Stages of Writing: Post 6 (Traditional Publishing)

Though we had anticipated this being our last video in this series, this wasn’t the last one.  We had so much to say about traditional publishing we never really dove into self-publishing.

In a nutshell, a traditional publisher is one who does the publishing for you.  If they accept your manuscript, they will do the editing, get the cover, put your book on multiple retailers, and do some (probably limited) promotion for you.

1.  Submitting to a Publisher

Janet Syas Ntisick has more experience with seeking a publisher than I do, so she explains the things she’s had to get together when approaching publishers at conferences.  One thing to keep in mind is that in today’s environment, you still need to think of what you can bring to the table.  A publisher wants to see you bring in sales, so your platform is still important.  Like any business, a publisher needs to make a profit in order to stay open.  So when you’re presenting your query letter, first three chapters, or even the entire manuscript, make sure to list out your qualifications.  Qualifications include memberships to writing organizations, awards you won, published books, earnings (especially if you made a substantial amount in the past), what you’re doing to market yourself and your books, etc.  List the things that make you an attractive applicant, just as you would on a resume if you were looking for a day job.  (Be honest, of course.  It won’t reflect well on you if you’re lying.  I think publishers are smart enough to figure out if you’re fudging your numbers.)

One thing I will add is that at the Nebraska Writers Guild conference last month, an agent said she would rather have an unpublished novel to take to a publisher than one that has already been self-published (unless that self-published title has sold like crazy).  So if you’re debating taking a self-published book to a publisher, think over that before you do.

2. Types of Publishers

There are big publishers and small ones.  Some specialize in certain genres and others take a wide variety of titles.  Some will only do ebooks and others will offer both ebooks and paperbacks.  There’s really a diversity out there when it comes to publishers, and it’s important to make sure the publisher you choose will fit your book and your personality.

Some publishers will allow the author input into the cover and editorial changes.  Some won’t.  The royalty you can expect will vary depending on which one you go with, too.  There might be a clause where you can’t use a character in a self-published book or in a book that you publish with another publisher.  There might be rights you’re giving them that may or may not work in your favor.  There might even be a clause that allows them to hold onto the book without actually publishing it until (or if) they feel like it.  Or they might require more books from you.  The key is to be careful when looking at the contract.  When in doubt, have a lawyer familiar with book contracts look it over before signing anything.

3.  Which Authors Benefit From Traditional Publishing?

I think publishers can be great for authors who want to be hybrid authors like me (doing both traditional and self-publishing) or authors who don’t want to do the jobs a self-published author has to do.  I know authors who don’t want to worry about covers, formatting, editing, uploading the book to a retailer, keeping track of sales, etc.  They want to write the book and send it to a publisher to do all that stuff for them.  There is nothing wrong with this.

Just be aware of the trade-offs.  You’ll get a lower royalty rate per book sale, less control over your book, and you might not get all the promotion you’re hoping for.  You might also be giving up some rights you’d rather have.  Like I said, when in doubt, go to a lawyer with the contract.

4.  Make Sure You Check The Publisher Out To See If It’s A Good One Or Not

Good publishers pay you the right amount of royalties and they pay you on time.  They are professional and courteous.  You should be comfortable with them.  (Always trust your gut instinct.  If anything in you says “this is not a good idea”, you’re better off avoiding it.)

As a final point, I would definitely check out this link (which is advice written by Victoria Strauss).  There is a wealth of information here that’s worth reading.


  1. Fourteen of my sixteen books were published by two conventional publishers. I’m relieved to say I had it a lot easier than this because I was stupid.

    That’s not a joke. I was as clueless as it gets. I didn’t belong to any writing groups, didn’t know any other aspiring writers, and had never been to any conferences. I got my agent because I happened to see comments she’d made in an article in Writers Digest and sent her a query. Queries are supposed to be a single page in length–mine was three pages. She had just had her first New York Times bestseller and was looking for new authors in that same genre, so she took me on. She put me through six months of rewrites after declaring my manuscript unpublishable and sold it within weeks of finally sending it out.

    That was the easy part. Now I self-publish.

    1. Six months of rewrites…. I nearly fainted. The reason why I didn’t go with a publisher was for this reason. I have a lot of admiration for authors who have such a high level of patience to rewrite their stories like that.

  2. I’ve never sought a traditional publisher. Honestly, unless you’re a big name, a big publisher isn’t going to do much, or maybe not any, marketing for you. Small publishers are good for people who don’t want to do all the non-writing stuff for themselves. They need the services a small publisher can provide. But I can’t really see what a small press can do for me except take a percentage of my royalties. LOL. Seriously, I’m kind of a control freak, so I don’t want anyone telling me what kind of cover to have, when I can publish, how many books I have to write, etc. I know an author who has been under contract with a small publisher for awhile, and she has to write one more book for them. They haven’t done anything for her except pay for her cover and editing. They have their own editors, but I keep finding errors they didn’t catch, so she’s not getting the best service. And they’ve done ZERO marketing for her. And, to me, that’s the most important thing a publisher should do for an author…marketing! So traditional publishing is okay for some people. But not for me. If they aren’t going to market me, I don’t need them. Now if someone offered me that $10,000 you were talking about , I would be tempted…if I didn’t have to pay any of it back. LOL

    That’s my two cents worth, but I know there are people who feel differently. And that’s okay. We all have to go the route that works best for us.

    1. I think the best thing publishers offer is the cover, editing, etc. I’ve talked to several authors who would rather have a publisher do all of that for them. I think some authors are afraid of doing everything by themselves because it seems like such a daunting task. Others probably want the validation of being able to say someone believed in their book enough to publish it.

      Marketing is something publishers expect authors to bring to the table. This notion that authors can find a publisher to do the marketing for them while all they do is write their next book is a myth. I’ve heard new writers say that is why they seek out a publisher, but the truth is, the most any publisher is going to do for a new writer is minimal marketing. Authors have to sell themselves. If they end up selling a lot, then publishers are more likely to put some serious push into marketing them.

      I love having full control over everything. Early on, I decided I wanted to write my books my way without someone making it do it differently. I submitted to a couple of publishers, and they wanted me to make changes, but I was dead set on having the story my way. LOL I figure at the end of the day, it’s my book and I’m stuck with it, so I need to be happy with it.

  3. ronfritsch says:

    Thank you for this post. An author who receives a publishing contract should never ever forget this: “go to a lawyer with the contract.”

    1. I agree. I recently heard one man who received a contract which stated he had to write the publisher three books, and the publisher was under no obligation to even publish them, which meant he would be out three books that he might never make any money off of. There have been other cases where the publishers will claim sole rights on a certain character or world the author created. It’s crazy how much an author can lose.

      1. ronfritsch says:

        Yet another horror story!

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