Two Roads Diverged: Understanding Traditional and Self-Publishing Differences
by Todd Rutherford, Vice President Yorkshire Publishing

The publishing world has experienced change over the past several decades as all industries have, but the next 10 years will be a cocoon altering it into a different species altogether.  Many major print publishing houses have either merged or acquired smaller houses, and the net result is that there are fewer traditional channels for getting your book published. However, this only means that the nature of the challenge of getting a book published has changed. It does not mean that the challenge has become insurmountable.

The traditional publishing path of the past has been described similarly by many sources. Write a book, send query letter and/or book proposal to agents, get picked up by an agent, get sold by agent to a small-to-medium-size publisher, pray that your book takes off and garners attention from a big publisher who pays you a six-figure advance in return for the rights to your book.

Nathan Bransford, a literary agent with Curtis Brown, discusses going from small presses to big publishers. I agree with many of his points on the difficulties of being recognized by a big publisher.  His advice is very similar to my premise, if your book is really good, well edited, designed, printed, distributed, and promoted, it will succeed.

Today, the traditional publishing path is in upheaval and turmoil.  The economic downturn has caused many small publishers to shut their doors or, at best, significantly decrease their new release budgets. The emergence of the Kindle, Nook, and other Ebook readers has stirred things up. Publishers of all sizes are more carefully scrutinizing new authors, primarily seeking to invest in less-risky authors with established platforms.  Gone are the days of a publisher investing marketing dollars to help an author develop their platform.

The new traditional publishing path is emerging as more of a partnership between author and publisher with the responsibility for marketing and publicity resting on the shoulders of authors.  If you bring a viable manuscript to the table with a sound marketing plan and/or platform, the publisher will invest in editing, design, printing, and distribution, the rest is up to you.

The exciting game-changer for the unknown author is the advent of affordable self-publishing options.  Self-Publishing should not be confused with the deplorable practice of Vanity Publishing where an author is charged seriously inflated prices for editing, design, printing, and/or marketing services while giving up 80% or more of profit and/or rights to their material. True self-publishing is where the author handles editing, design, printing, distribution, and marketing for their book or hires professionals to assist with the process while experiencing control, speed to market, ownership of rights, and max profitability.

The self-publishing path has existed since the dawn of time.  Dan Poynter lists 155 best-selling books that started out being self-published. In the past, the editing, design, and printing of a book could easily run $15,000 or more because of minimum print runs of 5000 being required.  With the advent of print-on-demand merged with distribution channels, the cost of the entry toll on the path of self-publishing has diminished significantly. And publishing a Kindle version of your book doesn’t require an investment of money whatsoever.

I’m not preaching against the traditional publishing model. I cut my teeth in traditional publishing.  My family was in the traditional publishing business for nearly 25 years.  I started at the bottom in the warehouse of a traditional publisher picking and packing orders.  I eventually worked my way up to running a subsidiary of this same publisher.  Throughout my career, I kept seeing countless numbers of authors turned down because we simply didn’t have the budget to add them to our production schedule.  When I was asked to take over the helm at Yorkshire Publishing, I studied the self-publishing industry in great detail. I became passionate about being a part of an author-empowering movement to publish and promote quality books that otherwise may have been unrecognized without modern advances in the self-publishing industry.

The old-school mindset that says to avoid the stigma of self-publishing is quickly becoming a whisper in the wind.  More unknown authors are starting out self-published for the first time in history. I believe self-publishing is the democratization of the publishing industry.  Any unknown author now has a chance.

In my seminars and workshops, I tell authors to treat their book like a business.  If you want a real chance, you must treat your book like a big publisher would.  When naysayers point to the statistics that say self-published books average less than 200 units sold, I can rebut with a missing link in the formula and Poytner’s list.  Remember, if your book is really good, well edited, designed, printed, distributed, and promoted, it will succeed, regardless of the road taken in the yellow wood of publishing.

Todd Rutherford is the Vice President of Yorkshire Publishing, an author-services firm providing writing coaching, ghostwriting, editing, book design, printing advice, distribution set up, publicity, and marketing for self-publishing authors.

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