Nine Reasons Authors Still Choose Traditional Publishing

getting published choosing traditional publishing

Choosing traditional publishing for getting published.

We all come to writing for love of the craft. Some of us are storytellers, others are wordsmiths. Some of us have ideas we want to share. But for all of us, it starts with writing.

Once it’s time to think about publishing, everything changes. We have to think about legal issues, like contracts and copyright. We have to consider artwork for book covers. How do we get our books printed and produced? How do we get them into stores? How do we get our writing into the hands of readers?

For centuries, all these considerations have belonged to the publishing industry. Authors wrote the books, did interviews and book tours, but much of the work that didn’t involve writing was handled by the publisher. At the very least, the publisher provided guidelines and navigated writers through the process.

Today, self-publishing has put a tremendous amount of power and control back into the hands of writers. It’s your story. Your poetry. Your idea. If you want, you can retain total control of it. But for many authors, traditional publishing still gives writers the support and guidance they need to get through the publishing process.

Why Authors Want Traditional Publishing

Historically, self-publishing was a last resort, an act of desperation by a writer whose work had been rejected countless times. Now, with the advent of the Internet and ebooks, writers are skipping the submission process entirely and actively choosing to self-publish their books. But for many (probably most), traditional publishing is still the most desired route to publication.

Here’s why:

  1. Validation: when an agent agrees to represent your book and when an editor buys it, you will undoubtedly feel validated. After all, squeaking through the gates of traditional publishing is like getting membership to an exclusive club because your book has been chosen among thousands of rejections.
  2. Advance: we publish either to reach readers or to make a living with our writing (most of us want both). When you sell your book to a publisher, you get an advance, a sum of money averaging somewhere between $5000 and $15,000 for an unknown, first-time author.
  3. Editing: it’s inadvisable for writers to polish (edit, proof) their own work and it’s also not the best idea to hand this task over to friends or family. Hiring a professional editor for a full-length manuscript can be costly (expect to pay well over $1000 at the low end). Publishers have in-house editors and proofreaders who will help you iron out the kinks and polish the prose.
  4. Cover: most authors are not artists or designers, which explains the barrage of hideous covers on self-published books. A traditional publisher will most certainly assume full control of the cover but they’ll also make sure it’s rendered by a professional designer. In other words, your book will look professional, not cobbled together.
  5. Print and production: before going to print or ebook production, the manuscript has to be formatted and while it may look easy, laying out a book is no small task. Publishers provide book designers to compile an aesthetically pleasing design and optimum reader experience. Plus, they handle the print run. Most self-published authors don’t even bother with print and book reviews often complain about poorly formatted manuscripts.
  6. Distribution: have you ever wondered about the process that takes books from the printer to the book stores? If you self-publish, your book will probably be limited to online book stores. But a publisher will get your book distributed online and in brick-and-mortar stores, so you get greater exposure to readers.
  7. Marketing: marketing only gets one spot on this list but it’s really a key factor in a book’s success whether that book is self-published or traditionally published. If your book is published traditionally, you’ll be heavily involved in marketing but at least you’ll get guidance and support. Some authors say that even with traditional publishers, most of the marketing fell on their shoulders, but some help is better than none if you know little to nothing about marketing.
  8. Cost: If you choose self-publishing, you will bear the cost of publishing your book from editing and cover design to print production and marketing. You’ll foot the entire bill. Most successful authors who traditionally publish also incur expenses (many hire PR firms and do a lot of their own marketing) but at least the publisher foots some of the bills.
  9. Prestige: The stigma of self-publishing is fading but it still exists. Some people just don’t respect self-publishing and will judge you and your book negatively if you haven’t gone through the gatekeepers. Some book reviewers will not review self-published work. Some book clubs won’t read self-published books. Some readers won’t buy them. Also, some publishing houses carry more prestige than others. If you need a stamp of literary approval to feel good about your book and if you want a shot at every available reader, traditional publishing is a better route for you.

Having said all that, there are just as many reasons to choose self-publishing as traditional publishing. We’ll explore reasons for choosing self-publishing in an upcoming post. Ideally, you’ll research both publishing methods and decide which is best for you and your book.

Have you ever tried to get your writing published through traditional channels? Have you self-published? Share your thoughts and experiences with publishing by leaving a comment and keep writing!

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


9 Responses to “Nine Reasons Authors Still Choose Traditional Publishing”

  1. Joseph McCaffrey says:

    Good thoughts, Melissa, and an honest and sympathetic look at self-publishing. I can understand the drive to self-publish. I’ve sat through writers’ workshops and listened to the sometimes justified complaints of would-be authors. But I’ve been on the other side, too. As a journalist, editor, and sometimes book reviewer for nearly 28 years, maybe I’m spoiled. The books sent to us to review, and the books we have read for pleasure or for information are usually well edited and well crafted. They don’t waste our time and our reasons for selecting them are often validated.
    I cannot say that about self-published books.
    Unschooled and undisciplined writers are to be admired for their persistence, but they shouldn’t blame publishing monopolies for their lack of success. The big publishers are not scornful of writers who resort to self-publishing. The big guys read most self-published books, looking for that rare gem that they can buy and successfully publish. But few self-published books make the grade.
    I have no magic advice, other than that writers should study writing, good writing, and learn from it. Too often a self-published book is an ego trip and an embarrassment. I believe that once the houses who are now accepting work and fees from self-published authors will continue to do so, and we will still see books in print that never should have been published. Things won’t change much, but maybe the book-buying public will become more wary and check the title page to see who the publisher was before buying. I know I will. And the “Romance Writers” and “Mystery Writers” groups will continue to get new members who have cartons of self-published books gathering dust but not much else.
    That can’t be bad, but let’s keep things in perspective.

    • Hi Joseph, thanks for calling this an “honest and sympathetic look at self-publishing.” However, I suspect you didn’t read the article closely, since it’s about traditional publishing, not self-publishing.

      From what I’ve seen, big publishers are quite scornful of self-publishing, since it has recently flooded the market with competition. I see plenty of agents, editors, and other professionals who are tied to traditional publishing decrying self-publishing and I suspect that it has more to do with the threat to their careers than true concern about quality.

      As for seeing books in print that never should have been published: I’d say that in the last 20 years or so, traditional publishers have put out plenty of books that were sub-par. The last five (or so) books that I picked up from the best-seller rack were enormous disappointments with “The Help” being the only exception.

      I’d hardly call a self-published book an ego trip or an embarrassment. I want to live in a free and open society. If someone wants to share their work with the public, they should be able to, and for too long, the arts have been controlled by gatekeepers who (in my opinion) care more about profit than artistry. Yes, I think the self-published sector is inundated with work that I would consider amateur or unpolished, but I also think the market will sort itself out and move into a new model for publishing that will ultimately be better for writers and readers.

  2. Well said, Melissa.

    A lot of thought went into this very conundrum before I chose which direction to go with my debut novel, (my current Gravatar). Ultimately, I chose to self-publish. Not because I was concerned about rejection – lord knows I got plenty of that during my years as an actor and director.

    The third draft of the book made it through to the semi-finals of a compteition. The professional critiques contained some very good comments along with the inevitable suggestions for improvement. As work continued, I weighed the pros and cons of submitting v self-publishing. A few of my short stories have been picked up by publishers, interest in producing my two plays is increasing, and I’ve been hired to write a column for a local monthly magazine, so I’ve gone the traditional route.

    I think the deciding factor for me was the amount of time needed to go the traditional path. Hours upon hours of research looking for agents or publishers who may be interested, more hours writing and tweaking query letters for each one, and months upon months (if not years) of The Waiting Game. When the rejections come – and they certainly do – an author is often left with huge question marks: Could it have been the query letter? Perhaps the pitch was all wrong or the synopsis didn’t quite hit the mark? Is it not the right story for them after all? Or incorrect timing? Those [rejection] letters rarely explain *why* they aren’t picking up the work. And some agents and publishers don’t bother to reply at all!

    Each author must decide which route may work for them. Some excellent self-published books will languish in cyberspace while some horrible ones fly off the virtual shelves. The publishing world witnessed quite a searing example of that last year. But the same can be said for what the big guys put out there. It’s all a crap shoot, a guessing game as to what a fickle public will want next.

    • I agree with you 100% Paul. I’ve thought a lot about whether I’d self-publish a novel (if and when I finish one) and I too feel that after spending years on the book, I simply won’t want to wait another year or two to see it in print. Another major deciding factor is that by trade, I’m an online marketing consultant, which means I know how to reach an internet audience, which means I can do my own marketing. Finally, I like the idea of authors self-publishing and then publishing houses sorting through them to find quality work that they can then distribute to brick-and-mortar stores. This is advantageous to the publishers too, because instead of sorting through massive slush piles, they can look at the self-published marketplace and see which books are selling well or getting good reviews and then go after those. It could actually be a huge time-saver for publishing houses once we get through the transition and both sides settle into the new model.

  3. Witer157 says:

    I write poetry but I also write fictional novels. I’m about to finish my first book but I’m not sure which way I should go. Traditional sound good but I’m a little nervous about the marketing because the article said it mostly lands on the shoulders of the author, there is my problem I know nothing. Which way do you think I should turn? What if they laugh me out of the room because they hate my book?

    • I would recommend getting some professional feedback on your work before submitting or self-publishing. Professional would include an English/writing teacher or professor. You can also hire an editor or writing coach and you can ask them to just take a look at the first few chapters. It’s important for every writer to gauge his or her skill level before trying to get published. You can’t do that in a vacuum. Another option would be to join a writing group but make sure some members of the group are experienced and knowledgeable. Once you do publish, whichever model you use, you’ll have to do some marketing. I recommend either hiring someone to do all your marketing for you (many authors use PR firms) or start getting books on marketing and learn how to do it yourself. You can also find tons of blogs and websites that can teach you about marketing. Good luck to you!

  4. Those sound like valid reasons that aspiring authors shoud toss into the mix as they decide how to proceed with their careers.

    I’d like to add another point: Almost every single book that is reviewed by major sources, talked about on influential book pages and TV shows, placed in competition for meaningful awards, makes it into the lists of the year’s best books, is optioned for movies often before the release date, is most likely to be found on a bookstore shelf, or otherwise makes it into the national consciousness of “books we gotta read” comes from a a traditional publisher. Most small-press (other than the old-line prestigious small presses) authors and most self-published authors are excluded from almost every marketing, PR, publicity, advertisting and buzzworthy mechanism that gets books noticed and sells copies.


    • You make an excellent point. Small-press and self-published authors are excluded, and I have a problem with that. I understand the reasons why, and I recognize those reasons as valid but changing. There’s an author named Hugh Howey who chose to self-publish. After his books became successful, he was picked up by a publisher (I believe Howey still controls the digital content) and then his story was optioned by none other than Ridley Scott. Self-publishing has always been around but until recently, it has been pretty inaccessible. Now that anyone can easily self-publish, we are inevitably going to see more quality work in the self-publishing sector and eventually, those authors will no longer be excluded. In fact, I think in the next five years, we’ll see more self-published books made into films. It will be interesting to watch and see how it all works out.


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