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Are There Still Pros to Traditional Publishing?

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I get this question -- are there still pros to traditional publishing? -- fairly often. That writers even ask this question showcases just how far removed traditional publishers are from the sea change that's underway in the world beyond their walls, and that would-be authors feel there aren't many pros to traditional publishing has deeper ramifications for publishers than even the digital revolution. Publishers (along with agents and editors) have long sat in a high and mighty position as the gatekeepers of what deserves to be published. But this position is quickly eroding as writers (and by extension readers) lose faith in traditional publishing. The ramifications I reference are difficult to quantify because they won't be seen for some years to come, but we can't underestimate what happens to a business model when it starts to become irrelevant to those people who might otherwise be poised to become their future bread and butter. This phenomenon is not so different from the way we treat our planet -- ignoring what we do and how we treat our world because everything feels fine now. It's self-destructive short-sightedness.

Everywhere I go I meet authors who've opted to self-publish as a first choice. Writers largely feel that agents don't give them the time of day. Everyone is too busy to give thoughtful feedback. But agents don't get paid unless authors get paid, so what incentive do they have to put in long hours (heck, even to read past a query letter) if they don't get a gut reaction that a book is a "sure bet"? (Whatever they take that to mean.) Writers in the process of shopping their books, especially those who have the confidence that their books are good, start to distrust agents and editors. Publishing really has become the new Wild West. It's everyone for themselves, and aspiring authors no longer have to -- nor should they -- take multiple rejections as a sign that anything is wrong with their book.

So what does traditional publishing still have to offer?

1. Partnership. With a traditional publishing deal comes a built-in team. To what extent they'll go to bat to you is largely dependent on two factors -- how important your book is to the list and how much they like you. But there's no question that it's an asset to have a group of people who are on top of your deadlines, shepherding your book through the publication process, and managing your publicity. A downside here is that, because the publisher retains more control than you do, you can sometimes get edged out of what's going on with your own book if your publisher doesn't want to share exactly what's going on behind the scenes.

2. Quality. Publishers stand behind the books they publish, and since that's the case, you can bet your book will be well-edited and thoroughly proofread, and that they'll put a best effort toward making sure you have a great cover and interior design.

3. Legitimacy. This is still big. No matter how many successfully self-published or otherwise-published books are hitting the best-seller lists, traditional publishing has a legacy. This matters to the media. It matters where contests are concerned, and where some reviews are concerned. Traditional media and review outlets largely discriminates against any author who dares to put money behind their own book project, though strides are being made to level the playing field with every non-traditionally published book that breaks new barriers.

4. Distribution. Another biggie. Some alternative publishing solutions (like She Writes Press and other models like ours) have traditional distribution, and no matter where you land, you want to ask about it. Traditional distribution, a big pro for traditional publishing, continues to be, hands-down, the biggest con of DIY self-publishing. Having traditional distribution means you benefit from preorders, management of your metadata on a big scale, and having a sales force that's getting your book out to retailers on your behalf -- among other benefits.

5. Advances. If you can still get an advance, this is a clear pro. And if you can earn it out. The truth of the advance is that it's a mixed bag. If you get a largish advance and your book doesn't perform well, then you could become a pariah in the industry and find it very difficult to sell future books. The best advance is a mid-range advance, and if you get one, you want to consider allocating some or all of it to fund your publicity.

It's important to note that many hybrid presses have some but not all of these offerings. And that no matter what you're going for, there are trade-offs. Traditional publishers keep 85% of net on print books and 75 percent on ebooks. There are many vocal authors out in the world who think these numbers are exploitative. And depending on who you are, you might fare better as a traditional published author, or better as a self-published or hybrid author. In my opinion, the ideal candidate for a traditional publisher is someone who is either not particularly entrepreneurial, or who has their own other more lucrative business/es and doesn't want to deal with the book world. They might value collaboration, but they trust the built-in team the publisher brings and don't really want or need a lot of control over their project. Authors with huge platforms often prefer to go with a traditional publisher because the publisher has the existing outlets and the relationships to sell a lot of books. The author brings the name recognition or the brand, and the publisher goes to work on their behalf. These authors benefit the most because publishers are star-struck (for money reasons, yes, but also for the fame of being tied to someone with star power), and they want to be partnered with authors who have celebrity and who can push books.

My two cents is this: Be aware of the sea change we are in right now. Don't assume anything. Do your homework and ask questions. If you get a traditional deal with no advance, I'd advise you to look elsewhere, or at least negotiate for much higher royalties. Save for publicity, no matter what path you choose. And if you have a publisher -- whether it's traditional or hybrid, be the squeaky wheel, though not to the point of becoming so annoying you start to alienate the team that's working for you. You're competing for attention at every turn on this journey, so don't be afraid to make yourself noticed. To ask questions. To think creatively -- and big. Work with your team to think outside the box about creative publicity and platform opportunities. Don't be afraid to copy what's been done well. Try to have some fun while you're at it. Don't ever ever give up on your publishing dream.