What You Need to Know About Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing has been around for a long time. It has been around for so long that many authors believe that it’s the only way to get published and make an impact. However, the internet changed this by giving us new avenues to publish our stories.

Today, we’re going to take a deep look into the traditional publishing industry: why the industry is still alive, why you should consider traditional publishing, the benefits and drawbacks, and how to submit for publication.

The Traditional Publishing Industry

The publishing industry has undergone a drastic change over the past decade. The internet loosened the traditional publishing industry’s stranglehold on authors, making it easier to self-publish materials.

Since then, there has been loads of speculation on whether the traditional publishing industry will survive the internet.

Most analysts say that it’s dead in the water. However, the line is flat. Publishers aren’t losing business, but they aren’t accepting anyone and everything either.

On top of this, more and more publishers are adopting new technologies, like ebooks and audiobooks, to keep up with reader demands. And quite frankly, I don’t see traditional publishers disappearing anytime soon. I think they will continue to adapt to the changes in the book world.

Why You Should Consider Traditional Publishing

For the right project and the right terms and conditions, a traditional publishing contract can be a wonderful experience for most writers.

It can open up doors to the movie and television industry. It can make you a star writer. And you can win a ton of awards. But like all too good to be true deals, traditional publishing can come with a cost.

However, this doesn’t mean you should discard traditional publishing as an option. Pursuing a traditional publishing contract might be the best thing for you and your novel. You need to figure out if the pros outweigh the cons.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Traditional Publishing

As with most big decisions, we need to weigh the pros and cons. I wrote a post about the three publishing options available to writers. Within the post, I listed six questions that you should ask yourself to help you decide. That list contained some of the drawbacks and benefits that matter the most to writers.

The Drawbacks

I’m a fan of breaking the bad news first, so let’s start with that. Here are the drawbacks of pursuing a traditional publishing contract:

  1. Loss of creative control. You sell the rights to your book to your publisher. You may not have the final say on what your book cover will look like or if your title gets changed.
  2. It can be an excruciatingly slow process. It may take years to get an agent or find someone who wants to publish your story. When it’s published also depends upon when that publisher releases certain titles or genres.
  3. Low royalty rates. Royalty rates for traditional publishing range between seven and 25 percent and can differ per format (e.g., ebook vs. hardback vs. audio.)
  4. Lack of marketing. Hay House Publishing CEO Reid Tracy admits that most publishers leave the marketing in the author’s hands. Marketing takes a lot of work, energy, and money, which is a risk, not many publishers like to take. This is why having a following is so important.
  5. Potentially prohibitive clauses in your contract. The Creative Penn lays out all of the potential prohibitive clauses beautifully in her comparative post on traditional vs. self-publishing.

As scary as all this sounds, there are a lot of things going for traditional publishing.

The Benefits

Most of the benefits of traditional publishing have been around for ages. I find that in many cases that they can even outweigh the bad.

  1. Validation. We all have insecurities about our work, and most writers think traditional publishing is the rubber stamp they need to be a good writer.
  2. Print distribution in stores is easier. I can personally validate this one. While working at Chapters, the local author manager stated on numerous occasions that she liked working with the publishing houses better – they know what is and is not reasonable.
  3. You have a team. You’ve got the cover designers, editors, formatting specialists, and maybe a marketing team to help make your book a success.
  4. There are no upfront costs and/or royalty. If you’re getting charged to publish your book, then you should be careful. Getting a lucrative royalty can be rare nowadays, but you can receive up to US$10,000, but you won’t make any more money until your book makes that much in sales.
  5. The advance is against royalties, which are usually seven to 25 percent of the net book price. If you get an advance of $10,000, you then have to earn more than $10,000 out of your royalty rate in book sales before you get any more money.
  6. Literary prizes and critical acclaim are more likely. While improving, the publishing industry still looks to traditionally published authors for awards and critical acclaim.
  7. Potential to become a brand name author. You’re more likely to become one of “the big guys” when you have a team helping you market your book.

How to Traditionally Publish Your Novel

The first step to publishing your novel is to do some research to see who is publishing in your specific genre. Your research will give you an idea of who publishes what and when.

But how do you find out this information?

You’ve got a few options available to you. For starters, you can go to your local bookstore and browse through the books. The back cover of the title page usually contains the publisher’s information on it.

You can also go online.

But be wary of scams. There are people out there that want to trick you into giving them money. Here’s a list of both publishers and agents that you can use from Jane Friedman:

  • Since the decline of Writer’s Market (see below), this is the best database for identifying publishers. Subscription required.
  • This is the best place to research literary agents; not only do many have member pages here, but you can search the publishing deals database by genre, category, and/or keyword to pinpoint the best agents for your work. Subscription required.
  • About 1,000 agent listings and an excellent community/resource for any writer going through the query process. Free.
  • About 200 publisher listings and 1,000 agent listings. Basic service is free.
  • Thousands of agent and publisher listings were once found here, but the site is currently inactive. You can try the print edition or Jeff Herman’s competing guide.

I also post publishing opportunities on this blog for writers as they come to my attention. And trust me, there are a lot of editors, publishers, and magazines looking for content. You just need to submit your work.

Why Do You Want to Research Publishers?

Well, you want to publish your manuscript, right?

Then don’t waste your time, and the publishers, by sending your horror fiction piece to a press that deals strictly with romance novels. It’ll also save you from getting any unnecessary rejection letters.

What to do After You Find a Publisher

After you pick a publishing house, research them in-depth to see what they publish, when they publish, and if your book will fit into their upcoming line up of releases.

You should also look into their submission guidelines and deadlines. In other words, you should know whether you need to write a query letter or hire a literary agent before you submit your story.

Another thing to keep in mind is how long your manuscript is going to be. Certain publishing houses want works of a specific length. If you’ve got a story that’s too short or too long, then it probably won’t get published.

So keep this chart in mind while you’re editing:

publishing word count guidelines

Be Prepared for Rejection

You need to remember that you’re going to get rejected multiple times. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I know it sucks. It’s happened to me before. It happened to J.K. Rowling and many other big names in the industry.

Please remember there is nothing wrong with you or your work (unless an editor has given you feedback on your story, saying otherwise). So fix those mistakes. Have beta readers look over your work and keep submitting.

And if that still doesn’t work, please know that there are more publishing options out there for you to try.

What Happens After Your Manuscript is Selected

Most aspiring authors are familiar with the submit and query part of the publishing process. However, a lot of us, myself included, are not quite sure what comes next.

So I enlisted the help of Infinity Publishing to help fill in the blanks. Here’s what they had to say about the after you’ve been accepted process:

A traditional book publishing company buys the rights to an author’s manuscript. […] Usually an agent, […] negotiates the deal with the book publisher and in return gets a percentage of any monies earned from the sale of the author’s book. Part of the arrangement includes payment of an advance by the book publisher to the author to secure the book deal. 

In return, the author [will work] with an in-house editor, [and] is expected to finish writing the book in an allotted time – which is often years away.

The book publisher budgets funds to promote and market the book […] depending on [its] marketability […]. The author is often strongly encouraged to hire a book publicist and to work aggressively to promote their book.

The book publisher has the final say on every aspect of the author’s book, from editorial content to cover design to the number of books in the first printing. The book publisher makes the determination, based on declining sales, as to when to allow a book to go out of print […]. 

What About Literary Magazines or Small Publishers?

The process for submitting to a literary magazine or journal is similar to a book publisher. They either accept direct or agented submissions of your work. They will then review your manuscript, and they will let you know if you’re a good fit.

For example, when working for Whetstone, my university’s literary magazine, our editor-in-chief would email each person who submitted to tell them if they were being published or not. After that, our graphic designer would put the story or poem into the magazine. We’d also send the author a copy of the issue after it launched and ask them to read their work at the launch party.

As you might have guessed, things will differ between publishers. For instance, other literary presses will pay you if your submission is accepted. It honestly depends on the publisher.

Whether traditional publishing is for you or not, it is an option available to you. There are numerous benefits to traditional publishing aside from the accolades and validation it gives writers.

Traditional publishing gives us the opportunity to safely test the waters of the book publishing world. We have someone there to guide us through the marketing and book launching part of the business, which many people are overwhelmed or not comfortable with.

If traditional writing doesn’t sit well with you, don’t panic. There are other options out there for you to explore, like self-publishing or hybrid publishing.

Why are you pursuing the traditional publishing route? Let me know in the comments below!

Stay safe, everyone.

Until next time!



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


14 Responses

  1. Thanks very much, this was very informative. I’ve read over and over how long traditional publishing takes, but I seem to conveniently “forget” every time. : ). As they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

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