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Traditional Publishing – For Bragging Rights Alone?

March 21, 2015


Above is an infographic that I came across recently, which was first published on The Write Life some time ago. According to the original author, the intent is largely humorous – it serves to highlight just how tough writing really is, and in that regard it works very well. However, there’s one particular aspect of this picture which I reckon deserves some discussion – one that suggests a mindset that appears far too often within self-publishing circles.


Now, let me just start by saying this: there are indeed many good arguments for self-publishing, particularly in this day and age. Many of these arguments revolve around the control that self-publishing provides: you control the cover, the title, the price, the schedule, and so on. And you keep all the associated rights, not to mention a much larger chunk of the profits. And with the number of freelance editors and artists available, you don’t have to go it alone, and in theory can produce a product just as polished as those form the largest publishing houses.

Plus, you can self-publish things that simply would not get picket up by a traditional outfit; Danielle E Shipley’s Wilderhark Tales novellas, which are simply too short to be published as full books, remain an excellent example.

But with all that said: “Personal growth and the chance the to see my writing in a physical book” is not an argument for self-publishing. That is an argument for writing, period. And as good as being traditionally published would feel, “bragging rights” is hardly an accurate way to put it. There are many reasons to publish traditionally, just as there are to publish by one’s self.

The main point is this: those “bragging rights” come with numerous opportunities and advantages which are simply not available to the average self-publisher. For one thing, you get access to a whole range of professionals (editors, copy-editors, cover artists and so on) without having to fork over money yourself. Plus, it remains much easier to secure early reviews, among many other things, when a book has gone through the gatekeepers – a situation unlikely to change any time soon.

And you don’t just not fork out money yourself. The publisher gives you money right off the bat, in the form of an advance. Granted, this advance is rarely enough to live on even when it’s from a big publisher – but the point is, it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Another point on editors concerns the exact dynamic between author and editor, which varies significantly between the traditional and indie paths. Personally, I reckon this Terrible Minds post puts it best: in independent publishing, an editor is essentially being paid to criticise his employer – a relationship which can easily go very wrong indeed. In traditional publishing, the editor is the boss and such things aren’t an issue; this, come to think of it, is something the infographic gets across very nicely.

But of course, this kind of dynamic can indeed work very well, with this post by Colin Mobey providing one of many examples

A final point worth mentioning, which is also covered in the Terrible Minds article, concerns the role played by traditional publishers in the marketing process. Many indies will argue that you do most of the marketing yourself even if you get a publisher, and that is indeed true…to a point. What a publisher can do here, though, is to offer professional advice: how to present yourself effectively, avenues of marketing you might not have considered, and so on. This is all useful stuff to have, particularly for an author just starting out.

In case you couldn’t tell from the above, I fully intend to pursue the traditional route if/when I consider my novel ready. I’ve discussed this decision previously and so won’t repeat myself here. Instead, then, I’ll say this: there are valid reasons to pursue either path, just as there are advantages and disadvantages to each in turn. To dismiss either out of hand, without first researching their respective merits, would be a tremendous mistake for an writer to make.


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  1. All valid points, TPG. I don’t really have anything to add; and like you, I’m planning to take the traditional route before I think about self-publishing. But… yeah, being traditionally published isn’t about bragging rights. Maybe it is for some writers, but not for all. I want to grow personally as a writer, and I think you can do that no matter which route you take.

    Something that honestly annoys me, though, is how some writers try to convince you one way or the other is better. A couple writers I’ve met on social media have done that to me, and it’s… really irritating. I think it’s better to be supportive of a writer’s decisions about their publishing path – and if said writer wants advice, they’ll ask for it. I know quite a few writers who are self-published or will be self-published soon, and I’m happy for them. I also know a writer who landed an agent and a two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press in the USA, and her 1st novel will be traditionally published in December. And I’m just as happy for her as I am for the others.

    Wow, I wasn’t expecting to go into a rant about this… *steps off her soapbox*

    • I agree completely: the main way to grow as a writer is to – big shock – write and then to keep on writing. Going through the publishing process provides growth as well, of course, but I reckon that’s true no matter which path you take.

      I’ve never come across that, myself – though to be fair, that’s probably because I’ve never started that sort of discussion anywhere besides on WordPress. What happened – you mentioned your publishing and then someone specifically said that you shouldn’t go indie/traditional? Very annoying indeed, on either case.

      And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of soapboxing every now and then ;). Particularly on a subject which needs it.

      • That’s pretty much how the “conversation” started, yes. I had Tweeted about finishing the first draft of TKC and received several responses to it. One of those responses was from a writer who asked how I was planning to publish the book. I was honest and said I wanted to try the traditional route before self-publishing. He then spent a couple Tweets trying to convince me otherwise. :/ And yes, it was very annoying.

  2. Interesting post (as always). I imagine it’s pretty clear where I land, but I totally agree with Sara in that any group of people with similar interests (ie writing and entertaining in this case) should be supportive of each other – doesn’t mean you can’t question, seek to understand and possibly even challange when you see gaps in the arguments – but supportive means accepting that things are difference for different people.

    Personally I’m a control freak, yet the main thing my day job has taught me is that I’m nothing without a team. These two things coexist because the biggest professional lesson I’ve learnt is that the main aspect of control I have is in choosing my team. Being Traditionally Published has always felt as though they would be choosing me. Not my style 😉

    Everyone has their own style though. Be bloody boring world if they didn’t! Fair play to you sir. Again, as always, you need any support just shout.

    • Thanks, Col; glad you approve :). I agree that writers should support each other in their decisions, and I also agree that we should question any apparent gaps in peoples’ arguments. Questioning gaps generates discussion, after all, which is always a good thing in my mind.

      That’s a very good point concerning the choice of one’s “team”. I’ve read/heard horror stories on this kind of thing in traditional publishing before – dodgy contracts, fallouts with editors, bad covers and so on – and while I think it’s rare I still can’t help but wonder if I’ll have to deal with that someday.

      And will do! Thanks very much (once again) for the offer. Once I’m a little further along, I shall indeed reach out to you for opinions…provided that you’re still interested, obviously 🙂

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