Let’s call things what they really are, shall we? No euphemisms or mislabeling, okay? What exactly is–and isn’t–traditional publishing?
I’ve noted an uptick in new publishing entities entering the market lately that describe themselves as “traditional publishers.” But when you read how they function, you learn that the customer (which is a more accurate label for those who choose to create a book through these companies than “author”) must buy a publishing package. It can consist of simply having a book produced from your manuscript; writing coaching and/or editing to ready your manuscript for prime time; and marketing/publicity packages of varying levels. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure sort of approach. But it’s not traditional publishing.
Discerning the Difference
These companies often present themselves as “traditional” because they pay royalties on copies that sell. But that doesn’t really translate to traditional.
A traditional publishing house PAYS YOU; other companies ask YOU TO PAY for their services.
It’s pretty straightforward: If you’re offered money (in the form of an advance and/or royalties) to have your book published, but you aren’t asked to pay for any services rendered, you’re working with a traditional publisher. If you’re being asked to pony up money for the services the publisher offers, that’s untraditional. Even if royalties are being proffered.
A traditional publishing house pays for ALL the costs of editing, marketing, publicizing, designing of the cover, placing of ads, etc. An untraditional publishing venue looks to you to fund the production and promotion of your book.
Is It Bad to Pay for Book Services?
Some writers would rather go this route than traditionally publish. The point is for you to understand what you’ll receive by choosing one path rather than the other.
Nontraditional publishing allows you to publish right away. No need for an agent; no need to go through the publishing committee to be offered a contract. It’s a direct path to holding a book in one’s hand.
Sometimes writers know they don’t want to self-publish. It’s a job! Especially if you don’t understand the process a manuscript goes through to end up as a book available to buyers. How is a novice writer to figure out what choices to make–all the way from hiring an editor to what kind of paper to select to how to get a cover completed.
Other writers are determined to find a traditional publisher; it’s the route they want to pursue. They’re willing to undertake what is often a years’ long process to hone a manuscript that a publisher wants in its lineup; to build their platform so they can lend significant help to the publisher in making the book a sales success; and to devote the time and energy necessary to publicize the book when it releases.
Sometimes a writer wants to traditionally publish but doesn’t have the wherewithal, for a variety of reasons, to land that contract. Then a nontraditional path becomes the option.
Publishing is a business. Yes, books are art, but the industry that creates those books is not art. Every publisher needs to make a profit to continue producing books. That means every publishing house has a business plan for how to remain profitable.
Writers also run a business. Even if they’re reluctant business people. How can you make the best business decision for you if you don’t weigh the cost vs. the profit of that choice?
Nontraditional publishing, regardless what the business entity calls itself, views you as a customer. You step into their online store to “buy” the publishing of your book. Just as a furniture store will work with you to figure out what style of sofa you want, what fabric, and when you want it delivered, so this publishing approach doesn’t ask you what quality of writing is reflected in your manuscript, if it is a standard length, or whether it fits in a clearly defined book category. Instead, they show you options for you to build your publishing plan, with a price tag attached to each element. You get to choose, just as you would were you buying a couch.
If you can’t afford the plan of your dreams, some nontraditional publishing businesses offer you avenues through which to raise the funds for the desired plan. At that point, you turn to your family and friends and ask them to pitch in. Raising money to publish a book is a far cry from a publisher paying you for the privilege of publishing your book.
What Do You Hope to Gain?
How far can untraditional publishing take you to being a successful author? That depends on how you define success. For your sake, I hope the bar would be higher than ending up with a book in your hand to show your friends and family. Because you could easily invest thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, only to sell a few hundred copies. That becomes a good return-on-investment only if you don’t mind spending hundreds of dollars per copy of that book. Not taking a realistic look at how many copies you can sell will set you back financially in significant ways.
It’s the rare book published by going down this path that would fall into the money-making category. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen; it means it rarely happens. All of those reasons a traditional publisher doesn’t offer a contract are all the deficits that book must face anyway. If you don’t have a social media presence, untraditional publishing won’t make up for that lack of exposure to potential readers, regardless how much you spend on a marketing plan. If you never did quite figure out how to create all the complex layers a novel needs to be a satisfactory reading experience, no editor hired by you can make it the beautiful piece of fiction you had hoped for. You can’t buy success for your book, regardless how much you spend.
A Rose vs. a Tulip
Neither publishing path is all good or all bad. But, please, let’s call a tulip what it is and a rose what it is. A rose may smell as sweet by any other name, but writers need to understand the decision they are making when they choose traditional or nontraditional publishing can have significant implications for their writing future and for their financial future.
As you’ve set your sights on either traditional publishing or non-, what issues led to your decision? What elements of the process surprised you as you launched into getting your book published–both the sweet and unsavory surprises?
How does a writer know if a publishing house is traditional or nontraditional? And what’s the difference? Click to tweet.
Writers: Do you know if your publisher is traditional or nontraditional? Does it matter? Click to tweet.