Choosing Your Path to Publishing – Traditional Publishing

When it comes to publishing the author must first decide if they will seek a traditional publishing deal or will take the increasingly popular route of self-publishing. It is important to understand the pros and cons of each option. In this post we will explore the advantages and disadvantages of working with a traditional commercial publisher. Next week we’ll do the same for self-publishing.

When working with an established commercial publisher (traditional publishing) there is a basic exchange. The author provides the intellectual property (the manuscript) and in exchange the publisher incurs the cost of producing the book and pays the author a royalty per book sold. There is typically an “advance” paid to the author which is just like an advance on a pay check and will be “earned out” when a volume of books has been sold before any more royalties are paid. The publisher makes their profit on the sale of books to the consumer and is invested in the book being a commercial success.

Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of publishing with an established commercial publisher.


  • Recognized brand name, marketing track record, adds credibility
  • An understanding of the market for books and what it takes to sell books in a particular genre
  • Experts to work with who have helped many authors to create and promote great books
  • Relationship with distributors for retail sales
  • Sales reps to sell your book into bookstores
  • Limited money required by the author up front


  • Must first pass the gatekeepers – you will typically face a lot of rejection before finding a publisher who wants to offer you a book deal
  • Long time frame to market (12-18 months after the book deal)
  • Loss of the rights to some of your intellectual property – you may be limited to how you can use the material in the book in other ways
  • Loss of a significant percentage of sales for the life of the book – royalties paid to authors usually range between 10-15%
  • Locked into a long term contract (author’s life + 70 years) although the publishing situation may change (rights can sometimes revert to the author for a fee after the book is no longer in print)
  • Loss of control over title, cover, pricing

A word of warning

There are many POD publishers (also known as vanity publishers) that actually are a mashup of the disadvantages of both traditional and self-publishing. They will present themselves as publishers but charge the author a fee to publish their book but still only pay the author a small royalty per book. They may say they only accept the best manuscripts and require an application but in truth will publish anyone who is willing to pay them. Their business model makes the author their customer and they are not invested in the book’s success in any way. These companies are almost never a good deal for the author and often border on being predatory. A good rule of thumb to remember is that if a “publisher” is charging you money to publish your book they are not a traditional publisher. There are a few publishing services companies and hybrid publishers that offer viable solutions that are fair to authors but they are in the minority. We’ll explore how to tell the good from the bad in a future blog post.

Check back with us next week when we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing.

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