Publishing 101 (Part One of Two) – Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing

Most writers desire to see their work in print, and it does deliver a certain rush when you get to hold a copy of something you’ve written in physical form. But nowadays there are two avenues you can explore when it comes to publication – traditional publishing and self-publishing. While some writers take a hardline stance when it comes to either one, there is no one right way to be published and it all depends on your preferences.

This is going to be a two-part post, with this week exploring the pros and cons of traditional publishing (i.e. you query and submit your work to an actual publisher) and the second post (in two weeks) exploring the pros and cons of self-publishing.

Traditional publishing – Pros:
Your book can be released in multiple versions, such as hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, and/or e-book, all of which hold different appeals to different readers and markets. (Though the decision regarding format will be left up to the publisher.)

Your book will be distributed to bookstores, primarily chain stores and perhaps independent shops, as well as online retailers, so it is exposed to a wide market. This means there is a good chance of your work falling into the hands of prospective readers who browse a store or make impulse buys.

Your book has the possibility of being marketed by a publisher’s in-house marketing team, which can mean anything from general advertising to promotional materials sent to bookstores.

You receive an advance against royalties, meaning you will be paid a small percentage up front for your book rather than having to wait until copies sell before you make any money.

Your publisher may have an established audience base, which may mean an easier time for you to gain readership if you’re a new writer.

If you have an agent, he or she may be able to make connections in the publishing world that you wouldn’t be able to make on your own.

You will work with an editor to polish your book and present a quality product (though your manuscript must be free from spelling and grammatical errors and typos prior to initial submission).

You can host in-person networking events, such as signings, to promote book sales and readership and meet readers one-on-one to interact with them.

Customers may be more apt to buy your work, especially thanks to the nature of impulse, if they can hold a physical copy of your book in their hands.

There is a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment when you can hold a physical copy of a published book yourself.

Traditional publishing – Cons
The actual process of publication starts with a query letter and it may take up to a year to hear from a single publisher since simultaneous submissions are rarely permitted. This means if you have two publishers, Publisher A and Publisher B, you want to potentially send a manuscript to, you must wait to hear from Publisher A before you send the same query to Publisher B. Normally, response times can take anywhere from six to twelve months, so you might be waiting a while just to hear an answer.

The path to acceptance (e.g. query, synopsis, sample chapters, etc.) can be time consuming as well as involve shipping costs (since some publishers do not accept electronic submissions) and, of course, rejection.

Manuscripts are subjected to an editor’s likes and dislikes and/or a publishing house’s preferences. If an editor doesn’t like your story or if the editor feels there may be no money in it, it will be rejected even if it’s well-written and fits the genre(s) the publisher normally publishes. “This doesn’t suit our needs at this time,” is the common refrain.

There is no guarantee your book will be marketed by the publisher. In many cases, it’s up to you to market your work since most publishers devote more time and energy into promoting their best-selling authors and titles as opposed to lesser-known writers. So contrary to the quasi-cliche of, “We’re always looking for new writers,” a publisher still puts the needs of their established authors ahead of any new-comers.

You are  bound by a contract and reverting rights can be difficult; likewise, the publisher may not exercise all of the rights you sign away.

You will earn small royalties (due to the publisher keeping some of the sales), which can be even smaller if you have an agent (since agents take a commission).

Your cannot control the book’s release date, which means you may be given a weak date so as to not compete with the publisher’s more well-known titles. Contrary to popular belief, there are publishing “seasons” just as there are “seasons” for music and film releases. Hence, larger-name book titles are generally released in summer and winter with lesser-known works released in spring and fall.

Books cannot be edited after they are published. That means even if there are typos or continuity errors no one noticed before publication, those mistakes are there to stay unless the book is republished.

Low sales may mean the publisher is not interested in further manuscripts from you. They may assume your work isn’t to readers’ taste, so that means no future contracts.

An agent is needed for larger publishing houses. Finding an agent is time consuming, too, and can take just as long as trying to find a publisher.

Books have a limited print life and are rarely reprinted unless they sell well. That means your book may be contracted to be in print for, say, five years, but unless it sells massive amounts of copies, it will no longer be printed after that time frame.

Editors shy away from novellas or epics, especially from new writers, so that means if your novel is under the typical 80,000 word count for a novel or over 100,000 words, a publisher won’t be interested because they feel it’s too big of a risk either way – they don’t want to waste time and money on a work they deem is “too small” or “too big.”

Publishing houses change editors, so a new editor may not like your work. This means you may have to shop around for a new publisher, which is time-consuming.

You have no control over your book’s layout or design, which will be the job of the publisher’s art department. Though horror stories involving bad cover art are rare, they have happened, especially to new authors who usually have very little say.

The author cannot control pricing. Most hardcover books retail for $20 or more, paperbacks normally less, and mass market paperbacks the cheapest of the lot. Naturally, this may detract readership if a book is priced too high and readers don’t want to shell out cash for a new author.


So those are the good points and bad points regarding traditional publishing. Stay tuned for Part Two, which will tackle the pros and cons of self-publishing!

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