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Traditional Publishing
How and Why It Works Like It Does

Written by Brad Fregger, Founder/CEO Groundbreaking Press

The questions is:

"What happened to author's advances, media tours, and advertising?"

The Traditional Publishing Challenges

First, it's hard to know which books are going to sell. It seems like the big name publishers seldom guess right. The fact that the average sales of a new title published by traditional publishers is only 5,000 copies tells the tale. If it seems like almost every new book sells tens of thousands of copies, that's because you only hear about the successes. Publishers don't talk about the books on which they lost money. The times they guessed wrong and decided not to publish, you only found out about when the authors didn't give up, even after rejection after rejection, they persevered until they finally found a publisher who would take a chance on them. Follow this link to the many authors that either persevered after many rejections or self-published and were successful.

Sadly, we never hear about the many wonderful books where the author got rejected a dozen times and decided to call it quits. It's hard to read rejection letter after rejection letter--sooner or later they decide that the publishers are right and their wrong, and they put their book away and try to forget about it.

Second, because it's so difficult to know which books will sell and which won't, publishers like to hedge their bets. They choose to publish books written by people who are well known as authors, or maybe they are famous in another area.  For example, Jack Welch, the ex-CEO of General Electric, wrote Jack - Straight From the Gut. With a well-known person, the publisher feels more confidence that their efforts will yield results. If you're not in this category, it's going to be much harder for you to find a publisher.  Even the small publishers, who can't compete for the famous people, have to find their niche.  If you want to publish with one of them, you have to fit in their catalog--what you have has to make sense as a part of their overall offering.

Third, when a publisher finally decides to take on an author and publish their book, they've only just begun the effort needed to make this happen. To start with, they have to get a finished manuscript. Often this means a lot of "hand-holding" as the author struggles through the final stages of writing. Then they have to spend hours and hours (time and money) editing the book, which involves more hand-holding as the author deals with the changes being made. When that's finished, the book has to go through copyediting, another massive task that never seems to get finished. Finally, the master is done and the book is ready for printing.

Wait a minute, how about the cover?

You're right, the cover needs to be designed and produced, and believe me, this is no easy task. Again, the publisher has to deal with the author, who may or may not like the cover choice(s) being presented. In addition, there are the opinions of the editor and the artist to be dealt with.  Every iteration costs money and time. Finally, the cover is ready to go ... we're ready to print.

So how many do we print? What's a reasonable first run quantity? Whatever they decide, it's going to cost them a lot of money--money wasted if the book doesn't sell.

Finally, they have to decide how much money, time, and resources to spend promoting the book. They must spend that money where they're going to get the biggest bang for their buck; they have to go with those authors who are already well-known. The rest of the authors get tossed into the black pit of retail hell. Those few that rise to the surface, for whatever reason--sheer luck, right time and place, author effort--begin to get their share of resources and a chance at "best seller" status. For example, when I was publisher at Parrot Audio Books, we licensed Midnight Partner, an excellent thriller beleiving that we could take advantage of the large publicity budget for the novel guranteed by the publisher. When the book came out I searched every bookstore in the San Franciso bay area and couldn't find a single copy. The budget didn't do the book, ther author, or us any good.

Don't forget that publishing is a business: if the publisher isn't profitable, they won't be around for long. It isn't that they don't want to publish everything that looks good, or even that they don't want to promote everything they do publish--they simply can't afford to, not if they want to stay in business.

But there is good news!

The good news for authors is that the world has changed. In the past you had to print 5000 books in order to get the price down so that you could sell your book into the retail channel. Now, with print-on-demand (POD) publishing, you can print as little as one copy, or as many as you want, and still make a profit selling to retailers at their standard discount. In addition, your upfront costs are dramatically reduced--probably less than 15% of what they would have been just a couple of years ago. The initial costs can even be lower, using POD and printing a dozen books initially can cut your printing and binding costs to less than $250 for a 5.5 x 8.5 book of 200 pages or less.

Or print 100 copies and use them to develop interest in your book--send them to reviewers, major retailers and distributors, libraries, even publishers. As the demand begins to build, print only as many as you need, and only when you need them. This could--and sometimes does--lead to an offer from a publisher who likes your book, sees the interest building, and wants to take advantage of your efforts by adopting a book with potential that's already beyond the initial stages of production. This can only happen if you've done things properly--if the book is well written and produced with a professional look and feel.

The bottom-line: what's going on isn't the entire fault of the publishers, it's just a fact of doing business and the need to be profitable if you plan on staying in business. However, as an author, you now have some real viable alternatives: more publishers to choose from, both small and large, or even the opportunity to self-publish your book.

The final Step and Most Difficult Task

It's always been up to new authors to promote their own books, even when they do find a publisher.  Those who did--and did it right--at least had a chance at a modicum of success. For a new author, the chances of having the kind of success we read about in the media is about equal to finding a 15-carat diamond at Crater of Diamond State Park in Arkansas.

In my opinion, the best book on the sales and marketing of a self-funded book is. Dan Poynter's Self Publishing Manual. In addition, we recommend these Author Resouces for the beginning author or any author that is committed to a career in writing.

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