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Why would authors want a traditional publishing deal nowadays?

There are more and more stories around of mid-list authors jumping ship from their traditional publisher (TP) to self-publish (SP) their books, as well as tales of the rising stars in SP quietly and confidently finding their own audience and creating their own author platform. By the time SPs prove they’ve enough of a readership to warrant a TP contract, they’re usually doing so well that you’d forgive them for wondering what a publisher would bring to the table at that point.

When Hugh Howey, after releasing a number of eBooks and print books as a self-publishing author, saw one of his books, Wool, suddenly take off, he found himself in an enviable position.

He was earning $150,000 per month from his eBooks alone, which enabled him to quit his day job and concentrate wholly on writing.

Unsurprisingly, and also because Hugh was topping best-seller lists, he came under the radar of TPs who wanted a piece of the action. They didn’t just want to produce a Wool paperback or fit into Hugh’s marketing strategy, however – they wanted digital rights and control. As his self-success meant he didn’t need their offers, Hugh walked away.

He wasn’t intending to ‘hold out’ for a better deal necessarily, as he didn’t imagine they’d make special allowances, but his lack of enthusiasm to agree to their terms caused Simon & Schuster to offer him the first ever print-only deal AND six-figure advance.

Hugh’s story is certainly not typical of every SP author, but there are an increasing number who have found going it alone to be a better proposition than the alternative. Final editorial decisions, the book’s aesthetics, the publishing process, elements of the marketing and promotion of their book, reduced royalties….all things a successful self-publisher would have little control over if they went traditional.

On the flipside, however, despite certain SP authors’ successes, a traditional publisher still brings positives. For instance, they have much wider distribution than an individual, more resources, and a larger budget when it comes to promotion. They also offer one thing that seems to forever be covetable by an author of any kind: credibility. That they’ve chosen your book over the millions they’ll have no doubt been sent, and that they like it enough to throw their own time and money at it, is enough of a draw for most authors – to be able to say you’re a 'published author' is something the majority of writers strive for.

Being a successful self-published author doesn’t seem to hold the same clout, even if sales exceed those of authors on the Big 5’s books. It’s as if a multitude of readers aren’t qualified to be judges; the gate-keepers’ opinions seem to be the only ones that matter. Liken it to BGT, or X-Factor: though Cowell’s curt put downs are far less forgiving than those of the other judges, entrants are desperate for his feedback above that from all others. His praise, when received, carries more clout – the perfect analogy for what I’ve described.

Because of this, I doubt we’ll ever see the end of TP houses. It could (and should) be argued that the public are the real gate-keepers, being the ones who decide whether a book is a success regardless of the basis it’s published under – and they’re in prime position to judge, because authors no longer need the TPs to get to them. However, until SP authors receive the same credibility as one from a TP stable, traditional publishing won’t be rocked, threatened or affected by the rise of the self-published author.


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