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What is Publishing?

Publishing is the process of making information and literature available to the public, for sale or for free. To add on to books, this can also include music, software, web content etc. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works, such as books, newspapers, and magazines – and this will be our working definition.

What is Traditional Publishing?

Traditional book publishing is when a publisher offers the author a contract and, in turn, bears all the publishing expenses for the manuscript, prints, publishes, and sells the book through booksellers and other retailers. The publisher essentially buys the rights to publish the author’s book and pays 10% royalties from the sales.

In other book chains, Traditional publishing refers to the system of getting a book deal, which involves submission to agents over a period of time and being accepted. The agent will then submit the manuscript to publishers and an author-publisher contract is signed, then publishing begins (see The Publishing Process), with the author earning 10% royalties

The Advantages of Traditional Publishing

With the evolution of publishing and the dynamics in the industry, other forms of publishing such as vanity publishing, self-publishing, and independent publishing have emerged. One may be caught in between deciding over which direction to take. This section discusses the advantages of traditional publishing, to help one make an informed decision.

Pros of Traditional Publishing

1. Validation

Like we spoke about in the previous article, Is my book good enough?, most authors suffer from self-doubt and wonder if their work is good enough. Assessing oneself may still not be enough. Even if a well-known/respected person in book publishing or subject matter reviews the book, that may still not be enough. This is what makes the decision to publish daunting, but it is doable. Publishers are the book publishing experts, therefore, if you make it through the process of getting an Author-Publisher contract, approval by the Commissioning Editors is usually validation that your work is good enough. Even if the book doesn’t go on to sell well, at least the publisher thinks it’s worthwhile, hence it preserves your prestige. It is that self-confidence that authors desperately seek which is attained when a publisher is engaged. Getting a traditional publishing Author-Publisher contract comes with a huge sense of achievement, satisfaction and validation. ‘I’m a published Author’, would be one’s new acclaimed title. ‘Who published you?’ One would ask. “Raincemba Publishing Professionals.’ This in its own would be a whole different conversation as compared to the stammering that is involved when one says, ‘eerm, ahh, I self-published.’

2. An experienced and dedicated professional team to work with

Publishing is a business and just like any other person in business, publishers dedicate resources to establishing a motivated team to make their work a success. This team consists of Editors, Graphic Designers, Publications Designers, Photographers and a Sales and Marketing team. Signing up with a publisher avails the author unlimited access to this team for the success of his/her book.

3. No costs

There are no costs involved in the publishing and production process once an author lands a book publishing deal. The publishers take over the whole publishing process at their expense. This is the best deal for those authors who simply want to write and leave all issues to do with publishing expertise to the publisher.

4. Advance Payment

An excellent book publishing deal comes with an advance payment from the publisher. This is paid (against royalties) in order to motivate the author to write, in most cases where the publishing contract is entered before the book has been completed. The publisher also offers support to the authors, for instance, writing workshops and the opportunity to collaborate (where two or more authors are required). Some may even afford the author an office to work from, especially non-fiction authors.

5. Wide distribution

Established publishing houses have a dedicated sales and marketing team that works tirelessly, from idea stage till the book is finally launched and distributed. In a normal economy, sales reps go around the bookstores and make it easy for book buyers to select the books they like and pay later on one invoice per publisher minus any returns. Textbook publishers also move around schools and market their publications ahead of time. Print distribution is what traditional publishing excels at.

6. Established name

Apart from doing all the sales and marketing, publishers already have established names in the market and they use that to further garner sales. For instance, New Ventures textbooks series has an established name; both schools and parents buy anything new ventures for schooling. Mambo Press Publishers have for a long time been the go to source for Shona novels.

7. Literary prizes

There are more chances of getting NAMA awards through traditional publishing. In as much as we live in a world of ‘your network is your net worth’ this claim holds more water when you have the traditional publisher’s backing. Some literary prizes may not be open to indie and self-published authors. However, a few self-published authors may push their way forward but the process is even more hectic.

Cons of Traditional Publishing

1. Long Process

Again, writing as established in my article,What is Writing? is a long and cumbersome process.This can probably take a year for some, depending on skill, discipline and experience. Getting a publisher may also take a year of moving from one place to the next; writing and submitting synopsises until one lands a publishing deal. Half the time the authors’ manuscripts end up in the publishers’ archives without being assessed.This is a long and discouraging process that needs patience.As if that is not enough, when one finally signs the Author-Publisher contract, thePublishing Process is also long and winding, approximately six months – two years.Through this process is Editing which may involve a lot of back and forth activities between the author and the publishers. Inhouse activities such as Design are also long and winding between the Editors and Designers. In essence, Traditional Publishing takes time, as compared to self-publishing, especially in this digital era where a lot of self-publishing sites have emerged, such as Amazon, Kindle, Lulu, etc.

2. Low royalty rates

The long and winding publishing process in Traditional Publishing means that it will take time for the author to earn his/her however low royalty rates. Traditional Publishers offer their Authors a standard net 10% of the sales of the book. If the Publisher happens to value his/her cash cow Author, the royalties can go a bit up but they hardly go beyond 25%. Some authors can even be unfortunate to be started off with 7%, although most Publishers strive to keep their Authors happy at the widely agreed 10%. Just like any other business contracts, these percentages can always be negotiated between the Author and the Publisher, but widely, the royalty rates are low, rigid and paid biannually unless otherwise agreed. The other drawback is that the Publisher has full control of the royalties as most Authors may not afford to hire a personal accountant who can help them understand the figures.

3. Loss of rights

In a Traditional Publishing Author-Publisher contract, the Author submits all rights to the Publisher. This means that the Publisher will be free to adapt, translate and publish the work anyhow, without consulting the Author. Intelligent authors seek to hold on to some of these rights, for instance, distribution areas.

4. Loss of control of the Work

The Author also loses creative control of the work. I have published books that I’m not happy with because the Publisher has the right to contact and seek your input only when it’s necessary for them to do that. Many authors settle for book titles, covers and ultimate content that they’re not happy with. Editors may change names of characters that may have a deeper meaning to the Author, some books may come out with errors that the Author may feel could have been avoided, cover designs, fonts and especially illustrations, may not be what the Author envisioned.

5. Additional Marketing

Upon signing the Author-Publisher contract, the Author’s understanding is that the publisher will be responsible for all publishing activities and the business side of things, while the Author will come back to pick up his royalty cheques and statements. However, the Author might be bothered to find out that they will still need to contribute in the marketing campaign.  This may mean appearances at the launch of the book, radio question and answer programmes, television talk shows, or a book tour.

How do I know which Publishing Process is right for me?

These are the advantages and disadvantages of traditional publishing. Sometimes all that authors want to do is write, if that’s you, then Traditional Publishing is your route. One or two appearances at the book launch, TV or radio feature won’t hurt but serve to market you and your book. Who knows, more sales may come your way, a fresh new publisher may spot you and a brand may want to collaborate and advertise with you. The sky is the limit.

Best of luck with your book project. I hope this has helped and you’re in a better place to finally publish your book. The world is waiting for it!




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See you next week as we discuss Independent Publishing/ Indie Authors!

1 thought on “What is Traditional Publishing”

  1. Pingback: What Is Independent Publishing – Raincemba

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