‘Traditional’ or ‘conventional’ publishing is the name given to publishers who fund the publication of the book on behalf of the author. Contrary to the name, it isn’t a very traditional method of publishing, as self-funded publication was the norm with authors such as Jane Austen and Beatrix Potter. Traditional publishers include Bloomsbury, Penguin Random House and Harper Collins – amongst many others!
If a publisher does takes on your work, you (or your agent) will need to negotiate the publishing agreement. This will determine important things such as the rights that you are going to license to the publisher, how much your advance will be and the value of royalties you will be entitled to on sales. All agreements are different and writers should ensure that they read through the terms carefully before signing. The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and The Authors Guild (in the USA) both offer help with contracts to their members.
You should be aware that as a writer, especially a newly published writer, you may struggle to get a ‘good’ deal. The seven figure advances for debut novelists that get splashed all over the news are very much the exception rather than the rule. The amount that writers receive as an advance, and the amount received in royalties may seem very small. Plus you may find yourself having to surrender a fair bit of control over your book and the rights to it.
When the deal is done, the publisher gets going on the book. Typically, it will take a year before the book reaches the shelves of the bookshops.
Ultimately, the way they work will vary, depending on their size and structure. Broadly speaking they will have departments who will work on the following aspects of a book:
Once a final proof has been created, the publisher will send your books to be printed. Once printed, your books will be sent to a distributer who will warehouse them, ready to send them out when the book is launched.
The publisher will negotiate for the book to be sold in particular retailers and the distributer will send the books out. Retailers can also order titles of books from the distributer.
There are many arguments on both sides of this discussion. Traditional publishing takes away any initial financial input from the author, but also offers authors a very small royalty percentage. Self-published authors can maintain complete control of their book, but many people argue that it offers no quality control.
This being said, there is no reason why you can’t do both. There are a number of successful writers who have self-published at some point in their career. They include: Margaret Atwood, William Blake, Robert Bly, Lord Byron, Willa Cather, Pat Conroy, Stephen Crane, e.e. cummings, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, T.S. Eliot, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Benjamin Franklin, Zane Grey, Thomas Hardy, E. Lynn Harris, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Susan Hill, Stephen King, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L’Amour, D.H. Lawrence, Rod McKuen, Marlo Morgan, John Muir, Anais Nin, Thomas Paine, Tom Peters, Edgar Allen Poe, Alexander Pope, Beatrix Potter, Ezra Pound, Marcel Proust, Irma Rombauer, Carl Sandburg, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, William Strunk, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoi, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman and Virginia Woolf.
These days, if you decide to self-publish you don’t have to pay the large up-front fees that used to be the hallmark of self-publishing. If you do some research you can find a number of different affordable options (the most affordable of which, is CompletelyNovel… because it’s free!) In addition, self-publishing to begin with doesn’t mean that you can’t approach a publisher at a later stage, once you have some sales and ‘proof of product’ behind you. However good you are at self-publishing, it is hard to replicate the processes and professionalism that a publishing house can offer. They have the contacts, expertise and experience to be able to do much of the work on a larger scale, which may be exactly what you need later on. The most important thing is that you think and research into the route that is right for you, before you sign any contracts. And remember, you can start publishing with CompletelyNovel with no upfront fees and a community of authors at your side. Self-publishing doesn’t mean that you need to go it alone.