Home » Big Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing » Six Myths  (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing

Six Myths  (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing

2 December 2018

From BookBaby Blog:

Despite the constant upheaval that defines the current publishing landscape, many authors (and would-be authors) labor under some old “assumptions” about traditional publishing that are simply no longer relevant.

Myth #1: Traditional publishers serve as “gatekeepers”

As the argument goes… with a bloated book marketplace being invaded by millions of self-published titles, readers can depend on publishers to maintain quality literary standards as they allow only the best stories to be told through well-written tomes. This is false for many reasons.

First, publishing is a cold business. There is no noble mission to protect readers from bad books. Publishers put out books they think will make money — for the publishing house, maybe the bookstore, and possibly the author.

It’s true that traditional publishers are full of book professionals, some of whom are pretty good at spotting talent. The best placement editors also have an instinct for what the market will consume. They’ve published a lot of wonderful books. They’ve also published a lot of stinkers.

But if the gatekeeper myth were true, surely no good manuscript would ever be rejected, right?

. . . .

Myth #2: You can only make the big bucks through traditional publishing

The truth is, thanks to today’s self-publishing revolution, you have an equal chance at huge sales results no matter which route you choose: traditional or independent publishing. In fact, the vast majority of authors will tell you there isn’t a lot of money to be found in a traditional book deal. Sure, you get an advance check, which averages around $5,000-$10,000, but you have to earn that back before you see another dime.

Moreover, the royalties associated with publishing through one of the major houses are paltry. If you publish through a large publishing house, you can expect to make $1-$2 per book sold. To make matters worse, most publishers only pay authors twice a year, so you can’t expect to see your monthly income increase because of your book.

It got to the point that, in 2016, the US Authors Guild sent an open letter to the Association of American Publishers demanding better contract terms. In the letter, these writers stated, “Authors’ income is down across all categories. According to a 2015 Authors Guild survey —  our first since 2009  — the writing-related income of full-time book authors dropped 30% over that time period, from $25,000 to $17,500.”

. . . .

Myth #5: Once you land a book deal, your author career is set for life

Loyalty to authors is, largely, a thing of the past. The duration of a traditionally published author’s career is controlled by his or her publisher, and it’s usually all about sales of the latest book. If your new book doesn’t perform well, the publisher will not want your next one.

In fact, your first book must perform exceptionally well before the next one will be considered for publication. And the odds are long: only one to two percent of all books published become bestsellers.

Link to the rest at BookBaby Blog

Big Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing

14 Comments to “Six Myths  (and a Few Facts) About Traditional Publishing”

  1. But if the gatekeeper myth were true, surely no good manuscript would ever be rejected, right?

    No. The gatekeeper function fills the publisher’s limited number of publishing slots. Those slots are limited by the publisher’s financial ability and the consumer demand curve.

    If a publisher identifies 1,000 good books, yet can only afford to publish 100, he will let lots of good books go by.

    However, I suspect a consumer will have a higher probability of finding good fiction by randomly choosing from a Random House offering than randomly choosing from KDP.

    • But does anyone look for ‘good fiction ‘ rather then ‘good reads’ and who serches randomly through a catalog? Filters and recommendations and ratings and word of mouth and reviews exist. And for the people looking for good fiction various awards to tell you what is good.
      At best the publisher is a fixed filter on ability of a reader to search for the book they will enjoy.

      • Good fiction? Good reads? Seems the same thing.

        I don’t know who searches randomly. It’s an observation that there is a vetting process with Random House that does not exist for KDP. So, it is reasonable to expect a minimum standard with Random House that we won’t find in KDP. Gatekeeping is not a myth.

        • “Ravaged by a Raptor” probably wouldn’t make it through the Random House gatekeepers. Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no market for such a book. A search for “african american fiction” turns up many successful books that Random House would not bother with. Gatekeeping is certainly not a myth, however one of it’s most significant problems is that it’s a very narrow gate.

          • Gatekeeping is certainly not a myth, however one of it’s most significant problems is that it’s a very narrow gate.

            Problem? Without gatekeeping, we wouldn’t have had books. Gatekeeping is just a silly word for recognizing the balance that has to exist between supply and demand in a free market. The same thing happens in zillions of industries, but they lack the emotional factor we find with authors.

            Ford could double the number of cars it makes. But who will buy them without a significant price drop that would bankrupt the company? Managing supply to meet demand at a price that covers costs and generates a profit happens all the time.

  2. The only way they have ever actually done any ‘gatekeeping’ on books (good or bad) is by asking themselves:

    “Which of these books will make us the most money?”

    No literature or culture required.

    And while Terrence is correct about there being more chaff to dig through – there’s a lot more wheat in the KDP than Randy House has ever published to date … 😉

    MYMV

    • And while Terrence is correct about there being more chaff to dig through – there’s a lot more wheat in the KDP than Randy House has ever published to date …

      Sure. Random House had to pass on thousands and thousands of good books. Finances and the consumer demand curve couldn’t accommodate them. Now those thousands are released into KDP.

      I agree about literature and culture. That seems to be defined by a self-selected group who are treated with benign neglect by consumers. Random House is interested in consumers, not virtue signalling to a small group.

  3. Ashe Elton Parker

    I went to the site to read the whole thing and found this little tidbit opening a tiny little paragraph at the end of the OP:

    In the end, there is still much to celebrate about receiving a book deal with a traditional publisher.

    And I thought, Really? It looks to me like you just shot down EVERY SINGLE ONE of the BIGGEST reasons to go Trad.

  4. I’ll have to look at the rest later, but from the excerpt this is a terrible article.

    First, set up a bunch of straw arguments to knock down. Only the naive, delusional, and completely and utterly uninformed would think you can “only make big bucks through traditional publishing.” Same for thinking selling one book sets you up for life.

    Then to see this example of an argument from the article: “The truth is, thanks to today’s self-publishing revolution, you have an equal chance at huge sales results no matter which route you choose: traditional or independent publishing.”

    How much did it hurt to pull that “factoid” out of the writer’s … well, rather a lot I gather.

    • And because of the vast difference between the royalty rates earned by indie authors compared to those of traditionally published authors, if an indie author sells the same number of ebooks as a traditionally-published author does, the indie author will almost certainly receive much higher total royalty payments.Ditto for the same number of paperback books.

      • The independent would certainly get a much higher percentage of retail sales, but total revenue would depend on the actual royalty per book.

        Independent retail at $3 Amazon gets $2.10 per book at 70%.

        Traditional retail at $14 gets $2.10 per book at 15%.

        But that’s a great argument for the traditional to switch to independent. If he sells the same number at $14 that the independent sells at $3, he will sell many times that number at $3. I’d rather have him stay with Random House.

  5. I’d rather the hypothetical author you speak of, whatever sex, dump Random House and get payed properly. But if I need a purely selfish reason, I am most unlikely to read the book at $14 and if I did I would be borrowing it from the library, not purchasing it. Random House’s gatekeeping is to ma e huge drawback. You are correct about probabilities if selecting books at random from KDP. But of course I don’t select books at random, and am much happier doing my own gatekeeping. If I may boast I am absolutely superb at it when it comes to my own reading needs.

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