The benefits of publishing through a publisher 

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I’ve written many times about why I decided to self-publish and the pros and cons of going down this route, often by comparing a positive of indie publishing compared to a negative of going through a publisher. Because of this, I may occasionally come across as being against anyone trying to gain a publishing contract. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Publishing isn’t a black and white issue. There is no universal right or wrong. When you are looking to get your book published, all routes should be investigated and only once an author understands the positives and negatives of each option should they decide which route is right for them and their book at that particular time.

Below I’ve listed the benefits of publishing through a publisher. This isn’t meant to be a definitive list and is written from the perspective of somebody who has decided to go the indie route for his current series of books. Also, the level of benefits will clearly differ depending on whether you are being published by one of the Big 6 (or 5) publishers, a specialist publisher or a small publisher. However, compared to indie publishing there are plenty of benefits to publishing through a traditional publisher.

No financial risk

When an author signs up with a publisher, it is the publisher who takes on the financial risk of whether their book succeeds or fails, not the author. The publisher takes on the cost to get the manuscript into shape, all physical (and digital) production costs, organises and pays for the promotion of the book, and pays the author an advance. If the book flops, the author isn’t responsible for recouping these costs. Taking on this risk is why the the publisher expects such a large percentage of the profit from each book sale.

Advance

Most good publishers pay the author an advance for the rights to publish their book. While these advances may not be as large as they once were, they are still much larger than the advance you get as an indie author – $0.

It’s also important to realise that many books do not pay out their advance. That’s to say, despite having the support of a large organisation behind it, the book doesn’t sell in enough volume for the author’s royalties to exceed the amount of the advance. That doesn’t mean the publisher necessarily looses money on the book, but the author receives more money than they would have done through royalties alone.

Access to professionals

One of the great benefits to going through a publisher is that you have access to a number of professionals. There are developmental editors, to help shape the story, line editors to help smooth prose, and a number of copy editors to pick out those nasty typos and grammatical errors. Then you have book cover designers and book interior designers, there to give your book the best chance of success. To pay for all this support would cost an indie author many thousands of dollars, and many of us have to choose just how much to invest at each stage, but if you have a publishing contract you get it all as part of the price for giving up some of your profit.

Marketing support 

There have been many articles written by traditionally published authors bemoaning the declining marketing support from their publisher but even if the marketing budgets are at a lower level than before, an author still gets access to marketing professionals help support their book launch. These professionals develop adverts, create and produce point of sale, send out arc’s to generate reviews and organising book signings. On top of this you have the publisher’s reps who push the author’s book when at bookstores.

Distribution

Probably the biggest benefit, and one that us indies look on with some jealousy, is that when going through a traditional publisher, an author has access to all distribution options. There have been some indies that have negotiated contracts with distributors or wholesalers, but the majority will tell you that they do well just to get their book in a local store.

Traditional publishers can get your book into the major stores, independent stores and supermarkets (if you are very lucky). This gives the traditionally published author a massive advantage in the area most difficult for an indie author, being seen.

Sense of validation 

This point isn’t true for everyone, but some authors feel as if they haven’t ‘made it’ until they win a publishing contract. The fact that publishing professionals have selected their work out of the many thousands of manuscripts they receive each year is a major boost to the author’s self-esteem. I’m sure there is nothing better than having friends and family see your book in their local store.

 

As I said before, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to publishing, just what suits you at the time, but to say publishers don’t have anything, or even enough, to offer writers is way off the mark.

For those of you who publish through a publisher, what are your thoughts on this? Have I included everything? Am I viewing publishing through a publisher with rose-tinted glasses? Is there anything I’ve missed? For indie authors, what out of the points above is the one thing you wish you had access to? I’d love to hear from you.

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27 thoughts on “The benefits of publishing through a publisher 

  1. A slightly different comment to add. While trad published books do have, or can have, a big team to work on their book, it’s worthwhile pointing out that to get accepted by an agent, it’s sensible having your book edited first anyway. That’s not meant to sound like a plug for editors 😀 it’s a simple fact. If a book is accepted for trad publishing it will almost certainly get re-edited, but by not sending a fairly polished version off in the first place, an author is doing themself no favour. And, if it gets totally rejected, then the author is partway to self-pub anyway.

    The other issue of course is the whole vanity press conundrum. But I’ll let you write about that on another post rather than go off topic on this one.

    • It’s a good point you make. Smart authors who are looking for representation will get their manuscript edited first, even if it’s just a copyedit to remove any unnecessary typos. With so many manuscripts submitted each day, the last thing you want to do is have your work pulled up because of items that are (relatively) simple to rectify.
      As for vanity publishing, grrr!

  2. This is a comprehensive list, Dylan, and thank you for covering the reasons why some authors may wish to seek traditional publication rather than going it alone. From an inside-the-business perspective, I would add this: the one element you list that is the MOST valuable to authors and that they are least likely to be able to cover themselves if they self-publish is Distribution. Most distributors will not consider representing Indie authors (or even some Indie publishers) and without distribution it’s nearly impossible to get print books stocked in bookstores, chains, national stores (Tesco, Costco), and specialty markets.

    • Thanks, Susan. As somebody who’s worked in the industry, it’s good to have your input. I agree with you. All the items I mentioned are available to indie authors for a price, except for distribution. It has happened, but it’s such a rarity that it makes the news when it does.

  3. You make some very good points – as always – Dylan. The one issue which isn’t reflected here however is that going the indie route isn’t always a ‘choice’ made from a position of positivity. SOME authors may hope in vain, and tout their manuscripts from agent to agent, publisher to publisher in their search for representation. Only after all avenues are exhausted, or once they decide their ‘Rejections’ folder is quite full enough, do they ‘choose’ to go the indie route.

    I know your choice was a far more positive early decision in favour of indie, than mine was, for example. I don’t see myself as having made an active choice for indie publishing – even though I acknowledge the positives of this approach. I would still have preferred to find an agent and get locked into some kind of contract, even if it meant relinquishing control…. all for the privilege, as you so rightly observe, of having people see my book on the shelves and tables at Waterstones. But… I failed to make the cut, as do so many others.

    My enthusiasm for indie – even though it would not have been my ‘choice’ – remains, because, for all that it is a very, very big pond, and I am a very, very microscopic plankton, it is still exciting to be able to publish my work in a way that looks and feels – and is – just like any other book.

    As for the one thing I wish I had access to?….. the scale of audience/readership that comes with traditional publishing. That’s something that most indie authors can but dream of.

    • Thanks Jools. You’re right, of course, writers don’t choose to have a publishing contract, only to try to get one. And it is incredibly competitive and difficult to achieve. At the same time, it is still a choice for the writer. Nobody forces you to go down that route, in the same way as nobody forces anyone to try the indie route. In the situation in which you found yourself, many writers choose to put the book in question away, write another and try again. Personally, I’m glad you decided on another route. 🙂

  4. Many of the small publishers that focus more on e-books (like mine) use POD printing which limits their distribution of paperbacks. Stores like Barnes & Noble won’t generally take them. I was able to only get mine in some indie book stores, but I had to do that myself. Many of the smaller publishers also do little in the way of marketing. I think that’s why many authors are now choosing to publish on their own instead of with a small press: since they have to do so much of the marketing on their own, they might as well get the full profit from their sales. The lines are certainly blurring, that’s for sure!

    • Thanks, Carrie. I was hoping you would reply. As I said at the beginning of my post, I appreciate that instead of their being two routes, there are many graduations depending on the type of publisher you go with and each has it’s own pros and cons. Your perspective is really helpful for any writer starting out, so thank you. 🙂

      • You’re welcome. While I’m still currently querying agents, if that doesn’t pan out, I still haven’t decided whether I’ll go the same route I did with my first book (a small press) or go it alone. It seems daunting to do everything myself. My hat’s off to you and others who’ve managed to so successfully publish well-written and well-packaged books.

  5. As someone trying to decide what publishing route to take your articles are a great help. I am not decided yet, but it is good to weigh up all the options and read and much as possible before you commit. A nice factual insight like this is exactly what I need 🙂

  6. Distribution is definitely the biggest obstacle. Many places won’t stock POD books, which baffles me. I’m sure there are good economic reasons for that business decision, but given the proliferation, and competitive necessity of Just In Time inventory for manufacturing and large retail, I must say, I don’t understand it.

    • If I may say, POD can’t be returned. As a bookseller, you have to buy them and if you don’t sell them, that’s entirely your problem.
      Granted, that’s not a big problem if you just have one or two title, but if you have many it does turn into a loss. Believe me. In the bookshop I work in, we did end up with quite a few POD we didn’t sell, and that’s a loss you can’t cover. That’s the reason why now we avoid acquiring POD as much as we can.

      • I’d forgotten about that hitch. Book return insurance is a definite advantage, and it is available for POD books, but it can be expensive.

  7. I’ve self published and the two distributors in Ireland have taken my book which means it is available in bookshops here. However, just because they take it, it doesn’t mean that the bookshops will stock it! You still have to work at the PR so that people will walk into the shop and ask for it, thereby prompting the bookshop owner to order multiple copies. Whether a distributor takes it or not, it’s worthwhile gathering your courage and visiting bookshops to talk to the owners. Some will be delighted to stock it once they see it in black and white.
    I’m starting to get some press coverage in the UK now so am uploading to CreateSpace and IngramSparks – whether the bookshops will order it from Ingram Sparks will be interesting to see. I have to admit there are times I would love a traditional publisher to manage all that but I really can’t complain with how things have gone here in Ireland for me.

    • Congratulations on getting the distribution deal in Ireland and I wish you all the best for the UK, too. As you say, it’s not as though gaining distribution is the end of the story, but it’s an important hurdle to overcome. You’re right about visiting book stores and asking. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, leaving you in the same position as before the visit.

  8. Working with professionals is the main reason why I’ve chosen the trad route. I know I still have a lot to learn and I think having the possibility to work with professionals of the field (right, if I win such possibility) will give me a chance to become a far better writer.
    I cannot afford to pay those professionals, so I suppose I have to invest in my skills 😉

    • It’s a really big benefit, and probably one of the main reasons I would choose to investigate this route in the future. Working with an experienced developmental editor especially, would be invaluable.

  9. As a Canadian poet published by a traditional publisher, I would agree that national (and sometimes international) distribution of one’s book becomes easier if you have a publisher behind you. For example, the large bookstore chains and even some libraries prefer to work ONLY with a distributor and some locations won’t even stock self-published books unless they are local and meet a certain standard. Another benefit of waiting for a traditional publisher is that when your book is finally published, it becomes easier to be accepted into such professional organizers as the League of Canadian Poets and the Writers’ Union of Canada. This in turn opens new opportunities for getting paid to work in the schools, to travel with your book and to attend readings which also helps with book sales as well as the national branding of your name as a writer. In the end, it’s up to each individual writer to decide what path they wish to follow.

    • That’s interesting what you say about professional organisations. I’ve read recently that the SFA (Science Fiction Association of America) has opened its doors to indie writers who meet their sales criteria but as you say, many organisations still only accept members published through publishers.

  10. Interesting blog, Dylan. I agree with what’s already been said about small publishers – they have little to no marketing resources and my publisher seems to have difficulty distributing paperbacks via Amazon, which is a worry. But the access to professionals is a great plus – as someone with no design skills I’d have had to pay a cover designer as well as an editor. But I have to be honest, my main reason was validation. My mum wouldn’t have felt the same about my book if I’d chosen the indie route! But I’m glad to see that the image of indie publishing is changing and several established authors are choosing to go down that route. Have you read Harry Bingham’s blog? Fascinating stuff.

    http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/blog/

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