Jan 18, 2012

Writer Ramblings: Why Should I Not Publish Traditionally?

I don’t believe I’m the next Stephen King, that’s every writers dream, but few of us can grasp the depth and complexity of Stephen King's abilities to ever compare ourselves to him and not feel ashamed. He’s a prodigy. What makes him even more awesome is that he knows this, but does not flaunt it, although he has no problems at all speaking his mind. Most often in the context of writing and writers, he’s absolutely right (Sorry Twihards).

This is not a King worshipping post. I do have a real point here. What is it? Ok, My point is, I am not Stephen King, I just aspire to be like him. I don’t want to be exactly like him. I am my own person with my own stories and none of them are like King’s stories. About the only thing I know my editor has said to me that King’s has probably said to him was, “Tone down the gore a little. Any more brain matter on a wall and it’s going to be too much to stomach.” Okay, maybe my descriptive voice was better than I had expected, in that someone would actually get sick reading about a bullet wound to the head. I got it, no problem. I aspire to make a living writing, just like Stephen King does. Writing stories and doing all the things that come with writing a book and publishing it.

Since I’m not Stephen King, this is what I’ll have to do to get published through a Big 6 legacy/traditional publishing company, once I’ve written the manuscript and I’m ready to submit it. This is in no way meant to be disrespectful to the publishing companies, but from what I gather listening to the musings of dozens of happy and unhappy writers who have contracted with the Big 6, this sums it up.

1) Query a thousand agents (maybe not that many), half of which won’t get past the letter before its trashed (maybe more than that many). I have nothing against agents. They are a requirement for traditional publishing because Big 6 Companies, at this time, refuse to deal with writers directly. Agents often know the ins and outs of dealing with big publishers as well. There’s a lot of tricky things on Big Company contracts, don’t deal with one without an agent, or a lawyer for that matter.

2) Maybe someday, the agent finds a publisher that wants to sign you. Maybe you get a big advance up front. Those are big maybes. Thousands of books never get past this point and end up rotting away in a trunk somewhere never to see the light again. Unless you’re a celebrity, then you get a ghost writer and you name your price. Publishing companies are not interested in true literature. They only care about the bottom line, such as any business should only care about. How much can they make off your book?

3) Once those first two steps are complete, then you get edited by their staff. Not just once, but several times. Edits… Revisions… Edits… Revisions... Eventually your book is done the way they want it. Not always a bad thing. They do know how to make a book so that people will want to read it. They are still human however, and miss things, but you can’t deny the level of quality in a book that’s been through several edits and one that hasn’t.

4) After edits, they design a cover and pick a title for your book. You have no say or creative control. Just start writing your next book, and if your cover makes you puke, get over it. Pray you sell enough to get a second edition that looks better. Can you tell I don't like this part?

5) If you haven’t already, you need to market yourself. Most likely you’ve already got a platform and a following of some kind or you wouldn’t even be at this point. Most Publishers are not interested in people that nobody has ever heard of. Big publishers no longer market anyone who isn’t already a name, such as Stephen King, JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Dan Brown or Snooki.

6) Then you have to travel across the country and appear at book signings and read in front of crowds. Another part of marketing your book that means you better brush up on your public speaking. Sometimes those book signings are pretty lonely. I’ve seen some that made me want to buy an autographed copy just so the writer doesn’t go home and cry as much. We publish to share our writing, not to be ignored. That hurts.

7) If you haven’t sold enough books in a couple months, you most likely get pulled from the shelves and if you have, you will still get pulled in a couple years if you don’t sell consistently. A lot of writers never earn back the advance they received, which is a guaranteed denial for getting another book contract through most companies.

8) You better make sure you still have your day job. At 12% per sale of a book being a pretty generous contract in the industry, unless you’re a bestseller right off the bat, you will need to still have a job to pay your bills. At least you got published through a big company though right? That really is something to be proud of. Most writers never reach that goal. Not even close. I’m not being sarcastic at all. It’s a bragging right. That's not a bad thing, it looks great on your resume too.

9) I'm sure I missed something, so feel free to let me know in the comments. Thanks!

And then...

There are people like me. I look at this and say, I can hire multiple professional editors on my own. I can set up my own business for practically nothing. I can contract out the editing and cover design and I have complete creative control over it all. As long as I put my manuscript through multiple editors, it will still come out with that high quality that people expect from a traditionally published novel.

No covers that turn my stomach away or the eyes of potential buyers. Don’t try denying it either. Everyone reading this has picked up a book and then looked at the cover, and then returned it to the shelf without looking any further. I know I have. My wife does it all the time. We all do it. Covers matter. You would think that having an awesome cover would cost so much you would have to have a publisher. Well look at the cover of Exiled there on Amazon. An Indie published book by MR Merrick. It might just be me, but this is one of the best covers I’ve ever seen on a book. Amazing and he didn’t have to sell his firstborn child to pay for it.

Call me a control freak, but I was made for Indie Publishing. I have no problem with an editor telling me to delete a chapter if it improves the story. From what I can tell most of the seriously hard work is on the writer and yet, in traditional publishing, the writer gets a measly 12% per sale. If he’s lucky to get that much, I’ve heard often former midlist authors say they only made 10%.

Here’s a number crunch for you. That same author sells 3,000 printed books and 200 e-books for $7.99. Fewer e-books because the Big companies either charge more or equal to the printed paperback and this can’t even compete with the mass of Indie’s publishing their books at $0.99 to $2.99. This is the reason for the latest trends on Amazon’s bestseller lists where traditionally published authors are virtually non-existent. Obviously getting a paperback copy of an Indie writer into a physical bookstore is not likely. It’s possible, but the price is not something everyone is willing to dish out. In fact, it’s really not worth it in the long run.

I’m starting to rant, let’s get back to the number crunch. 3,200 books sold equals to that author earning $3,068.16. Not bad for a month of sales right? For an Indie writer to make that same amount of money, and he sells his books at $2.99 he only needs to sell 1,466 e-books. Wait, did I just say that I could make the same by selling half the number of e-books as a traditional writer and I don’t even have books in the bookstore? I don’t have to go driving all over the country for book signings and readings? I can still sell my paperbacks online though.

An Indie writer collects 70% of the sale, Amazon keeps only 30%. That percent varies on the price of the book, but the lower the price; the more people will take a chance on you, the more sales. As far as thinking you’ll sell more as a traditionally published writer versus the Indie published? That depends on how well you can market yourself. If you can’t market yourself as an Indie to stay afloat, you’re still going to drown as a Traditional.

I’m not saying Indie Writer is the only way to go. It is by far not the easiest way. You’re going to have to market yourself either way so if that’s why you’re going traditional, wrong answer. If you just want to see your book in the stores, get professional editing and have someone else cover all your upfront publishing fees, right answer. Who knows, you could make a fortune selling books, but let’s face reality. Are you the next Stephen King? I’m guessing no. Do you have a story to tell and you want to get it published? Maybe you are so far away from mainstream genre that even agents won’t open your e-mails. If so, then Indie Publishing is where you need to research. A big company has its uses but they aren’t into creating fulltime writers. That’s the Indie Publishing industry.

Right now, the Big companies still hold the gates to the bookstores and the attention of the majority of the readers in the world, but those gates are getting thinner in a hurry. I’m not saying just write and publish everything as an Indie. Obviously there is much to learn from the Big Companies. The rounds of grueling edits and the styles of covers they use are all done after researching markets. They want to sell your books, if they notice you. They do know what they are doing as far as producing quality.

You want to learn more about Indie Publishing? Check out the blog by Joe Konrath. He’s a self-made millionaire that made $140,000 the last 30 days selling e-books on Amazon. Yeah, that’s not a typo folks. I may not be a Joe Konrath either, but I have a better shot at making a living taking the road he took. Then again, maybe I am the next Joe Konrath. Only time will tell.

The market is shifting away from the bookstores. Maybe down the road the Big 6 companies will adjust and better evaluate the market. Amazon might push for a bigger cut to raise the prices of the Indie books closer to what the Big 6 currently charges. Who knows, but right now, I see the future is in e-books and Indie authors have taken control of the market. It’s only a matter of time that someone comes up with a print on demand bookstore where you can order any book on their list and have it printed immediately without roaming through shelves of books that you aren’t really paying attention to. With that kind of a store the Big 6 won’t be able to buy all of the shelf space to keep Indies out anymore. Adaption is the nature of good progressive business.


  1. Yep, yep, and yep. I'm with ya, brother! You know how I feel about this topic. I think you covered it really well.

    Best of luck with your self-publishing journey! I'm eagerly watching to see how you fare and will totally buy your book when it comes out. Woo hoo!


    1. Thanks Kendall! Your were one of the people I thought about while I wrote this. I tried making it smaller, but there was just too much information so either I made it plain and boring or I cut out important stuff.

      I can't wait to see how your trilogy does this year, I sure hope it helps your cause a lot.

  2. Great post! I know nothing about publishing, but what youve said makes perfect sense. Best of luck!

    1. Thanks Andrea! I'll need all the luck I can get, as long as I do a good job creating the novels first.

  3. Whoa! An amazing post that hits the nail on the head AND I get a shout out? Thanks TL! This is a really great post, and I appreciate it because I've been through all this. I did the research, I edited, I submitted, granted, I only submitted a dozen, not hundreds. Everything you outlined here is exactly why I went self-publishing. Well, not everything, to be honest, most of it was the querying process. It killed all the passion I had for my story, and once I decided to go at it alone, it all came rushing back.

    I really don't think you missed anything in your list. That pretty much sums it up perfectly. We're not the next King. We're the next Merrick and Jeffcoat. See you at the top my friend! :)

    1. Sounds like a great plan! The next Merrick and Jeffcoat. I like the sound of that.