The fifth post in the Writing IRL series. So, you've finally done it. You've written several books (and yes, you need to writ...

Writing IRL - Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing

The fifth post in the Writing IRL series.

So, you've finally done it. You've written several books (and yes, you need to write several - unless you're some kind of godlike genius, which you're probably not, your first book is not likely to be good enough), and your latest is the one that proves that you're ready to be A Writer. This is the one that might make a great film, that will have people desperate to give 5 star reviews, that you'd be proud to hold in your hands and tell people you wrote.

But where do you go from here? Which is the best route to take - self publishing, or traditional?

Well, in this two-part IRL post, I'll be listing the ups and downs of both routes, as I see them, so that you can make an educated decision on which path you want to follow.

So, what's so special about traditional publishing?

You're in the hands of the professionals

You might remember how dramatic I was about self-publishing in the first half of this two-part post, and how I kept ramming it home how hard you'd have to work to be successful. You'd have to do your own marketing, find and fund your own editor, get your own cover designs…

Well, with traditional publishing, almost all of that is dealt with by someone with a lot more experience and knowledge of the business than you (probably) have. 

So you don't need to worry about whether the freelance editor you've found online is really just an idiot with a PayPal account who speaks English as a second language, and you don't need to design your own cover in Paint because you don't have the money to pay someone to do it for you, and you might not have to market the hell out of the bloody thing on the Internet, where no one wants to be sold a self-published book.

That's a HUGE plus.

I wish someone would handle my marketing for me.

As a result, you lose some control

What if you don't like the cover that has been designed for you by your lovely professionals? What if they ask you to change the title of your book because your one (which you're really attached to, by the way) doesn't work for them? 

What if there are clauses in the contract that make you feel very uncomfortable, but the only way you'll get published is to accept them?

By taking the traditional route, you give up a certain amount of control, which you might not be able to get back. So while it's nice that professionals will be steering the ship for you, you have to be aware of what you're letting yourself in for.

…and some money-making potential

Oh, and your royalties will be lower. A lot lower. You can earn 70% on Amazon, but you might only get 8% going the traditional route. 

Real-world percentages may vary, but it's worth thinking about. If you end up selling 100x more books going the traditional route because your marketing team got you on Richard and Judy's book club or something, then it's worth the royalty difference, surely? You become more successful than you ever could have been on your own.

But if not… Well, you could always get another job.

It's free

Unlike self-publishing, which is only free if you do it badly or know some very skilled people who owe you favours, traditional publishing really is free. 

All these experts have enough faith in your work to print it for you with their logo on it, so of course they're going to pay for the editing, the cover design, and any other up-front costs. You might be their next cash cow!

But it's incredibly difficult to get into

Have you seen all those memes people post on Facebook and Instagram in which J.K. Rowling looks smugly into the camera at some posh event, and the caption says something like, "J.K. Rowling was rejected 275 times before a publisher picked up the Harry Potter series, and now she's basically a goddess"?

While I won't deny that J.K. Rowling is cool, that's really not all that amazing a story. Everyone who tries to go the traditional route is rejected many, many times. The amazing part is if you're ever accepted at all.

I know, I know. There are some really shit books out there, published by some really big houses. I can't explain the logic of what is accepted instantly and what isn't (although I know it helps if you're a celebrity who wants to publish a shit book with your name all over it); I just know that if you're looking for a literary agent, you should expect to be rejected. And if you're going straight to publishers, you should expect to be rejected. 

I read once that literary agents accept about 1 in every 1000 submissions they're sent. How true that is, I'm not sure; but I can believe it.

And even if you're accepted, one day in the distant future, you still might not actually be published.

The chances of success are as slim as they could be, but the prizes are potentially bigger. So it's up to you whether you think the struggle is worth it.

So, to summarise…

The traditional route promises fame and fortune, and can (but won't necessarily) deliver. The only problem is getting there in the first place - it will be hard and long and you will be rejected before you're accepted. And that's only if you're good enough to ever be accepted.

This route is for people who want the bragging rights, people who have the patience to keep trying and trying for the grand prize, or people who know they can't do it on their own.

I sent a few queries to agents once. Probably about 10. I would say I heard back from about 8 of them, and only 1 of them was a personalised rejection written by a real person. It made my day, actually. She liked what I'd written, just not enough to represent it. So, y'know, even the rejections can feel good…

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