The Road Well Travelled: Why Tread the Path of Traditional Publishing?

There are many incentives towards self-publishing, especially if you possess the grit and gifts of an entrepreneur, the professional dexterity to negotiate the many steps toward publication, or the fare for the ticket to ride. I check off some of the above. I enjoy making book covers, trailers, editing (to a limit), marketing (I’m a terrible closer), and of course, writing. Why then, when two roads diverged in a wood—does this author recommend, in this explosion of self-pubbing, the one well-traveled by?

1. Better Product: Okay, okay, don’t crack my spine just yet. Let’s be reasonable. Along the pay-as-you-go self-publishing journey there are warehouses of advisors, editors, marketing gurus, distributors, book cover artists, and package dealers who will guide you, often with a hand in your pocket, through the whole process. Three words: Conflict. Of. Interest. Are these commercial intermediaries going to give you a consistently honest appraisal of your work? Come on. They’re on your payroll. A thorough, no-holds-barred critique of your work and cold-water-in-your-face appraisal of your craft will take a back seat to these self-publishing cheerleaders, who stand to profit, not necessarily from improved writing, but from your patronage.
2. Money: Self-publishing a book of merit has its price tag. Let’s take copyediting, for example. 50,000 words. The most inexpensive good editor I found charges $500, $400 if I do two books. The best of these editors quoted over $2,000. Yes, she’s that good and yes, you get what you pay for. That’s merely the copyedit, not a critique, not a substantive edit, and not a proof. Cover art? Start at $150 and, flame on, climb into the atmosphere. Marketing? Paying for the secrets? Paying for direct and not passive distribution? Give away books for authentic pre-launch reviews? Are you counting your fingers yet, your toes? How about the hairs on your chinny, chin, chin—I wear a beard. Traditional publishers—the legit ones—pay most said expenses. Real publishers don’t date dutch. Cha-ching!

3. There is no ‘i’ in traditional: Ooops! Of course there are—two. In fact, I, ‘the writer’ is right in the thick of it. Rather than thinking of the traditional publisher as old-school gate-keeping establishment, think of it as a portfolio of assets; and I don’t mean mules. You are sailing a boat across the Atlantic—believe me the journey to publication compares—a person at the rudder, someone at the winch—it takes a minimum of three, says the swarthy sailor. Let me give it to you straight; there are people in the business of publishing who know a lot more than you. I wrote my ms. I edited my ms. I edited it again; and again, and again. I paid for a ‘real’ editor to give me a critique. She threw me a bone and included a fifty page copyedit to show me what it would look like. I opened the critique—five pages. Hmmm. Lots of good points. I opened the Word.doc of the line by line, more than 50 page edit; paint the town red took on a whole new meaning. My point is this: there are people in the industry who are good, exceptionally good at what they do. You want to make it around Cape Discouragement? Join the crew.

4. That leads to Encouragement: I’ll not be shy. When a small press publisher said she and her vetting readers really liked my book, I gushed. If you are hardbitten, all power to you. But you will need to be a Navy Seal to go the distance self-publishing a high quality piece of work. (I am not referring to hybrid publishing authors, nor traditionally published authors who are self-pubbing their backlists.) I have bought and read a few ‘indie’ books, pencil in hand. Two, cover and copy, were in draft stage and their first chapters blunted the tip of my pencil—and I’m not, by trade an editor. I have worked with editors, recently on a mere 3500 word short story. Not red this time, but black and blue filled the sidebar. I recovered and got to work. The story is better for it. The process builds confidence.

5. Did I mention money? Have you read the resumes of people that publishers hire? Publishers hire experience. Publishers hire skill sets. Skill sets + Experience = Salary. Skill sets plus experience translate into books, novels, guide books, manuals, reference books, picture books which sell. So, they pocket their recompense. Is it worth it? Have you finished adding the cost of self-publishing a meritorious work and compared it to the percentage given up in royalites. These experienced, skilled, salaried craftspersons have invested in you.

6. Seriously? I once landed a coveted spot in a theatre school. The first two years the instructors strip you of every notion of what you believe an actor to be. Then, they rebuild you. I am talking classically trained stage actors. We studied text analysis, voice, acrobatics, dance, stage fighting, makeup & costume, acting theory and approaches. There are plenty of ‘actors’ who roll out of bed one day, look in the mirror and exult, “I am going to be an actor.” She will decidedly not be a classically trained actor—think of auditioning for a ballet company—tomorrow. Get my point? The internet has made it possible for anyone to write anything, of any length, for any price, at any quality, at any time. I get it. And traditional publishers are drowning in submissions. Admittedly, some will lament talent has slipped through their fingers. But if an editor who has been around the printing press a few times and really knows her stuff—do your homework and research the publisher—and she takes a second, a third look at your ms. My friend, you have stepped onto the field in a different league.

7. Apprenticeship: It’s an old fashioned word. Plumbers and electricians will know what I’m talking about. Working alongside a master plumber promises immense gains. Ask my nephew. Working shoulder to shoulder with an art restorer gains compound interest. If you want to write, so say the sages; read. I say, if you want to write, write; and put nose to the ms. and track your editors like a bloodhound.

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