Guest Posts,  Writing

EVERYTHING You Need to Know About Traditional Publishing – Guest Post from Grace A. Johnson

Hello TWNers!!! *waves* I know it’s been a very long time since I’ve lasted posted over here. (BUT I do have good excuses, mainly that I’ve had a lot of school and life responsibilities AND I’ve started a new work-in-progress. Due to this, I’m still not back to posting on TWN yet, but I will be back soon, Lord willing. 🙂 ) Today I am here to introduce our guest posting author, GRACE A. JOHNSON!!!!! Gracie and I have been friends for a while now, and she is such a fun, encouraging friend to me. Not to mention my self-proclaimed twin sister but that is a loooong story And literally just all-around AWESOME!!!! AND Y’ALL SHE IS AN AUTHOR TOO!!!!!! I would go check out some of the books she’s published, (and you can read her short story “Cursed” featured in TWN’s very own anthology) if you’re looking for a good read from a fellow teen author!!! Plus she has a REALLY cool blog that has posts on anything and everything from book reviews to writing life. It’s an absolute honor to have her back on Teen Writers’ Nook for the second part in her publishing series!!! Let’s give it up for the one, the only GRACE JOHNSONNNNNNN!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, maybe not everything, but at least the basics! Howdy, y’all! Remember me? I’m that girl who droned on and on about different publishing routes back in October. You don’t remember me? Oh. Well. Never mind then.

The point is that I’m here to give y’all the low-down on traditional publishing – the literary beast every writer dreams of tackling. In this post, I’ll answer questions like what exactly is traditional publishing, how does it work, what are the pros and cons, and more! And, once you’re done reading all my boring information, I’m gonna leave y’all with a list of other people’s boring info for you to check out if you wanna learn more!

(Yes, my intent is to bore you to death.)

(No, not really. I have this sliver of hope that this post will actually be interesting and engaging, but I can’t guarantee anything.)

Now, without further ado, the most important questions…

What is Traditional Publishing + How Does it Work?

Traditional publishing is such a complex process that often differs between authors and publishers, but the fundamental aspects remain the same. An author, typically through an agent, sells the rights to their book to a publisher, who offers them an advance on royalties (royalties are the portion of the profit made off of a book; agents, publishers, and those included in the publishing process such as printers, editors, and designers are all paid out of the profit, while the author receives about 10% to 15% royalty). The book is then edited, formatted, and printed by the publisher, then distributed to online and physical retail channels such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. 

In the end, the publisher owns every aspect of the book and will control how many copies are printed and how long the book stays on the market. They also usually have control over the content of the book, meaning sequels and rewrites can only be published with their permission. These details and others, such as how much say the author has over the title and cover of their book and to what extent the publisher will market it, are (or at least should be) detailed in the contract that authors are required to sign before selling their rights to the publisher.

Traditionally Published Books and Authors

Some of the world’s most popular books and series were traditionally published…from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Today’s favorites include Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy, the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series by Jenny Han.

Some of TWN’s favorite traditionally published authors are ones like Jennifer A. Neilson, Nadine Brandes, Ally Carter, and Melanie Dickerson (yes, Issabelle, I’ve been stalking your Goodreads *winks*).

Top Traditional Publishers

As for the top publishing companies here in the US…we have the big 5: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Anyone who’s ever read a book has probably read a book by one–if not all–of these publishers!

You may have also heard Thomas Nelson, Zondervan, and Tyndale, as well as Baker House and Harvest House, some of the industry’s best clean and Christian publishers out there!

Pros & Cons of Traditional Publishing

I hate to say it…but there are advantages and disadvantages to everything, even the almighty traditional publishing. Good news must always come first, though, so I’ll begin with the pros!

Pros

Well-Storied lists some of the best and most commonly known pros to traditional publishing–you can read their full post here, but I thought I’d sum up what they praise about traditional publishing!

    • Literary agent support. By having a literary agent with you throughout your publishing journey and author career, you have not only a mediator between you and the publisher, you also have a constant supporter and champion! 
    • A built-in publishing team. What an indie author would have to do all by themselves, a traditional author has a team for–from editing and formatting to cover designing and marketing, there’s a person (or group of people) for every aspect of publication!
    • Little to no upfront costs. Now, this is in regards to the actual publishing process, not whatever leads up to it, for many authors will pay for editors before they’re published or even some marketing after they’re published. But when it comes to getting the book out there, authors usually don’t have to pay a thing.
    • In fact, authors typically get income advances from anywhere between $5k to $15k once they sign a contract, regardless of how well their book ends up doing. I don’t know about y’all, but the bonus is a big temptation!
  • Greater visibility and reach. There’s no doubt that publishing companies have more loyal readers and hardworking influencers than self-published authors ever could (I would know…I’m a reader, influencer, and indie author), and naturally if you’ve been in the industry for twenty to a hundred years, you’re bound to have a great deal of reach and automatic buys from your loyal customers…which makes life a lot easier for the debut author.
  • More time to write. Now, Well Storied tacks on “theoretically,” because only the author knows how much time and energy they can and will put into writing, and some writers churn out three books a year while others sign one deal for a trilogy and never get back into consistent writing/publishing. However, one thing’s for sure, and that’s that traditional authors don’t have to spend 75% of their writing time on publishing and promoting…because they have a publisher. So, in comparison to self-publishing, yes, traditional authors most likely have more time to write (or at least have less non-writing work to do)!
  • Greater opportunities for acclaim. Yep, even though there are many self-published novels who hit the big time (The Shack, The Martian, Eragon, and more), most never get movies…never win awards…never make it on the NYT’s bestseller list. Rather, those amazing opportunities and accolades are more often than not reserved for traditionally published books!
  • Greater marketing assistance. Imagine…the marketing efforts one person spends years and multiple paychecks on, handled and footed by a team of expert publicists. That’s the dream life right there!

Several other benefits of traditional publishing are possibilities for higher quality products (Amazon’s print quality is actually really good…USA printed, too…but most traditional companies have access to more, and probably better, printers); legitimacy; validation; distribution to major online retailers, bookstores, and more; more formatting options (although self-published books can be made into large print, audiobooks, and other languages, with traditional publishing, additional formats can be produced at no expense to the author and much quicker, with better quality, than with self-publishing); and high end reviews, like by major magazines and blogs.

Cons

Now, for the dark side of traditional publishing (again, thanks to Well-Storied for listing these)…

    • The first and probably worst disadvantage to traditional publishing is low royalty rates. Self-published authors typically make between 60% and 80% of each book sale, whereas traditionally published authors rate is significantly lower…often in the 15% range. That can mean mere pennies for a $10 book. Increased sales can cushion the blow of such low royalties, but don’t expect the money to be pouring in by the bucket loads unless you’re selling five thousand books every month (in which case, you’d make $90k a year). Especially considering authors don’t receive a dime until their book has paid back the income advance.
    • On top of that, publishers only pay out twice a year (indie authors get paid every month), so infrequent payments can make living from paycheck to paycheck quite difficult.
  • Loss of creative control is the most heartbreaking of the cons, because it means that authors have very little control over their book, how its marketed, or even what it is! Publishers and editors can insist upon drastic changes in books, prohibit more books being written in that bookiverse (as in, same world, same characters, same series, etc.), and limit how many copies are printed and where they’re distributed to. This is part of the author’s loss of rights, which means that the book and all its material is turned over to the publisher. Sometimes, rights can revert back to the author after the book goes out of print (and many authors choose to republish their book through self-publishing), but that’s not a guarantee.
  • A long publishing process that can stretch from months to years can have traditional authors feeling rather impatient. For context, indie authors can see their books up on Amazon within mere hours (anywhere between 12 and 48), whereas 18 months is the usual length of the traditional publishing process, not counting writing, editing, etc.
  • Rejection is the common reason most authors gravitate toward self-publishing, because you never know when you’re going to get that dreaded letter or email saying that your manuscript has been rejected for the upteeneth time by your eightieth choice of publishers.
  • Complicated contracts are why authors have agents and oftentimes a lawyer, because contracts can get confusing and messy if authors don’t understand what they’re getting into before they sign.
  • The ever-shifting industry. The year you write your novel, its genre and themes are at the forefront of the book market…by the time it’s published, something else has taken precedence and your book is left in the dust. On top of that, you never know when a publisher could fold or an editor could quit or a literary agent could retire…the industry is always changing, and sometimes books and authors are left behind.

Other cons include competition, pulled books, higher prices, limited time in bookstores, and being taken advantage of by publishing houses or agents, among other things. Not to mention, you’ll still have to market your book…in fact, your marketing plan is a required part of book proposals! 

There you have it, folks!

I am literally only scraping the surface of all there is to know about traditional publishing, so don’t use this post as your guide to entering the world of publishing…use it to jumpstart your research into traditional publishing and other routes to see which one caters best to your wants and needs! I’ve included some extra resources if you’re interested in learning more about traditional publishing!

You might also be interested in checking out Sky’s the Limit Press Literary Journal! Their (I say “their”…it’s actually just me at the moment XD) first issue just released, and it’s all about publishing! We have some amazing articles about handling rejection, querying for agents, and the dos and don’ts of being an author on your way to publication! You can download a free e-copy of the digital magazine here

Now, I’m sure I’ve bored you sufficiently, so I shall send you on your way…but do let me know what your thoughts are in the comments! Do you like the sound of traditional publishing? Do you feel led to go that route, or would self-publishing suit you better? Or are you like me and you want to give both a try?

Further Reading

Interested in learning more? Check out these posts here!

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Grace is a teenage authoress who has loved books since she was two years old. From Junie B. Jones to Nancy Drew, words and the worlds they create have always been a part of her. At ten years old, she felt the urge to pick up her pencil and start writing some worlds of her own. Now, six years later, she has written and self-published two novels, a novella, and five short stories. She’s obsessed with history, etymology (the study of words; not to be confused with entomology, the study of insects), Jane Austen, art, and music—and when she’s not writing, you can find her reading, snapping photos of books, cooking, and rocking out to her favorite band.

She lives in beautiful (but humid) South Georgia, surrounded by farmland and forestry (and not as close to the beach as she’d like), with her parents and six younger siblings. Her dream is to be a wife and a mother, follow the Spirit to the mission field, and inspire other young writers to reach for the sky! You can learn more about her by checking out her blog, Of Blades and Thorns, subscribing to her newsletter, and following her on social media!

Find her online!

Issabelle Perry is a devout follower of Jesus Christ and an extroverted published author of YA fantasy. In her spare time, you can find her reading, blogging, graphic designing, bullet journaling, hunting for Narnia in wardrobes, or envisioning herself wielding a magnificent sword (but due to her clumsiness, let’s hope that never happens). Issabelle is a Skillet Panhead, LOTR and The False Prince fan, and a self-proclaimed exclamation mark enthusiast. Her work has been featured in the Change the World anthology, and she is the editor for the Imagine Anthology. What she's probably doing right now is fangirling about her favorite books to random people or scanning the pantries for chocolate.

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