For a long time now, I’ve been listening to writers saying that traditional publishers are intimidated by self-publishing companies. Quite frankly, it’s beginning to annoy me.
What mostly annoys me is how too many of us have bought that lie. It’s to their advantage if we keep believing it. Publishing is a business, after all. The nature of which is self-serving. And aren’t we all self-serving? That’s human nature too, not just the nature of business. That instinctive, self-preservation exists on all levels – societal, emotional, financial – not just the physical.
But I digress… back to the publishing…
Let’s look at some of the likely steps of buying a book through the traditional model, from the viewpoint of the publisher:
1) Publishing house has large number of acquisition editors.
2) Each acquisition editor receives thousands of query letters from authors. In the case of non-fiction, this may be a query letter or non-fiction proposal, or both.
3) Acquisition editor reads and picks some letters and contacts author for sample chapters, or non-fiction proposal, or completed manuscript.
4) Editor reviews manuscript, proposal, or whatever, and if he’s interested he contacts the author.
Anywhere in this process the editor ends up in a meeting…. maybe between steps 3 and 4, or between 2 and 3. Most likely, there are meetings every step of the way.
Meetings where management informs him what types of books the house needs. What types of books they are steering away from, how many books their resources allow them to publish this year, which authors/books have the greatest likelihood of financial gain, how much is their budget for marketing new authors, established authors, how controversial will this book be, haggling with lawyers and agents, which get put on the shelf for later, what deals have they made with their subsidiaries?
There are questions and reviews and meetings galore in the process of choosing to publish a book. Then… let’s say they DO decide to publish your book.
Well, now they have to go through the process of editing your book and cleaning it up – checking the grammar, punctuation, using the proper formatting for print and e-publishing. The formatting alone is time consuming, as e-readers come in all shapes and sizes, so the typesetting needs to have “reflowability”, enabling it to change size and spacing for all the different devices. For the print version, the typesetting is formatted differently.
All along through the editing process, there is input from all parties involved, with change requests, and maybe even sprucing up your story a bit.
There is the process of creating the copyright page, the author bio, the cover. Somewhere in there, pre-publishing and post-publishing marketing comes into play, along with reviews and interviews. Distribution channels are opened and favors are called in or paid off. This all means more meetings. More labor hours. More money spent on a risky proposition.
Is it any wonder that publishers like to put their resources into the 200 or so big A-listers?
Enter the self-publisher:
He lays the groundwork himself. He edits his own story or hires someone to do it for him. Ditto with his cover, his copyright requirements, his lay-out. He reaches out to “names” in the industry to request reviews or recommendations for him. He does his own marketing. He finds his own method(s) of distribution.
In short, he does it all himself and puts up his own money to do it.
Traditional publishers aren’t afraid of him! He is a dream come true. Why? Because they have something the self-publisher doesn’t have. Big money, big distribution system. All the main marketing and advertisement avenues are already open and receptive to them. Heck, even the general perception…. that if you have to self-publish, it’s because you weren’t good enough for a traditional publishing house…. works in their favor.
They’ve seen the self-publishing movement for what it really is – a great opportunity for them – and they’ve responded as all big companies do in these situations. They buy out the little guy.
If you look at who owns the self-publishing companies out there, you will find a surprising number of them are owned by the traditional publishing houses, or by large companies that already have a stake in the market and a distribution system in place.
Like CreateSpace, a division of Amazon. Or Xlibris or Authorhouse, imprints under the umbrella of Penguin. Inspiring Voices is the self-publishing service part of Guideposts, a Christian, faith-based publisher. BookBaby is the sister company of CD Baby, the world’s largest online independent music distributor. They had the money, marketing, and distribution system to begin offering self-publishing to authors in 2011.
My point here is that self-publishing has worked toward the advantage of traditional publishing, not against it. Self-publishing has enabled the traditional houses to downsize their workforce and cut their costs and risk.
Case in point: I was recently discussing a book I had written with someone from Inspiring Voices. I had entered the book in a contest which drew over 2,000 submissions. The Grand Prize was not just getting your book published, it also included a big marketing package and promotion by a major publishing house. Well, I didn’t win, although I am happy to say I was in the list of finalists. But afterwards, I called and talked to my contact at Inspiring Voices, regarding my ongoing chances of being picked up by the traditional publishing house.
What she told me was that they no longer chose their authors that way, no more query letters or submissions. Instead, they waited to see how a book did though their self-publishing division. If the book did well, they might pick it up and re-publish it traditionally.
Really, doesn’t this make sense?
Why pay your editorial staff to do all that work when you can let the author do it himself? He can take the financial risk. He can lay the groundwork and develop his own following. Then all the publisher has to do is come in and offer a sweeter deal. Sure, they still have to go through the process of actually publishing the book, but much of the pre-work has been done for them. Plus, they know that this particular author is willing to work hard at helping to promote his book.
Not to mention the improved odds for return on investment.
Am I pooh-poohing self-publishing? No, absolutely not. I self-publish too. In fact, it may very well be that, one of these days, we may have little choice in the matter, if we want to attract that traditional publisher. Sadly (or not), it seems to be moving more and more in that direction. Plus, I would never advise anyone to give up on trying to be heard. Myself included.
What I am saying is – please – if you’re going to be a writer, and travel that pit-laced, viper infested, hard rock cliff of a path… do it with your eyes wide open. See the landscape for what it is, not with your eyes shrouded in fog. It’s too easy to fall and give up that way when your efforts don’t initially produce the results you had hoped.
And don’t for a minute think that every traditional publisher out there is intimidated by your choice to publish without them. They’re not the least bit afraid of us.
By DJ Marcussen