It’s How I Write week here on the blog as we gear up for the release of JACOB WONDERBAR on May 12th. Monday: How I Write. Tuesday: How I Edit. Wednesday: My Query Letter and How I Found an Agent. Today: Why I Chose a Traditional Publisher. Friday: This Week in Books
Please stick around!
One of the more common questions I receive in interviews and the like is this one: You have a blog, you were in the business by virtue of being a former literary agent, why didn’t you self-publish? Why didn’t you do it on your own? Couldn’t you have made more money self-publishing?
I know there are lots of people out there asking themselves whether they should go through the potentially months- or years-long finding-an-agent-and-then-a-publisher process or just get right to it and self-publish. But I decided to go the traditional route with Penguin for a two book deal (JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW and JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE), and I’m very pleased to announce today that we finalized a third, tentatively titled JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE INTERSTELLAR TIME WARP!!
So why did I choose a traditional publisher? Many many reasons.
My Editor is Amazing
Having a professional editor in your corner is indispensable, and here’s the part where I give heap tons of well-deserved praise on my amazing editor, Kate Harrison, who understood and believed in WONDERBAR from the start. Kate has a ton of experience, I trust her instincts and editorial eye, and she is deeply committed to making every book as good as it can possibly be.
We went through pretty extensive revisions for COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, and I think they resulted in a much stronger book.
I Don’t Have Time to be a Self-Published Author
I have a very full-time job that I am deeply committed to and a blog that takes up a good chunk of my free time. I don’t have time to hire an editor, hire a copyeditor, hire an illustrator, hire a cover artist, buy ISBNs, make sure the formatting is right for all the various editions, choose trim size, write cover copy, and all of the other seven billion tasks that go into making a book.
I write, I do the bloggy things, I do the Twitter and the Facebook, and Penguin handles the making-of-the-book thing. Better still? Penguin does a fabulous job. I love my illustrator, I love my cover, the interior looks amazing. They did a way better job at all of that than I could have done on my own.
Print is Still Where It’s At, Especially for Children’s Books
Yes, this balance will continue to change as we move into the e-book world. But as I articulated in a post a few months back, this is still a print world. Even with the exponential rise of e-books we’re still somewhere between 65-80% print, and perhaps even a bit more for children’s books. Parents aren’t exactly rushing out to buy their 8-12 year-olds e-readers.
That may well change in the next five years. But for now? Print is still where it’s at. And if you want to get into bookstores you need a publisher.
I Appreciate Penguin’s Cachet
A few years back I honestly don’t know that the average consumer really knew the difference between a traditionally published and self-published book. If it was bound it was a book. Who cares what name was on the spine?
Now though, in the past year or two I feel like I’ve noticed a subtle change. People will hear I have a book coming out and I’ll see them squint, and they’ll say cautiously, “Oh, really? Who’s it with?” Then when I say Penguin the reaction is different.
This isn’t to take anything away from self-published authors, many of whom are really really great writers and who I know are very hard at work bucking that skepticism. It’s nothing personal at all, I just think being associated with an established brand helps.
Yes, in the long run maybe I could have made more money self-publishing. Then again, maybe I couldn’t. Maybe I would have made ten bucks. Who knows.
But hey. When you get an advance you can literally take it to the bank.
I Believe in the Traditional Publishing Process
Having worked in publishing I have a deep appreciation for the professionalism of publishers. They are in the book-making trenches. They know what works, they love words, they are eating, sleeping and breathing books.
Now, I don’t think the traditional publishing process is for everyone, and I don’t consider myself an advocate for either traditional or self-publishing. But for me? When my writing career is getting started? I really appreciate having a professional editor who is invested in the outcome of my book. I appreciate the expertise of the designers and the marketers and the sales team and all the people who help make the process work smoothly.
As I alluded to in some recent interviews, traditional publishing is a collaborative process. The author doesn’t have total control. I’m okay with that, in fact I appreciate it and I think it’s resulted in a better book than I could have produced on my own. Other authors may want more autonomy. It’s important to know who you are.
JACOB WONDERBAR is available for sale at:
Barnes & Noble!
Liz Alexander says
Self-publishing needs to be a collaborative process too, Nathan. The sad part is, it's up the author to decide that…often to their detriment. Most Indie authors don't know what they don't know, including the business they are really in: which is to connect their books to readers, not just to write and publish books.
More on this in my blogpost: https://www.bookdoula.biz/hobble-ins-welcome-write-to-relate
JM Leotti says
Not until recently did I even consider self-publishing. I used to work in publishing, so I'm partial to the traditional route.
That said, as someone who likes the whole process of book-making, I'm so tempted to try self-publishing, especially now with all the new and exciting 'toys.'
I'm torn, though. It would be so great to have the pub dream in my head fulfilled…
Thanks Nathan for blogging about your experiences. Sharing your excitement is inspiring!
I'm with you!!
Karen Duvall says
Another point to consider is that writing is a solitary endeavor. Yes, you have your crit buddies, possibly a writers group to hang with, but a traditional publisher comes with a team of pros who are all there to support you and cheer you on.
I was published by a small press years ago and I now have the best agent in the world (yes, I'm biased) who got me an awesome 2-book deal with a very big publisher. My agent works with my editor who works with me, and there's a marketing department, and an assistant, and it's like a big family. They give me those "atta girls" and rain praise on me and encourage me to keep up the good work. If I self-published, I wouldn't have that unless I hired people to do it. I don't have that kind of time or money. And Nathan is right about the advance. It's money in the bank.
The traditional publishing world is a whole different ball game. There's stress and deadlines, sure, but you're not alone. You're part of a team and it's awesome. I didn't have an "in" with anyone in the industry, I was just a hardworking writer writing the best book I could and taking my rejection lumps along the way. It all paid off and it's awesome! I wouldn't want it any other way.
Other Lisa says
I'd like to give a shout-out to my traditional publisher, Soho. They are a large indie with an extensive backlist and a 25 year history. They've done an awesome job supporting my book(s), which goes way beyond "two weeks co-op, then pulp." I do think they handle things somewhat differently than a lot of Big Six imprints — they publish fewer titles and support each one, which seems to be a somewhat rare, but very sensible business philosophy. They really get what their market is and how to promote within it.
Didn't you choose a traditional publisher because you could? Let's face it — most of us would accept an offer from Penguin if we got one!
wry wryter says
But could you have self-published? As a lit agent, you had to go the traditional route, no? Not sure you had a choice.
Kevin Lynn Helmick says
You had me at Penguin, and I pretty much stopped reading at "third."
Kinda of no brainer here. How much further up the book publishing ladder could you hope to go? It takes most writers years to get that, or only on the heels or reprint of some previous break away success. What if none of the big 6 were interested? what if your offers were only coming from small presses, mid sized independent publishers, with small budgets and no advances? Retorical now, I know. But would you have chosen one or not published at all?
"Why I chose Penguin?" -doesn't sound like much of a choice to me lol.
These are my thoughts exactly. When the time comes for me to query my ms and quite possibly the years slip by it really is some of these key elements that will keep me hanging on to traditional publishing.
Plus, I have an e-reader and still prefer a tried and true crispy paged book over it any day.
Kristi Helvig says
Someone here got their copy of your book in the mail today? Where's mine? I pre-ordered months ago! Anyway, the reasons you listed here are exactly why I want to go the traditional publishing route…with an agent of course. 🙂
The great thing is there are choices today that weren't available even a year ago. I decided to epublish my MG on my own and am loving the process. But you're right…it's not for everyone. You really have to have a DIY attitude and spirit.
For those of you who think indie authors don't have what it takes to make it traditionally, I encourage you to buy an indie book in your genre…a good number are available for $.99 on Smashwords. There's some quality work out there by indie authors who have decided to go it alone for a variety of reasons. These authors usually explain their decision on their blogs, much like Nathan has explained his reasoning here.
Nathan, I'm looking forward to reading your book!
Hey, congratulations on your third book! That's wonderful news.
I am just way too tired to navigate such a controversial topic. All I know are three things, in order of importance:
a. Congratulations on your third book deal! That's wonderful. 🙂
b. I really like this week and this opportunity to learn more about you. It's interesting and lovely to hear about what goes into your thinking and choices.
c. There are many factors that go into choices, and what may be right for one writer, a worthwhile trade-off, may not be right for someone else, and that's okay.
d. I really don't like math. I think if you multiple 25 by 15 percent, that makes 3.75, which means you get 21.25 percent of every e-book?
e. I still wish that when I bought your book, you got 100% of the profit.
One more week! I can't wait!!! I don't care how much is going on for me, classes and work can wait, I'll have a book to read.
Nathan Bransford says
Say an e-book is $10. In the agency model, the publisher gets 70%, so $7.00. The author gets 25% of that gross, or $1.75 (17.5%). Agent gets 15% of that, ($0.26), so the author ends up with about $1.50, or 15%.
Lol, I still got it wrong.
Thank you. I appreciate your patience with my math disability. That's nice of you. So basically the author gets 15% of the e-book.
got it. 🙂
Karen Peterson says
This is all really helpful. Thank you!
I plan to pursue traditional publication mostly because I believe that if I can't find an agent and a publisher, I'm probably not good enough to be published at all.
Don't get me wrong. There are a number of exceptional self-published titles out there. But the number of good ones is a tiny percentage.
If no one wants to publish my book, I'd rather just take the hint and find something else to do with my time.
Penguin. Cool! Congrats!
I remember Puffin books, too, from when I was a kid.
Marilyn Peake says
Congratulations, Nathan, on the upcoming publication of your first book and for signing contracts for two more books in the series! That’s fantastic!
I think it’s wonderful when writers get published by traditional publishers. I also think it’s wonderful that there are so many alternative ways to get published today, and that opportunities arise in every type of publishing. This week, my indie publisher announced in a press release that the Executive Producer of THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies will be selecting books from among our publications for possible movie and TV show contracts, including possible shows on the SyFy channel. The Executive Producer has formed his own company to produce movies, through which traditionally-published Judy Blume currently has a movie based on one of her novels in production, scheduled for release later this year. Who knows where all this will lead, but it’s a wonderful time to be a writer. 🙂
Do you think the rise in popularity of self-publishing has altered the odds of getting an agent? I mean, I wonder if agents are being queried less than say 10 years ago…
Congratulations on the third title!
Though I'm not quite to the point where I need to worry about how to get my book published yet (still plowing through those revisions!) I had gone back and forth on the idea of if I wanted to do traditional or self-publishing.
I'm a bit of a control freak so the idea that I could design everything myself sounded tempting, but I'm starting to lean more towards letting professionals handle things. After all, that's why they're the professionals, and like you mentioned in your post, with the crazy schedule of my day job, I don't know where I'd find the time and energy to devote to designing every aspect about a book. Getting the words inside as close to perfect as possible is challenging enough!
About your point on time. J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Barry Eisler, all multipublished traditional authors who have gone to self publishing, have said that self publishing actually takes less of a writer's time than traditional publishing. It's counterintuitive and I don't quite understand it — I think it has to do with all the back and forth and the general inefficiencies introduced when adding more people to the book production and marketing process, but enough people are saying so that it's worth investigating.
Jill Engledow says
I decided to seek a publisher after 10 years of (very part-time) work on a regional nonfiction book; was advised by a NYC agent to find a regional publisher. Got a nibble, but they pay 4% royalties. So if my book retails for $25 (about right for a coffee-table book with lots of text and pix), I get a dollar. Wow. I wanted a publisher because I've done two self-published books and know the costs, in time and money, and the risk, and I'd appreciate the team effort–but 4%???? Back to Plan A. Self publish. Question: Can diacritical marks and picture books work on eReaders?
February Grace says
Given what Victoria Mixon wrote recently about who actually owns the big houses, the publisher you went with is the only one of them I'd want to put something out there with my name on it…so that pretty much means if I'm ever going to be published it's going to likely be me doing it! Even if I did manage to attract an agent I doubt they'd take kindly to my saying "But only if Penguin wants it!"
Thanks for this series of posts- and congratulations on the third Wonderbar installment!
Thomas Sharkey says
I think it is most generous of you to devote your time helping people with writing problems and showing them that self-publishing is not the last resort.
Thomas Sharkey says
I have been sending, for the past year, all my sci-fi fantasy books to Baen e-book publishing. The response time is 12-18 months. My editing was not as polished as it is now and I wonder what their reaction will be. Should I ask them to delete my recent admissions and send them anew? Which means waiting another 18 months for a response.
Sara Ohlin says
Great series of posts, thank you so much. Forgive me if I've missed this, but is your editor Kate with Penguin or did you hire her before you sold your book? I'm just wondering about the editing process before you even get to the agent and publisher stages. Thanks again!
Nathan Bransford says
Yeah, Kate is with Penguin. I didn't hire an editor before I pursued publication.
Great insight. I find it interesting that people often do not delineate between self-pubbing and ebooks. And I agree, from everything I can see, publishers can add tons of value for all the tasks that take up so much time. Thank you for confirming my suspicions…some additional thoughts about this on my site for anyone interested: https://bit.ly/dUpunL
I'm not sure self-publishing is any less work than sending out letter after letter, to agents and publishing houses. Like you, I have a full-time job and I'm planning on going the self-publishing route with my first book, a fantasy novel aimed at teens and adults.
I do appreciate your blog and your advice, though.
Hunter F. Goss says
You almost have it right about why people like Konrath, Smith and KKR say that self/indie publishing takes less time than ‘legacy’ publishing.
The back and forth and general inefficiencies you mention are due to the layers (some call them barriers) that traditional publishing places between a writer and the actual production of the book. Removing those layers speeds up the process dramatically, even for indie writers who vet their manuscripts through an editor (that they’ve hired and paid for) and so any time invested by the writer is well spent.
An important side benefit to the self/indie model is that barriers usually found between the writer and his or her audience are also removed. It’s all about market access on both sides of the equation.
i dont have time to read all those comments.penguin books were mentioned,and i have tried to get in with these publishers.they are not excepting any submissions.
Michael Spelling says
My advice is that you do not consider self-publishing until you have spent at least a few years working on your writing, making submissions, and learning about the business of publishing. That won't be wasted time, because even if you don't get published, if you do decide to self-publish later you will be much better equipped to do so successfully.