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The 3 Traditional Publishing Possibilities

Updated: Oct 4, 2020

On Tuesday, we got all depressing and acknowledged the reality that most published authors don’t sell a lot of books.

Today, we’re going to double down on that. Not on being depressed. (Hopefully we’re over that.) But on acknowledging the traditional publishing world reality.

Because the traditional publishing world reality is really quite broad. And, in the end, that fact is actually rather encouraging.

Imagine that you have to take a math test. A math final. A pass-fail final, for that matter, where you’ve got to get a 99.999% or higher.

Because you’re so smart and studious, you studied for this insane pass-fail math final. Oh how much and how hard you studied for it!

You think you do a great job on that test too. You work through the equations, checking and double-checking your answers, certain that you passed…

Only to find out that wasn't the case.

Which means you’re either going to have to take it all over again. Or work at McDonalds for the rest of your life.

Fortunately, traditional publishing isn’t quite that brutal.

See! I told you we weren’t going to get more depressing. Reality doesn’t always have to be “the worst.” And you know what they say about life and lemons!

Eternal optimism aside, that’s actually really great advice to take.

Explore the range of traditional publishing offerings.
When most writers think about being traditionally published, they think about signing a contract with one of the Big 5 publishing houses: Hachette Book Group, or HBG; Harper Collins; Macmillan Publishers; Penguin Random House; and Simon & Schuster.
Those are the publishers with the size and scope to make you a millionaire. Under the right circumstances should you manage to get their attention, that is. Considering the odds of that perfect storm happening, it’s best to at least understand your other publishing possibilities.

There are three different traditional publishing possibilities you could land. They each have their pros and cons – which might make one right for you and another a better option for some other writer out there.

It all depends on what you land and what you want.

Traditional Publishing Possibility #1: Being picked up by a Big 5 publishing house for national or international distribution.

Pros: Even as a first-time author, you’ll probably get a bigger signing bonus and royalties (i.e., percentage of book sales). Plus, you can expect at least a semi-worthwhile editor and publicist to boost your pretty decent potential to be famous!

Cons: Expect to sign your writing life away with that contract. They’re going to put quite a bit of pressure on you to help market your book and, if it’s successful, get started writing on the next big-seller in no-time flat.

Oh yeah, and that editor of yours? You don’t get to tell him no if you disagree on a decision and he puts his foot down. The same goes for your book cover. That’s out of your hands.

Traditional Publishing Possibility #2: Being picked up by a Big 5 publishing house for filler purposes.

Pros: Hey, it’s still a Big 5 publishing house that’s offered you a contract, which means you get bragging rights and a spot in their catalog. Maybe even a spot on Barnes & Noble bookshelves. And you’ll probably get an editor along the way.

Cons: You’re still company owned. And you’re not going to make all that much money.

Traditional Publishing Possibility #3: Being picked up by a small publishing house.

Pros: You still get to say you’re a traditionally published author, but you’ve got a much better chance of being able to negotiate changes to your manuscript and decisions about your cover design.

Cons: The editorial, design and marketing quality – and money – you’ll get are all going to be less polished or attention-grabbing than you might prefer. And, of course, you’re still kinda company owned.

If you think that ownership is worth it anyway, then traditional publishing might truly be right for you. In which case, there’s just one more factor to consider

Editor’s Note: Read the next post on traditional publishing here.

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