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Traditional Publishing for Beginners - Part One

If my post from last week on Indie Publishing scared the bejeezus out of you, then you're probably one of those writers who are better off with a traditional publishing contract.

There are a ton of excellent reasons why being published in print by a bona fide publisher is the ultimate goal of most writers. (More on those in next week's post!)

But I'm all about managing expectations, so before we look at the benefits of being traditionally published, there are three myths I'd first like to debunk:

Myth #1: You signed the contract, so now you can quit your day job!

Advances have been shrinking steadily over the last decade or so. Unless you are already an established author with a large following, you are unlikely to be offered a five figure deal - and many of the smaller or digital-first publishers don't do advances at all.

If you are one of the lucky ones to be offered an advance, consider this: you usually get a third on signature of the contract, another third when the final edits are signed off, and the final third when the book releases. There could be anything between six months and a year between each of those steps. Which means that on an advance of $10,000, you might need to be able to live off $3,300 a year - and that's before taxes!

(Okay, in Rands it's pretty impressive at over R40k, but I don't know about you, but that still wouldn't cover my kid school fees for an entire year!)

Writing, irrespective of whether you are traditionally published or self-published, is not a get-rich-quick scheme!

Myth #2: A publisher will market your book

You're a writer, not a sales person. In fact, nothing could be more horrifying than having to go out there and sell your own book. But that's okay, because your publisher will ensure the entire world hears about your book, right? Wrong!

Most small publishers have ridiculously small marketing budgets. Aside from the odd group advert in a publication or a website, the publisher is unlikely to spend more than two cents on your release. Smaller publishers are, however, very good at giving advice and encouraging their authors to support and teach each other how to market their books. They might even help you with promotions that cost nothing - sending out review copies, setting up blog tours etc.

The bigger publishers aren't much better. With marketing budgets shrinking even quicker than book advances, almost all their marketing budgets will be spent on sure things. Which means that most of the publisher's money will be spent on James Patterson, Stephen King, and Lee Child. If your name isn't already up in lights on the marquee, the chances are the publisher isn't going to help you get it there.

Myth #3: Now you're in with a publisher, you're in for life

You're only as good as your last book. And we're not talking quality here, but quantity. The publisher is not obliged to publish your next book, especially if the previous book's sales haven't lived up to expectations.

Even a 2, 3 or 4 book deal is no guarantee your next book will see the light of day. The publishing industry is littered with stories of authors who've been given the boot before their contract was fulfilled, because the publisher didn't believe they could make money off the next book.

This is one good reason why a deal with a low up-front advance might be better than a deal with a high advance. If you've earned out your low advance and are now earning royalties, this means your publisher is making a profit off you. That's a good thing!

But if your first book did not 'earn out' (i.e. make enough to cover your advance) the chances are the publisher will see you as a liability, and will drop kick you out the door faster than you can say 'goodbye'!

And that's not even considering how often imprints and publishing houses close down, leaving their authors 'orphaned'.

But enough of the doom and gloom! Check back here for next week's post on all the reasons why you do actually want to sign a deal with a traditional publisher!

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Johannesburg, South Africa

romy.writingcoach@gmail.com

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