Planning on publishing a book in 2013? In our initial post of 2013 we advised you to “Self-publish it!”
In this post and the two that will follow this we’ll look at the reasons you should do that. Today we will analyze Advantages, Disadvantages and Recent Changes in Traditional Publishing and what those things might mean for authors. Our next post will do the same thing for self-publishing. The third post in the series will look at the emergence of a new role for the self-publishing author. So, let’s get started.
A decade ago traditional publishing was essentially the only game in town. For the author it offered several benefits.
The Advantages of Traditional Publishing
- Prestige – Until recently there was a clear divide, writers who published traditionally had been vetted by agents and acquisitions editors had been deemed worthy by the literary establishment. Their books bore the imprimatur of professionalism while self-published books were marked by the stigma of the vanity press.
- An Advance – The author who landed a traditional publishing contract got a check upfront.
- The Support of a Team – The author’s job was mostly done when the publisher bought the book. The publishing house then assigned various editors, cover designers and layout people to producing the book and its marketing and PR staff to selling it.
- Access to Distribution Channels – The publisher took responsibility for getting the book into the marketplace both in bookstores and online.
- Focus on Writing – The author, once she sold the book to the publishing house, could concentrate on writing the next book. The publisher took over all of the responsibility for the business end of selling the book.
Even when the traditional route was the only one that led to publication and distribution with significant sales authors recognized that traditional publishing was not necessarily set up for their benefit. There have always been plenty of authors published traditionally who would applaud the words of award-winning sci-fi writer Piers Anthony who said, “I think it's a shame that something as creative and vital to the nature of the human species as story-telling is largely controlled by the soulless cretins known as publishers.” Here are some of the reasons.
The Disadvantages of Traditional Publishing
- Access Was Difficult – Agents and editors turned away most of the manuscripts and proposals they saw.
- Inadequate Marketing – There is probably no writer who has ever felt that her publisher was doing enough to promote and sell her book. If the book didn’t do well early the publisher’s commitment to putting time and money into marketing it disappeared quickly.
- A Limited Share of the Profits – The writer usually got 10-15% of any revenue generated by her book. Most authors never saw much beyond the additional advance.
The last decade has left the world of traditional publishing in a something of a shambles. Holding companies like Pearson and Bertelsmann bought and consolidated publishing houses. The resulting changes have not been good for most authors.
Recent Changes in the World of Traditional Publishing
- Emphasis on Blockbusters at the Expense of New or Mid-List Authors – Conglomerates which now dominate publishing have focused on squeezing higher profit margins out of the publishing business they have been more likely to invest in buying and promoting books which promise mass-market success. James Pattersons and Danielle Steeles have cashed huge checks. New writers find it increasingly difficult to find a publisher. Even moderately successful authors whose books have lesser profit potential have found publishers unwilling to handle their new titles.
- Smaller Advances - 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”
- Reductions in Publisher’s Staff – The corporate bean counters have looked for cost saving in all areas including editorial departments. Writer’s manuscripts do not get the level of attention they once did. As PR and marketing departments have shrunk authors have been expected to handle a growing share of responsibility for the promotion and marketing of their books. Creating and maintaining author social media platforms and undertaking book tours at their own expense are only two of the more prominent tasks that now routinely fall to the author.
A decade ago, authors had no choice but to keep banging away at the doors of editors and agents. Now, increasingly, they have an alternative: self-publishing. In our next post we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages for writers who choose this alternative route.