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Stories To Tell is a full service book publishing company for independent authors. We provide editing, design, publishing, and marketing of fiction and non-fiction. We specialize in sophisticated, unique illustrated book design.

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6 Things to Consider Before Signing With a Traditional Publisher

Biff Barnes

Being published by a traditional publisher carries with it a certain cachet. It confers the prestige of being a “real” writer that self-published authors often lack. Some of that is changing. Self-publishing grows more legitimate by the day. But, let’s leave the question of who published your book says about your standing as a writer aside and look at it strictly as a business proposition.

Courtesy of Michael Coghlan under Creative Commons

Advantages of Traditional Publishing for the Author

  • The publisher bears all of the costs of producing and marketing the book.
  • The author receives a cash advance and may earn royalties after the advance is earned out.
  • The publisher provides a professional team of editors, designers, printers, PR staff and marketers will assure a professional looking book and marketing campaign.
  • The publisher provides a distribution channel which includes bookstore access.

These traditionally cited advantages look pretty attractive, but let’s look a little more deeply at them.

Things Authors Should Know About Traditional Publishing

Advances are shrinking rapidly.

The Wall Street Journal in Authors Feel the Pinch in Age of eBooks reported that publishers were offering fewer opportunities to new authors and when authors did find a publishing contract it was often with a small press and “…they offer, on average, $1,000 to $5,000 for advances, a fraction of the $50,000 to $100,000 advances that established publishers typically paid in the past for debut literary fiction”

Most books don’t earn royalties beyond the advance.

Authors do not receive royalties until the earnings of the book exceed the amount of the advance and production costs. That usually doesn’t happen. Steven Piersanti, President of Barrett-Koehler Publishers in a blog post titled The 10 Awful Truths About Book Publishing reports that BookScan figures for 2011 indicate that the average adult nonfiction title sold fewer than 250 books per year and fewer than 3,000 books over its lifetime.

Traditional publishers have made dramatic reductions in advertising budgets.

Publishing Perspectives reports that “…US publishers have cut their marketing budgets by 50-70%” The bulk of what remains goes to blockbuster authors with track records. Debut and midlist authors are expected to handle much more of their own publicity and marketing, and that goes beyond social media.

Don’t forget your agent’s cut.

Many traditional publishers won’t touch an unagented book. A literary agent generally gets 15-20%. It’s worth your time to take a look at The Truth About Literary Agent’s’ Fees on Writer Beware.

Authors can earn higher royalties by self-publishing.

Best-selling romance novelist Rebecca Brandywyne explains,”…the standard royalty rates for paperback books vary from a low of 1% to a high of 10%, with the average royalty rate falling at 6%....” So a traditionally published book with a $9.99 cover price earns a 6% royalty of $0.599 per copy. Assume the book is 250 pages. Published on Amazon’s CreateSpace self-publishing platform the book would earn a $2.14 royalty if sold on and $4.14 if sold through the author’s CreateSpace page.

Your publisher decides when your title goes out of print but retains rights to the book.

If your book is not selling at a satisfactory rate the publisher may decide to pull the plug. A friend of ours published an excellent book with an imprint of F & K Media. After only eleven months she was notified that it would go out of print and the books on hand remaindered. The company would, however, retain the rights to the book. In some cases you can buy the rights back, but often, as our friend found, you can’t.

These considerations make traditional publishing somewhat less attractive than it once was. It may retain a higher level of prestige, but an increasing number of authors, including traditionally published authors, are choosing to self-publish. There are costs associated with editing, book design and printing a self-published book, but do the potentially greater earnings from a self-published book outweigh them? Before you sign with a traditional publisher, do the numbers and make sure you are getting the best deal you can.

If you’ve published a book – traditional or self-published – leave a comment about your experience.