About the Path to Publication Series
Continuing the Path the Publication series, this week we’re looking at traditional book publishing. Last week I broke down the self-publishing model. These are the two most common paths to book publication.
Traditional Publishing 101
Years ago, authors wrote a manuscript, photocopied it, sent it off to whichever book publisher they hoped would publish it, and waited. Those days are long gone. Most book publishers today, save for a few small and some niche houses, don’t work directly with the author until they’ve decided to publish a book. Rather, authors work through literary agents.
Today authors query a literary agency with their manuscript idea rather than a publishing house. The agent then queries (pitches) publishing houses on behalf of an author. When a publisher is interested, the agent negotiates the best deal possible for the author. A publishing house signs a book and handles the production (editorial and design), printing, and distribution tasks that self-publishing authors are responsible for. Authors typically work with publicity departments to coordinate marketing efforts, as authors assume some responsibility for marketing and promoting their books in today’s book publishing climate.
This equation used to be one-sided: Traditional book publishing had all the cache, and self-publishing was seen as a last resort — as a way for those who had been rejected by book publishing houses to publish their work. A short-term pro for traditional book publishing is that authors receive money when they sign their contract and/or turn in their manuscript, called an advance against royalties. (Many authors never see another penny of royalty money after their book is published.)
The biggest cons are the lack of control and the financial gain for the author. The traditional book publishing model favors the publishing house, not the author. The publishing house wants to retain as many rights as possible, not to mention as much money as possible, and also controls the time line to publication, the cover, and the marketing plan. This can be crippling to an author-entrepreneur, as the average time from signing a contract to a finished book is approximately 18 months.
Authors who plan to publish traditionally generally don’t hire a team. The most common exceptions are a developmental editor and a publicist. If an agent is interested but thinks a book needs work before she can submit if to publishers for consideration, she might recommend the author hire a developmental editor. And because the days of double-martini lunches and 20-city book tours have gone by the wayside, authors are responsible for marketing their books more than ever before. Book publicity experts are available to help authors, whether that’s a launch plan specialist, a full-fledged publicity firm, or a book marketing consultant.
Entrepreneurs often know that they SHOULD publish a book to help up-level their business but the process seems so daunting. I explain all the time that it isn’t difficult; it’s just unfamiliar. Don’t let that stop you!