When I wrote my first book (a memoir), I never wanted to self-publish. Perhaps you can relate? I knew very little about the traditional book publishing process in the beginning, but i DID know that self-published books were less likely to be stocked in bookstores and libraries. That, in itself, was enough for me to choose traditional publishing over self-publishing a book.
Because my whole dream and intention in spending so many hours and months of my life working through the agonising first (and second, and third) drafts of my memoir was that when I got this elusive ‘book deal’ for it, I could hand it over and the publishers would take care of the rest.
But I’ve noticed over the years that many writers aren’t as clear as i was on how self-publishing differs from the traditional book publishing process.
The key difference between self-publishing and the traditional book publishing process
When you sign a deal with a traditional publisher (either a Top 5 Publisher or an independent press – both follow the same process), they take care of:
The book production (costs, distribution, design, catalogue listings, finicky details like getting ISBNs, printers in different countries) and so much more.
Traditional publishers also ensure your book is stocked in bookstores and libraries. I’m still meeting self-published authors who didn’t realise they couldn’t just walk into a bookstore and get them to stock the book. The back-end of how bookstores choose their stock is complex and isn’t just about having the right distributor but also depends on where the book is printed.
More importantly, with traditional book publishers, all of this is their area of expertise – this isn’t their first rodeo!
Top 5 Publishers like Simon & Shuster, Hachette and Penguin Random House have been publishing books for over 150 years! They have entire sales teams devoted to hand-pitching upcoming releases to booksellers, they have entire teams of in-house editors, in-house cover designers who work to different cover specs, not-to-mention finely honing the technicalities of actual book production such as typesetting, paper stock, etc etc.
After the agony of writing my first book draft, and studying the craft and structure of memoir writing, I did NOT want to get my book published by people who had only been in the business for a few months or years. If i’d chosen to self-publish, I would have had the sum total of my own expertise about actual production and distribution. Which was precisely zero.
When you self-publish a book, you cover ALL the costs. And, regardless of whether you choose the traditional publishing process or to self-publish – big shock! YOU, the author, must market your book to your audience.
It’s hard to get a traditional book publishing deal because traditional publishers have high standards – and they cover the costs of everything!
So this is precisely why it’s hard to GET a traditional deal. As a new author and particularly if it’s your first book, you present a ‘risk’ to traditional publishers, who run on a very conservative business model. Unlike self-publishing, which has very little barrier to entry, there are gatekeepers in traditional publishing (agents, editors, submission portals, etc etc) and this is because if you GET a traditional book publishing deal you are then backed by their very significant ‘brand’.
Why you’re at an advantage with a traditional publishing deal (in the buyer’s mind)
In marketing terms, the traditional book publisher’s brand represents ‘social proof’. If a buyer sees a book in a catalogue or a store with a Publisher’s imprint on the spine (St Martin’s Press, for example) they make all sorts of unconscious assumptions about the quality of the work. This is one of those given things in marketing – you, the author, get to capitalise on the brand your name is aligned with.
TRUTH: Self-publishing is NOT an easier process than traditional book publishing
I know a lot of different stories people tell themselves about publishing – so don’t kid yourself that self-publishing is easier than getting a traditional deal.
Not only do you have to write the book, but if you decide to go the ‘easy’ route of self-publishing, you have to learn how to edit it, design it, produce it, distribute it, sell it and market it, too.
YES you need to get visible and learn how to pitch with traditional publishing but you don’t have to learn how to get something typeset to a particular format! And don’t even get me started on how difficult it is to get your book in libraries and bookshops when you’re self-published. Plus, you pay for everything, too!
If you’re rolling in cash and are happy to outsource everything then sure, go ahead and get your book self-published but it’s still going to be difficult to get it stocked in the big bookstores and libraries.
While pitching to traditional publishers may be a bit more difficult and time-consuming, when you commit yourself to getting a traditional deal you can focus on being a writer, and a really good one, at that. Traditional publishers have high standards – and that means that for you, the writer, you get to leave the publishing, to them.
And regardless of whether your book is self-published or signed with a traditional publisher, you will need to know about marketing. I share in the book deal masterclass how little of the marketing is actually done by the publishing house – and this is often quite a shock to traditionally published authors. The sooner you can get comfortable being visible online, the better for your career (and book sales!).
Getting a traditional book deal: It’s all in how you position yourself
Something I didn’t realise, when I was trying to get my first book deal, is that although the business of traditional publishing sells BOOKS, they offer contracts to AUTHORS. So depending on how you position yourself as a potential author, it can make or break the deal.
In The Art of the Book Deal I take you through my specific 3-part process for selling a nonfiction book to a traditional publisher based on how this mysterious ‘back-end’ of how publishing SALES works eg. WHY they sign certain authors and what they’re specifically looking for.
Because if you’re like me, you always dreamed of seeing your book stocked in beautiful bookstores (like Waterstones, & Indigo, & Barnes & Noble, & Shakespeare & Co!), or announced in a publisher’s upcoming release catalogue.
I teach the process of getting a nonfiction book deal comprehensively in the Art of the Book Deal.
You can join the wait list here. Contrary to what most writing courses teach you, the writing (as I discovered) is only ⅓ of the deal.
The rest is about positioning yourself as the perfect person to author this particular nonfiction book and as someone who is an ASSET to agents and publishers. Because publishing is a sales industry, let’s not forget!
I think of traditional publishing like the Olympics, but most people go in pitching a book without knowing all the rules and regulations that are governing things behind the scenes. This is why only 1% of manuscripts get accepted. It’s my goal to pull back the curtain on traditional publishing so you can go in and present yourself in the best possible way and not miss any opportunities for success!