This is a topic that won’t die in most writers groups on Facebook. One reason is needs to die is simple: the odds of getting picked up by a traditional publisher are very low. They may not be as bad as winning Powerball or MegaMillions in most cases, but they are still very low. I read an article a while back that the Internet has since eaten about how few manuscripts made it past the first cut. Think the article had something like 8,500 manuscripts received by a traditional publisher with over 8,300 of them being immediately rejected for various reasons. That doesn’t mean the remaining 200 or so were accepted, but at least they might make the first cut.
In general, the more you get rejected by a particular publisher, the less likely they will ever accept a future submission from you. An exception would be if you made it big enough in the self-published world to get their notice. However, at that point, there’s very little a traditional publisher could offer that would make it really worth your while to accept an offer. Although they may do things that sound enticing enough.
Personally, I have no plans on going the traditional publisher route. They take too much of the money from your book sales and offer too little in return. Worse, you need an agent to get picked up these days and the literary agent may see more of your print book sales than you do. According to a number of published authors, they rarely see more than 10% of print book sales revenues and sometimes a lot less. Whereas, their agents may see 10 – 15% or higher of your print book sales. With ebooks, you usually get a somewhat higher rate. You have to give up too much control of your book. I saw an interview where Stephen King had a contract and he wanted to publish a book, but the publisher said it was way too long. When his contract ended, he found another publisher who would accept the book’s length. In another case, Stephen Donaldson‘s second book for his first Thomas Covenant series was too long so the publisher made him cut out a sizeable chunk of the book. He later found a different publisher that published the novella, around 70 pages, of the work he had to remove. It’s called Gilden-Fire.
Next, cover design is chosen by the traditional publisher. You may have created or hired the a great cover design artist for your book or series, but the traditional publisher doesn’t like it for whatever reason. Guess what, you lose. Maybe if you become a big enough name like King, then you may win, but that’s rare. Suppose your traditional publisher chooses a hideous cover design, you are stuck with it.
Next, plot, page length (or word count), and similar things fall to the traditional publisher. A well-known alternate history writer was going a specific way with one of his alternate history series, but toward the end of the series, it suddenly made a major left-hand change that didn’t fit with how the author had been shaping things. Many readers blame the traditional publisher for forcing the shift.
Editing – while editing used to be a big perk for the traditionally published, it’s going by the way side. Turtledove uses a major traditional publisher and the amount of typos, grammar errors, etc. in his books boggle the mind. You would think he was self-published by the outlandish number of errors in his books. I plan on making sure my self-published books are as error-free as possible by hiring editors to catch typos and grammar errors I may miss. They may some, but hopefully, it won’t be many.
Another dirty little secret is the traditional publisher may hold your name hostage as long as your contract runs. They could also hold your series hostage so you can’t add to the series except through them until your contract expires. Seen too many new authors get hit with these clauses where they couldn’t use their own names, or their pen names, until the contract expired. Worse, some contracts can include the publisher retaining certain rights after the contract expires.
The lure of a “big” advance is a false one. For new writers, you aren’t going to get a big advance. Some writers only got $1,000 – 5,000 advance and often far less than $1,000 in many cases. The publisher is going to give you an advance on a percentage of what they think the book will sell in a set period of time. Again, if you become a big name, you will get a bigger advance, but for a newbie, nowhere a huge advance.
Marketing? Most newbie writers assume the traditional publisher is going to do a ton of marketing for them. Imagine their surprise when the publisher places the marketing responsibility back in their hands. You probably won’t get your book in the handful of major book chains still out there until you make it big enough. They may do a small run where a few copies make it to book chains, but it won’t usually be enough to make a dent in sales.
The above information has been gleamed from many first-time published authors who were picked up by traditional publishers. Yet, it falls on deaf ears in most of the Facebook writer groups.
A friend who self-publishes makes around $10 – 12,000/year from self-publishing and could do better if he fixed a few things. I asked him if he would consider traditional published and his response was only if they would offer him a lot better deal than they probably would be willing to offer. He does the smart thing of selling his books on several venues as opposed to only selling on Amazon. He gets almost half his income off non-Amazon sales. If he added iTunes, Google Play, and Kobo as options, he could easily see his revenues go even higher.