Friday, October 19, 2012

Myths About Traditional Publishing

I've been very fortunate in my career that I've got to experience both the traditional publishing model and the self publishing model.  In addition to my self-published works I've also published books with Dorchester Publishing, Harper Collins, and St. Martin's Press.  And today I wanted to use that those experiences to dispel some myths I've heard lately from authors about what going the traditional publishing route means - either instead of or in conjunction with self publishing.

Myth #1 - A Traditional Publishing Contract means your books get into more venues

In my experience, I find this to be blanket statement to be false. 
Traditionally published books usually end up in the same exact venues as self-published books.  If you go on or and look at the Top 100 bestselling ebooks, there is a mix of both traditional and self-published - they're all lumped in there together, being bought by the same readers.  And, while there are fewer self-published POD books on the print bestsellers lists, those print books are available in the same online venues traditional works.  POD print can also be ordered by libraries and academic institutions.  Just about the only place you can't get your POD book into (or would have a very difficult time getting it into) would be in physical bookstores and chain stores like BN, Target, Walmart, grocery and drug stores. 
HOWEVER... having a book come out with a traditional publisher is no guarantee that your books will end up there either.  Of the 10 books I've published traditionally, only 2 have ever ended up in grocery stores, drug stores or Target.  In fact, stores are cutting their buys significantly lately.  So much so that my latest release from Harper Collins (April 2012) did not even make it into Barnes & Nobles stores - it was only available online and in the exact same venues as my self-published POD books. 

So, while there is a possibility of getting a traditional book into more venues than a self-published book, it's not a given, and it's not even always the norm.

Myth #2 - Traditional Publishing will expose your book to more readers

Again, this has not been my experience.  The first 5 books of my High Heels Mysteries series were originally published through traditional channels with Dorchester Publishing from 2006-2009.  I sold a modest about of books, enough to keep me mid-list, but not enough that my publisher wanted to continue the series after book 5 came out.  I'd guesstimate roughly 15-20K copies of each title sold.  Once I self published this series, it hit the New York Times bestseller list and the USA Today bestseller list and, to date, has sold over 650,000 copies.  I've reached FAR more readers with this series on my own.

There could be the argument that I've got a bigger readership now than I did when I first started pushing traditionally, hence more sales now.  Which, I might agree with.  However...
My first two books with Harper Collins and St. Martin's Press released just this past year - in October 2011 and March 2012.  In between those releases, I had a self-published book release, in November 2011.  My first week sales for the self published book showed 2 to 3 times as many sales as my traditional releases.  That's 2 to 3 times as many readers that I reached on my own.

Myth #3 - A Traditional Publisher will market you better than you can on your own

Actually, it doesn't matter how you publish, marketing is up to you.   I've had widely varying experiences at different publishers with different books about how marketing has been done.  I've had books come out where I never even knew the name of my in house publicist, let alone talked to her.  And I've had some release where there were big marketing meetings with lots of ideas thrown out.  But, by and large, the marketing always falls on you, the author.  If you're very lucky, your publisher might buy front table placement at a bookstore.  They may set up a blog tour for you.  It's possible, if you're a big fish, that they'll even fly you around on a book signing tour.  But I've never seen any of these things translate into big sales.  Not to say that every marketing effort doesn't count, but most of the time the very same marketing that you're doing as a self-published authors is the same stuff you'd be doing as a traditionally published author.  Your publisher won't do it for you.  
One big difference,  however, is that as a traditionally published author you will have no idea if your marketing is making an impact.  Generally, you will not have sales numbers for you book until at least 6 months after it comes out.  So there's no way to tell if what you're doing is working or if you're shouting into the wind.

Myth #4 - The only way to hit a bestseller list is with Traditional Publishing

See my answer for Myth #2.  For the life of me, I've not been able to hit a list with my traditionally published books.

Myth #5 - There is stability in Traditional Publishing

I could go on and on about this myth, but the short answer is: there is no stability in publishing.  Period.  I hear a lot of authors that are nervous about the contract with Amazon or BN, because terms like royalty rates can be changed at any time by the companies.  There is no guarantee that the wonderful bubble we're working in now won't pop at some point.  A valid concern, and one I share!  But traditional publishing doesn't afford you much more job security. 

My first publishing contracts were with Dorchester publishing.  While I had some wonderful experiences there early on, when Dorchester hit financial difficulties, they just stopped paying their authors.  We had contracts that said they had to pay us... but they didn't.  We had very little recourse when that happened.  We could sue, but we'd have to get in line behind a ton of vendors who were also owed money, much more than we were - meaning we were not likely to ever see the money anyway.  Some of us got our rights back, but we still never saw the money owed to us.  Obviously this doesn't happen everyday in publishing, but it does happen. 

And what is even more common is editors leaving, lines closing, authors being dropped, the market changing.  Print runs fluctuate, advances go down, and your next contract is never guaranteed.  You may have four contracts at three different publishers today, but tomorrow you may not be able to sell another book to anyone.  Bottom line: if you're looking for job security, find anther profession.

Having dispelled all these myths... I just want to say that I am NOT against traditional publishing.  I've had some lovely experiences with traditional publishers, and I think there are some valid reasons for going that route.  Some authors are more suited to that style of publishing, enjoy it and thrive within it.  In certain situations, some books may sell better through traditional routes than self publishing ones.  And sometimes the money can be better going the traditional route.  But I hate seeing authors jump into any format of publishing for the wrong reasons, only to find out later that they based this huge career decision on publishing myths.

~ Trigger Happy Halliday

P.S.  There's still time to enter my contest ot win a NOOK SIMPLE TOUCH WITH GLOWLIGHT!  Check out the details on my website:


Suzan Harden said...

Excellent point, Gemma. And now I know why I couldn't find your last traditional release at a certain chain store. *sigh* This is why Amazon keeps getting my spending money.

Ruth said...

I'm curious- I know you have gone both routes and have worked with editors on traditional published novels, but who edited the self-pubs. Did you hire someone? I know several people say they edit books, but I'm a bit leary about who should edit the manuscript should it be selfpubbed? And how did you find the free lance editor-

Robin Haseltine said...

Thank you, Gemma! A terrific informational blog. I appreciate your evaluation.

Paul R. Lloyd said...

Thank you for this very important commentary. It's something I've talked about with the writers in my writer's group. And something I've blogged about. Either way you publish, have fun.

Jordan McCollum said...

How interesting! It seems like my favorite way to avoid actually working on revisions is to research self publishing. I really appreciate your candor, especially on the first two points. Thanks for sharing, Gemma!

Unknown said...

Gemma, your hard work shows. You are right that more people have found your books. I accidently found the High Heels Mystery series. Not knowing anything I bought one and the next day was back buying the whole series. Then I had to follow with Hollywood Scandals, and your newest Jamie Bond Book.

I'm sure your article helped a lot of writers who are trying to get known. I picked up a lot of new books by authors I haven't read just by your free friday fb message. After reading one book I end up looking up what else they have written and buy. Guess that's why my Nook is getting loaded up with new books.

As an avid reader it is nice to fine new authors so hopefully your message will help them get their names out there so we can find their books.

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