This is the third installment of a multi-part series about the pros and cons of different types of publishing options (traditional, small press, and self-publishing), and the things aspiring authors can do to make their work ready for each one. These will be distillations of what I have learned on my own, as well as attending seminars through the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con 2016.
Far and away, the biggest benefit an author can get from having their book published by a traditional publisher is financial support. This goes hand in hand with the huge team of people they have assembled to fine tune, package, and sell your story. But beyond their deep pockets, well-known publishers also have a brand.
The Power of Name Recognition
People trust names like Harper Collins and Penguin. They have certain expectations when it comes to the quality of what they are about to read because the publisher has established themselves and their reputation for putting out good books. This is not to say that there aren’t brilliant self-published books out there, but you have to wade through a quagmire of less-than-stellar books to find the ones that are truly professional and, well, “good.” (Whatever that even means. That is worth a whole series of posts on its own!)
For better or worse, publishers are gatekeepers of the written word. It helps a public that is constantly inundated with calls to buy, buy, buy! to find a way to sort through all the different products available. There are over 3.4 million different books currently available on Amazon alone, and so people who are looking for a way to narrow the field will probably choose a name (brand) they trust. This doesn’t just apply to consumers, but also to those retailers I mentioned last week. Bookstores only make money when books sell and they have their own reputations to maintain, so buying titles from big, established houses is just good business.
Maintaining a Reputation is Just as Hard as Getting One
I love the internet, but it definitely has its dark side. It has democratized information in that people now have an unprecedented access to knowledge, but the anonymity the internet affords can also bring out the worst in people. “Trolls” lurk everywhere and leave nasty, strongly-worded comments and “flame wars” rage in the comments sections as people argue for their own points of view. Pair this is our propensity to only bother to report how we feel about something if our experience was negative and you get a recipe for a quick and simple loss of reputation.
For publishers, their brand and their reputation for quality is incredibly valuable. Even if a company has tons of money their customers can lose faith. We’re fickle creatures and it doesn’t take much to totally turn us off a product or company. Then, we go on to tell our friends, and their friends tell their friends… you get the idea.
So, in addition to a 91% chance an author will lose them money, there is also the potential to lose their good reputation if a book the publish gets panned by critics and readers. If a book’s sales perform poorly, that also undermines a potential customer’s faith in the quality of the book, which is a deadly catch-22 that publishers want to avoid at all costs. From this perspective, it makes a lot of sense that traditional publishers are going to be more risk-averse and stick to tried and true methods (and authors) that have worked in the past. (We’ll talk about small presses and how they are jumping in to fill the gap in a future post)
If you are sure that you want to try to sell your book to a traditional publisher, there are a few things you can do to help yourself. We’ll take a look at these methods next week in Part 4 of Publishing 101. See you next time!