Oftentimes it may seem like a very logical choice to follow the traditional or beaten path in publishing; there is a reason that it has become so established in our world and there is a reason it still is around to this day. Many authors use this same reasoning when deciding they want to work with a traditional publisher. They believe that it is a safe bet because people have been using these traditional houses forever and are continuing to use them. There is also the belief that the traditional houses are more “valid” and trustworthy because they have gained wisdom from being around for such a long time. However, as we have seen in many instances, long-established and traditional institutions often do not adapt and adjust even when the world around them is changing.
Once upon a time, the traditional publishing route was the best way for an author to ensure that their book would be a success. But nowadays, traditional publishing has just as many drawbacks as benefits. In this age of Amazon, where books are getting cheaper to distribute and produce, traditional publishers are protecting their profits over their authors. Also, as powerful diverse voices are demanding the chance to be heard, traditional publishing still majorly caters to cisgender straight white voices. A 2019 baseline survey about diversity in the publishing industry, conducted by Lee & Low Books, found that overall the publishing industry was composed of 76% white employees, 74% cisgender women employees, and 81% straight employees.
Below are some reasons you may want to reconsider using the traditional publishing process, even if instinctually feels like the obvious choice.
You Are Locked Out Of Decision Making
One of the main reasons traditional publishing might not be the right path for an author is the loss of control over what happens with their book. When an author signs a contract with a traditional publisher they are often signing away the rights to their book. Besides the words written on the original manuscript, the author has limited, if any power to give creative input. Regardless of the authors’ wishes, the publisher gets to decide what the book looks like, how it is edited, where it is distributed, and how it is marketed. A finished book is so much more than just the writing, but with traditional publishers, the author misses out on the chance to orchestrate the other critical factors that will make the book a success to both them as the author, and to the publisher.
With creative control, traditional publishers can drastically change your book. Traditional publishers will be more likely to alter your book’s central themes if your topic is aimed at a very specific audience. Traditional publishers don’t take into account that you’ve strategically written the book to resonate and be marketed to your audience, they care more about selling to their broader reader base and buyers. They simply see that a narrow topic meant to reach a distinct audience will prevent them from selling books to the most amount of people possible, so they will likely change your book to match their wide demographics.
The finished book that they hand you could end up being almost an entirely different book than the one you originally pitched to them. If you intentionally chose a topic that is meant to have a specific impact on a specific audience, heavily consider forgoing the traditional publishing path because the final book that will be distributed will likely not meet the intentions and hopes you had in writing the book in the first place.
In addition to changing the topic of a book, traditional publishers have also edited some authors’ unique voices out of their books. The beauty of writing is that every author has a one-of-a-kind narrative style that allows them to show readers the world from a completely different perspective. Unfortunately, larger publishing houses also see this distinct voice as a threat to marketing the book to their audience. In some cases, editors take out specific terms, colloquialisms, spellings, or references that hint at the author’s background (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age, etc.) or that try to connect with the reader’s background.
For nonfiction and memoir writers especially, removing their identity and voice takes away the reader’s ability to connect with the author and resonate with what the book is trying to teach them. It is not always the case, but sometimes this removal of identity in a work is linked to institutional and structural racism or bias against underrepresented groups. So if an author wrote their book with the intention of providing unprecedented representation for their readers/audience, traditional publishing might take away that opportunity through their editing.
If you have put blood, sweat, and tears into writing this book for yourself and your audience and you want to make sure all of your hard work reaches the outcome you intended, you may want to consider alternative publishing paths.
You Won’t See A Lot Of Money
While many movies and tv shows have showcased the incredible moment that the underdog writer gets a phone call from their agent telling them they’ve gotten the million-dollar publishing deal, it isn’t a reality for most authors. First-time writers for traditional publishing houses tend to see a royalty advance in the thousands or tens of thousands range, but will then face the low royalty rates (typically less than 10%of revenue), offered by the publisher. For reference, if an author is selling a paperback version of their book on Amazon for $21.99, they will only make around $2.00 for every book that is sold.
In many cases, an author might not earn anything beyond their original advance because it would take a monumental amount of book sales to earn a greater profit than set by the advance, due to the low royalty rate. In addition, authors who work with traditional publishing houses also need to give a percentage of their profit and advance to the agent that helped them secure the traditional publishing deal. Another thing to consider with traditional publishers is how frequently they will give authors the royalties they have earned. Some of the larger publishing companies only distribute royalties twice a year, which can be difficult for authors who are trying to use their book as a main source of revenue.
Royalties in traditional publishing houses also reflect the industry’s bias against underrepresented groups. As the aforementioned statistics about the diversity of the publishing industry’s employees depicts, traditional houses are often made up of people of the same background with little other room for diverse voices. This skew of the overall demographics has made it so more white authors get publishing deals and has also negatively impacted the royalties underrepresented authors receive. An author from an underrepresented community might receive a royalty rate that is much lower than their white counterpart.
They Don’t Do That Much of The Leg Work
A lot of times, authors choose traditional publishers because they have doubts about their ability to market their book on their own and they assume that traditional publishers will be the ones to best deliver a powerful campaign for their book. However, that is not always the case. Traditional publishers will pick and choose what books they want to throw their marketing force behind based on whether they think the book will be successful or not.
In reality, traditional publishers often leave the marketing and advertising of the book up to the author themselves. So if you were leaning towards traditional publishing as a way to avoid having to enter into the marketing arena, the truth is if you choose the traditional publishing path you will probably end up there anyway. With the aforementioned personal revenue loss attached to working with traditional publishers, you should really ask yourself if it is worth it to lose so much money in the deal if they aren’t even handling the marketing and advertising.
Publisher Name Doesn’t Hold That Much Significance In The Long Run
While many authors pursue the traditional publishing route because of the reputation and prestige attached to the big publishing houses, oftentimes the prestige does not hold much weight when a buyer is contemplating the purchase of your book. While this can give you credibility among your peers as having secured a publishing deal from a traditional publisher, your readers likely don’t know or care. When was the last time that you picked up a book and immediately went to the copyright page just to check and see who had published the book? My guess is very rarely or never. What really matters is that your book has a well-designed cover and an attention-grabbing description included on the jacket sleeve or back cover- all of which you will have more autonomy in choosing if you go the route of self-publishing or decide to work with a hybrid publisher. The quality of your book as a whole will matter so much more than the name of the publisher you use. And the best way to ensure that it ends up being the book that you feel will have the best chance of impressing your audience is to choose a publishing journey that allows you to maintain control, both creatively and within your contract.
So, what are my alternate options?
One of your alternative options is going down the hybrid publishing route. Hybrid Publishers allow you to keep the rights to your book, they give you a lot more creative control when designing the final product, and they have significantly higher royalty rates than traditional publishers. You’ll have more responsibility in handling some parts of the publishing process on your own, but hybrid publishers are still there to guide you through the tricky details and overall logistics. However, you must also be wary of certain hybrid publishers, because like traditional publishers, they are mainly interested in making money over supporting the author. Do your research and pay close attention to the hybrid publishers you are considering. Many of them will have your best interest at heart, but not all.
Your other option is self-publishing. Self-publishing allows you to keep the rights to your book, it gives complete autonomy over the entire process, and it means that you can keep all revenue from the books that you sell yourself. Self-publishing means you are tackling all of the logistics of the process on your own and it means you get to pick and choose the editors and designers that you want to work with. However, self-publishing can be a bit difficult to navigate on your first time around and may be very expensive, since you are completely funding the publishing process yourself.
Ultimately, no publishing path is 100% perfect, but hybrid publishing or self-publishing will ensure that you have a say in how your book turns out, while also making it easier for you to earn the revenue you deserve from your book. We at PYP would love to help you on your book journey and are happy to aid you in any capacity you need. If you have more questions about what might be the right type of publishing for you, feel free to reach out to us.