we can be the best writers we can be, and provide the best possible books and stories to readers.

  • For me, the main reasons I’m seeking traditional publication are all the reasons you’ve listed, Rachelle. I’m looking for validation, I’m looking to fulfill a lifelong dream and I’m eager to work with professional artists, editors and publicists to make my book the very best it can be. Anyone can self-publish, but not everyone can achieve traditional publication–I think that’s why so many people still pursue it.

    • James Lester Thompson says:

      Ms Meyer, I agree with you three hundred percent.At present, I am still writing my autobiography,but when I finish it I plan to seek a literary agent.I don’t think The Help which was written by Katherine Stockett would have ever made it to the other side of the world if Katherine had self-published her great novel.Yes, she was turned down 60 times,but the rejections and her persistance were worth what she has made off of her book.

  • Dr. Michelle Bengtson says:

    Thank you for sharing such sage wisdom. In this technology age where epublishing is a more viable option, it’s helpful to hear the advantages for the more traditional publishing route.
    It definitely shows the advantage from a sense of community!

  • At Mount Hermon this year I had the pleasure of listening to an agent and an acquisitions editor dialogue about the industry and the professional interactions they have. Hearing from them encouraged me to continue the pursuit of traditional publishing. Now I need to focus on writing a manuscript that will be unique and unforgettable.

  • The more I work on projects, the more I appreciate and value the need to work collaboratively. It’s important to work with people who have strengths in each specific area of a project. When everyone unites, it creates something remarkable. Doesn’t mean it’s easy; it’s a process. However, I believe that everyone involved will learn, grow, and be different in the end. This is one of the many reasons why I would love to one day have my thyroid journey testimony traditionally published.

  • Rachelle,

    I think all these reasons are spot on. I DO, however, believe that there are just as many viable reasons for self-publishing, too. In fact, when a self-published book takes off, self-publishing can look remarkably better. That being said, I’m blessed with an agent who has included in my contract the freedom to be a hybridized writer – I will continue to self-publish AND traditionally publish, because there are benefits to BOTH.

    In some ways, the notion that anyone can self-pub is a little demoralizing. Yes, it’s true. Anyone can self-pub. Anyone can blog. However, anyone CAN traditionally pub, too. I’ve seen some traditionally-published books that shouldn’t have made it past the security guard at the front door of the publishing house. I’ve also seen exceptional books traditionally-published that never do well, for whatever reason, and I’ve seen authors wait and wait and wait for that traditionally-pubbed manuscript to get picked up… and it never does.

    BUT the cream of the crop rises to the top no matter what venue you’re publishing in. I think the best thing we authors, agents, and publishing houses can do FOR each other is to team up, to support each other, and to stop pitting one another against each other. I LOVE this writing job, and I feel strongly that we need to be team players. But that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? This is a business. It shouldn’t define who we are and what side of the fence we’re on, but what we DO.

    My soapbox for the day. I apologize if I’ve stepped on anyone’s toes.

  • I think that the change in the view of self-publishing is a good one for everyone–writers and readers alike. However, one reason I’m not at this point in time interested in the “indie” option is that I don’t want to be an entrepreneur. I’ve founded a couple of businesses in my life. I know that I could hire excellent editorial support and cover design & etc. I don’t want to. I want to partner with someone who already has that all figured out so that I can do what I’m best at — writing. Is self-publishing an exciting development in the world of reading? Yes. Is it a viable one? Yes, for writers who are willing to invest the kind of money needed to produce excellent product, and by that I mean first rate editorial support, a great cover, good marketing copy, etc. IMHO it is a rare novelist who is excellent in all those areas and who also has the time and the knowledge to market their product well. That’s not me.

  • I worked in a publishing house and later freelanced for them. When you publish through a house, there is a validation that takes place. They only pick you up as a writer if they think there’s a good chance your book will sell, because they’re assuming the financial risk for you to publish. You also have a team working with you toward the success of your book. You have proofreaders, editors, design professionals, etc. working with you to create a professional looking book that hopefully people are going to want to read. Having a professional team like that behind you is comforting. You’re not in it alone.

    On the other hand, when you go the self-publishing route, the way in is easier because there is virtually no quality control, but that’s only a good thing if you’ve written a high quality work, and without objective (and professional) input, it’s hard to know for sure if you have, especially for a beginner. Most writers jump before a book is truly ready. You can’t do that in traditional publishing.

  • donnie and doodle says:

    . . . . publishing to means, I have made some imprint on the world of children’s literature – even if it is only my “paw-prints”.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I expect for my books to reach a larger audience when they are traditionally published. (Plus the other six things mentioned.)

  • Elaine Faber says:

    No one has to convince me. I choose traditional publishing. Now if traditional publishing would only choose ME! A social media class this AM taught me that if my book is to be successful, it must have 1.great writing, 2. a complelling premise and 3. a strong platform. So just writing a great book is no longer enough. We have to be “famous” as well, or have our hand in many social media pies.We all think we’re great writers with a smashing plot. The difficulty of 3. makes self-publishing look attractive, but actually without the platform, the book won’t be successful either…so now we’re back to number one through three, especially three.

  • Bonnie Doran says:

    For me, I wanted validation and editing in going with a traditional publisher. I also value a partner in advertising the novel. One other item is that traditional publishers can get their authors’ books into bookstores. My understanding is that self-publishers have trouble with this because their books aren’t represented by a major distributor.

  • I think that when I started out five years ago, I wanted traditional because I wouldn’t have to do as much “footwork” to get my book out there. Also, at that time, self-pubbing seemed an easy option for those who didn’t want to take the time to edit/get quality cover art.

    In those five years, the publishing landscape has changed dramatically. Self-pubbing your first book is NOT the biggest way you can torpedo your career–in fact, the return of serial stories on blogs shows that exposing your followers to your WRITING first might be a smart idea, and a great way to have loyal followers.

    All the self-pubbed authors I know have spent lots of time on their books–getting editorial input and quality cover art. I’m truly impressed and I understand how having that control over your cover/presentation/story would be appealing, esp. for those in the CBA whose message is more crossover and doesn’t fit in traditional boxes.

    Yes, I’m still pursuing traditional publication. But I think hybrid authors and agents who are willing to represent hybrid authors are going to be the ones who rise to the top, as traditional bookstores collapse and CBA publishers and agent circles continue to merge, limiting options for debut authors even further.

    Thought-provoking post, Rachelle!

  • Yvette Carol says:

    Hi Rachelle, thanks for this post, I’m definitely tweeting about it! I got talking to a fellow the other day, and as things do, we got around to ‘what do you do?’ When I said ‘author, not yet published’, he replied, ‘Do you know how to get published these days? Go to Amazon…’ I was amazed that this has become the common layperson’s impression of how to get a book published these days. How times have changed! Me, I still chase the trad. publishing deal. Until…

  • Jessi Gage says:

    All good points, Rachel. Point one was the big one for me. Lots of friends suggested I pursue self publishing. I’d smile and nod, but in my mind, my response was always: They think I’m not good enough.

    Personally, I needed the validation of having a publisher believe in me. I believed enough in myself to pursue traditional publishing as my goal and am SO glad I did.

    Great post. It’s nice to be able to list out reasons other than the validation, because people do love to debate SP vs TP. Thanks for the great info!

  • All in all a good assessment. Let me start out by saying that I was very successful self-published and I had originally calculated that I would lose $200,000 – $300,000 by the transition to traditional. Many people wondered why I would do so, but for me it was a strategy to build my brand. And now that I’m a year out I can determine that it absolutely was the right decision (for me and my situation). Also…as it turns out I din’t lose the money I thought I would – but much of that was because I signed $300k in foreign deals.

    So why do I think it was a good move?

    * I’ve just received my royalty statements for the fist year of traditional publishing and I averaged 13,000 books a month sold (across 3 titles) I did have 4 months of 9,500 – 11,500 sales (across 5 titles) when self-published but most of the months where 1,000 – 5,000 a month.

    * I have 14 foreign language translations which has provided me more than $200,000 income. I had a few very small foreign language translations before the traditional deal and having the traditional deal paved the way for the bigger markets (My book will be a “featured” release for my German publisher in 2014.

    * I estimate my readership essentially tripled due to traditionally publishing – so the per book went down but the readership went up and for me personally I would prefer more readers to more money (all I want is my bills to be paid which I can get through either route).

    * There is still a stigma when you say you are self-published. Being traditionally published grants a ‘credibility’ that you can’t buy for any amount of money.

    * My books are now in bookstores and libraries which is still a major source for “discoverability”

    * My books were made into audio versions (which is expensive to do as “self” and I’ve been in the top 0.5%- 1.5% of all science fiction/fantasy titles (about 9,000 of them) for about 6 months and in the top 25 of epic fantasy. I’m also a finalist for an Audie because of the audio book. All this is another ‘discoverability’ route. I’d have to sell 11,000 additional self-published books to replace this revenue.

    * I have a sceenplay being written now, and the head of the books-to-film agent at ICM shopping the movie.

    ————————————–
    So in a nutshell the added readership and credibility has made traditional publishing well worth it – in my case. But i know many traditionally published authors who still have day jobs so it’s definitely a case of YMMV.

  • The reasons are all valid and not surprisingly so, coming from a publisher.
    What I found with my book ‘Mr Alexander’ is that when I tried to use a publisher, I seemed to be at a tremendous disadvantage because I had not published before because I had not been a member of a writer’s workshop.

    Now that I have a published work, even though via the self-publishing route, I expect them to be a little more willing to read my work before reaching a decision.

    • The reasons are all valid and not surprisingly so, coming from a publisher.
      Sorry for posting again but I wanted to correct errors before posting but did not do so.

      What I found with my book ‘Mr Alexander’ is that when I tried to use a publisher, I seemed to be at a tremendous disadvantage because I had not published before and because I had not been a member of a writer’s workshop.

      Now that I have a published work, even though via the self-publishing route, I expect publishers to be a little more willing to read my work.

  • Holly Worton says:

    With the exception of the first point, authors can get everything from the remaining points from self publishing: editing and design, marketing, media, partnership and expertise, and emotional payoff.

    First of all, publishers are in business to make money. So the fact that they’ve accepted a book doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good quality. It simply means that they think it will be easy to market and sell. I’ve read plenty of poorly written books that were traditionally published, so it’s by no means an indicator of quality.

    As for editing, design, marketing, and mainstream media, a self published author can get all this from hiring a team of freelancers to do the work that they specialize in. Self published authors who take their work seriously will do just that.

    And they’ll get a sense of partnership and expertise from working with a group of freelance professionals that they have hand picked, rather than getting stuck with the editor that the publisher assigns or the finished book cover that they had no say in.

    As for emotional payoff, both traditionally published and self published authors can see publishing a book as fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I agree that there are some authors who need what they see as validation, but the dream can be fulfilled via either publishing route.

    I think the bigger question at hand is: how much of a part do you want to take in creating the final product that your book will become? Are you willing to take whatever cover they hand you? Are you willing to have little or no say over the process once you sign your rights over? Are you willing to work with an editor who has a very different vision for your book, and demands major changes that you may not agree with?

    I have worked with a number of traditionally published authors who are now making the move to self publishing. Their top complaints are lack of control and publishers not following through with their promises, especially in the area of marketing.

    It all comes down to how much involvement you want to have once you finish the manuscript.

  • Melody Scott says:

    I’ve just received my “rights” to a book that was traditionally published (and ebook published) three years ago. I’d like to keep it in circulation but must remove the ISBN and publisher’s info from the cover (which I designed). It’s on Amazon and at B/N. I have no idea what I need to do to solve this problem.

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