Traditional Publishing for Beginners - Part Two
Following on from my post last week debunking the myths of traditional publishing, there are a ton of excellent reasons why being published in print by a bona fide publisher is the ultimate goal of most writers.
Since that previous post was a bit of a downer, today I'm going to focus on all the great things publishers do for their authors.
While advances might not be as big as they were a decade ago, and while not all publishers offer them, some do - and who doesn't want the validation of a nice chunk of up-front cash in the bank account for their writing?
If you self-publish, you're going to need to spend money to make money. You're going to need a professional-looking cover, a professional editor, and good formatting - and all of these cost money you may not have. But sign with a publisher, and they pay all these costs.
It's tempting to think you can do this yourself. After all, there are loads of design sites and templates out there, right? Or your niece who's a graphic designer could make it for you real cheap. The problem with cheap is that it so often looks cheap. Or even if it looks great, it fails to entice readers to buy the book because it isn't right for the genre or the market. This is because book cover design is about so much more than choosing a stock image and a font. Publishers do huge amounts of research into what sells, and when you are published by a half-decent publisher, you get the benefit of that research - for free.
Again, it might be tempting to get your writer friends, or your aunt who's an English teacher, to proof read your book before you self-publish it. I asked my mother (an English teacher) to proof read my first submission to a publisher. She corrected all the grammar until it sounded like a business email rather than an engaging story. I've never asked again.
Editing is about so much more than catching typos. A professional editor pushes you to improve your writing and the story, and often brings a depth to your story and characters you didn't even realise was missing. Working with an editor (as soul destroying as it can be when you first open those revisions and see all the comments!) leaves you with an immense feeling of having made your story shine. And again, with any half-decent publishing house, you're getting this invaluable experience for free!
As a self-publisher, getting your books into print requires yet more cash and more expertise. The flat cover used for digital needs to be turned into a front-and-back cover, and the interior formatting will need to be re-done. Then you'll need to decide whether to go print-on-demand, or to pay for boxes of print copies which you will need to sell yourself. A publisher would do all of this for you, again at no cost to yourself (unless you've signed a digital only deal). And once the publisher prints your books, they actually handle the distribution and get your books into places you are unlikely to get them into on your own.
In my previous post, I said that most publishers don't do much to promote books these days. Which, in comparison with ten or twenty years ago, might be true. But even if the publisher isn't allocating you a big marketing budget, they still bring a good deal to the table: cross-promotion with the more established authors in their 'stable', access to loyal book bloggers and promotional sites, sending out review copies, promotion to their existing readership etc. If you're just starting out and don't yet have an established following, these connections and the advice a publisher and your fellow authors share, can be worth more than the cut of the profits the publishing house takes.
Foreign & Translation Rights
It's not impossible for a self-publisher to break into a foreign language market, but it is very, very hard. Unless you have connections, or are fully bi-lingual yourself, this is going to COST!
I contacted a reputable German translator who specialises in my genre, and my eyes bugged out at the fee I was quoted for even my shortest novella. Admittedly, that cost included a great deal more than a mere translation. Other markets have different sensibilities, so the same cover you use in the US and UK may not translate to the Japanese or French markets. Then there's the book blurb, which may need to be written to appeal to that very different sensibility, and promotion in a foreign language, or in a market that may not be as online-savvy as we're used to.
The truth is, the only real way to get distributed in most foreign markets is through a traditional publisher, who knows all this stuff and does it all for you (again, at no cost to you!). Ditto movie rights and audio rights.
Reach new markets
Most publishers already have established readerships. Whether they sell direct to the public or via retailers, they already have a circle of followers, and each publisher will have a slightly different circle. So each new publisher you sign with will bring you new readers and expand your reach into new markets.
Finally, there's a whole lot of street cred you get being published by a well-known publisher with a good reputation. Being able to put 'HarperCollins author' in front of my name is almost as sweet as being able to say 'best-selling author'. Having the stamp of approval from one publisher, even a small one, can open doors to bigger and better opportunities.
Can you think of any other benefits to being traditionally published? If so, share them in the comments. Any questions? Post them below.