How and Why to Traditionally Publish Your Book

Hello, everyone! In this three part blog series, I want to give you all a “publishing crash course” and go over the three main publishing options available to modern writers: traditional, vanity, and independent. For each one, I will give a basic overview of how the publishing process works as well as the pros and cons of each. In this edition, I discuss the most common form: traditional publishing.

printing pressLay-Person Definition

Traditional publishing is the most widely known form of publication, and it tends to have the “best” reputation in the publishing word. In traditional publishing, an author writes a novel (or story, poetry anthology, etc.) and sells her rights to the book to a publishing house, usually with the help of an agent to act as a middle(wo)man. The publishing house takes care of the product’s production and distribution for the author, but the author still shares most of the marketing burden (unless he is a huge name author).

The Steps to Traditional Publication

1. Write your manuscript. Need I say more?

1A. Revise your manuscript. This may or may not involve the help of a professional freelance editor. However, whether you seek professional help or not, you need to edit your manuscript to the best of your ability and make it as attractive as possible to the people to whom you are trying to sell it.

2. Figure out your target market. If you are planning to traditionally publish, your goal is to sell your product to a higher power, so to speak. Therefore, you need to source out publishing companies and/or agents that sell books in similar genres to yours. A horror publisher will not want your young adult romance book. Likewise, you need to have a clear idea of your target audience so that you can convince potential agents and/or publishers that your book will sell, and therefore, make you both money.

3. Find an agent. An agent is a person who will represent you and your book and help you sell yourself and it to a publisher. In order to get an agent, you will need to write a query letter. This is basically a “sales pitch” detailing what your novel is about, why and to whom your novel will sell, and what credentials you have as a writer. An agent is not 100% necessary in traditional publishing. However, many publishers (especially “The Big Five”) will not take manuscript submissions unless they come from an agent. Small and micro-presses are more likely to take unsolicited manuscripts.

4. Find a publisher. If you have an agent, he will take care of this process for you. However, if you do not, you will undergo the same basic process as searching for an agent. You will send query letters to try and attract a publisher to publish your novel. Again, this is much more difficult without an agent, but it is still achievable, especially at smaller publishing houses.

publishing deal5. Sign a contract. Once you are accepted by a publisher, you will be given your publishing “deal.” This will be different for each publisher and each author. In short, the author will give away some (or all) of the rights to her book, and in return, the publisher will give the author an advance and a portion of the royalties from the book’s sales. It is important to note two things here:

“Rights” constitute many aspects of a book; the “right” to publish it in e-book format, print format, audiobook format, and in foreign countries.

Also, the “advance” is not a signing bonus. It is merely an advance on your royalties, and it will likely be paid out in several payments. You may get a $10,000 dollar advance given in two payments (for example, $5,000 upon signing and $5,000 upon completion), but you will not see a cent more from your book until it sells enough copies for your percentage of the royalties to surpass $10,000. Your percentage will likely be 10-20% (depending on format). Note that if you hire an agent, she will get a percentage of your advance as well as a percentage of the royalties.

In other words, if your royalty rate were 10%, your book would have to gross $100,000 in sales before your $10,000 advance would be “paid out” and you could start receiving royalty payments.

6. Edit your novel. Once you have agreed upon a deal, your publisher will likely assign you to an editor to help you refine your novel. Once editing is complete, your book will move into the production stage.

7. Cover design. The deal you sign with your publisher will determine your control over the cover design and book formatting. Most publishers either have in-house designers or strong relationships with design firms or freelancers. And, most of the time, your publisher will determine the design of your book, based on what other books in the genre are like and what will be most marketable to your target audience.

bookstore8. Distribution. Again, your publisher will handle this process for you. Your book will be sold to bookstores and placed on online retailers like Amazon. It is important to note that bookstores have the right to send back copies of your book. If this happens, it means two things for you:

A) If your royalty payment was figured before the return, it may decrease once the books are returned and not actually sold.

B) If bookstores return copies of your book, it will make your publisher less enthusiastic about publishing you in the future and the bookseller less likely to buy your next book.

However, risks aside, if you have the dream of walking into a bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf, traditional publishing is virtually the only way to have this vision realized.

9. Market your book. Unless you are J.K. Rowling, your publisher will not spend much time marketing your book. At the very least, they will do a press release, maybe set up a few in-person promotions for you, and possibly do a bit of social media coverage. Therefore, you must help your book sell by doing your own social media marketing, maintaining your author website, and connecting with your readers. Additionally, while traditional publisher’s marketing efforts may be fewer, they are substantial, and they can give you better chances at opportunities you would not have on your own, such as foreign publication and movie deals.

Pros of Traditional Publishing

  • Most “respected” form of publishing / Comes with prestige
  • Once you get an agent, you have a teammate to help you get published.
  • Your publisher will connect you to a professional editor.
  • Your publisher will handle cover design and formatting.
  • Your publisher will handle production and distribution (allowing you to see your book IN a bookstore).
  • Your publisher will do at least some marketing for you.
  • Traditional publishing gives you the best chance of seeing your books in bookstores and on the big screen.

Cons of Traditional Publishing

  • You lose the rights to your creative product.
  • You have a lot of hoops to jump through, which can take years.
  • You lose control over much of the editing, design, production, and distribution of your book.
  • You still have to do some of the marketing yourself.
  • The royalty rate is extremely low, and you have to share the profits with your agent, publisher, and book retailers.
  • Related to royalties, you have no control over the pricing strategy of your book.
  • If your first (and second, third, etc.) book does not sell well, the chances of you getting subsequent deals decrease exponentially.

Who Should Seek Traditional Publication?

Traditional publication is best for authors who want to have a career in writing, but want to focus more on producing art and have someone else help them handle the “business” side of being a full-time writer. Additionally, traditional publishing is the only avenue for those who want the prestige of being tested and approved by publishing authority figures and want to avoid common publication stigmas.


What are your feelings about traditional publishing? What process steps, pros, and/or cons would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

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Kate M. Colby is an author of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction. When she is not writing or working, Kate enjoys playing video games, antiquing, and wine tasting. She lives in the United States with her husband and furry children.

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Posted in Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles
15 comments on “How and Why to Traditionally Publish Your Book
  1. Sherry Chen says:

    Hi Kate, I just followed you on Twitter and here you are on WP!
    I think your site’s got beautiful design and such interesting pieces, so I’m following! 🙂
    I really enjoy your posts and look forward to your next.
    Feel free to check out my writing about publishing: publishinginsights.org
    Sherry

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jonas Lee says:

    I think traditional publishing is a great way to get known farther, faster, but I hate thinking of my work not going anywhere at all for years. Plus, I find that there is more work trying to find an agent to even want to represent your work. Perhaps I’m biased…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have tried my best to be impartial, but I can recognize that I am biased in certain areas, too. Regardless, I agree with you entirely. Finding an agent is definitely very hard work, and if you do manage to find one and get traditionally published, it can propel you a long way in the industry, but, it is kind of like putting your fate in others’ hands.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. […] publishing.” If you missed the first day, feel free to go back and view my post on traditional publishing, and stay tuned tomorrow for my post on independent […]

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  4. […] If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity […]

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  5. […] that I have explained the three forms of publishing (traditional, vanity, and independent), I wanted to use this “Feedback Friday” to share with you all the […]

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  6. […] Crash Course” series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning […]

    Like

  7. […] to no professional assistance. Click on the name of the publishing model to read more about it: traditional, vanity, […]

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  8. […] For those of you going the traditional publishing route, this question is a little less important. Personally, I would advise paying for a professional edit or two to give your novel a leg up when it reaches potential agents and/or publishers. However, once you sign on the dotted line, your publishing company will hook you up with editing and everything will be hunky dory. More on the traditional publishing process here. […]

    Like

  9. Ula says:

    Interesting article. I don’t know how I missed it until now. You present some valid points, but there are certain things you kind of skipped over. The biggest thing is the contract, which is completely negotiable, which is why you need a good agent. You can sign away all rights and lose control, but many writers can negotiate many rights. For example, you could keep ebook, movie, and other rights. You can negotiate your royalties. Even no-names can negotiate. Whether or not the publisher agrees is a whole different matter.
    No matter the publication route, being an author is a huge leap of faith and belief in your own work and the publishing system. What’s interesting is that all “successful” indie author first publish some books that do well, then get a traditional book deal (or several) and that’s when they make the big money.
    So I guess the question is what do you want to accomplish via publishing your book.
    And of course, if your works sucks, then it doesn’t matter what publishing route you choose, because most likely you will not be very successful. There’s always the odd exception.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. There is plenty of room to negotiate publishing contracts, and most authors do get good deals. As to your comments about indie authors, it is true that many who are successful go on to make traditional publishing deals or become hybrid authors. However, you might be interested in this site, which shows actual publishing market shares and author earnings across all types of publishing. I think the success of independent authors would surprise you — they don’t all do as poorly on their own as many in the industry think. http://authorearnings.com/

      But I agree with your overall statement. In the end, you have to have faith in yourself and the business, and you have to choose the route that is best for you and your goals. It’s difficult to make it as an author no matter which path you choose.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ula says:

        I think one of the best approaches is going hybrid. At least that’s the decision I’ve made for myself.
        I know several indie authors who are not doing too shabby, so I know there’s money to make and you can quite easily have a full-time income within a few years. It’s a numbers game.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. […] For those of you going the traditional publishing route, this question is a little less important. Personally, I would advise paying for a professional edit or two to give your novel a leg up when it reaches potential agents and/or publishers. However, once you sign on the dotted line, your publishing company will hook you up with editing and everything will be hunky dory. More on the traditional publishing process here. […]

    Like

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