The Truth about Traditional Publishing

50. The Truth about Traditional Publishing

Self-publishing or traditional publishing? Which one should you choose for your book?

In this episode, I reveal 5 essential facts about traditional publishing to help you make that decision.

You already know self-publishing is more accessible, especially for new authors.

But is traditional publishing more lucrative? Is it easier? Do publishers market your book for you?

Find out what to expect from traditional publishing and decide if it’s right for you.

Mentioned in This Episode

Short Books: Big Results – The proven step-by-step process to write and publish a world-class book.

Episode 49: The Truth about Self-Publishing

Episode Transcript

Hey there. Welcome to “Nothing but the Words.” I’m your Author Coach Candice L Davis.

Before I dive into this week’s episode, I want to acknowledge and celebrate my 50th episode.

When I started this podcast, my goal was to give every listener all the information and encouragement you need to write a phenomenal book.

I want this podcast to be a resource for authors who I may never work meet or work with but who can still go on and produce great books.

Hopefully, I’m accomplishing that goal.

And that’s still my goal, in 2021, and this year, I’ll be expanding to interview more of my clients, so they can share the reality of what it took to write and publish their books, and I’ll be covering more on marketing your book.

Last week, I shared some of the truths about self-publishing. If you missed it, you can find it at

In this episode, we’re tackling the reality of traditional publishing.

The process of looking for a traditional publishing deal will be different based on the kind of book you want to publish.

You’ll either need to write your complete book to submit to agents and publishers or a book proposal.

If you’re writing a novel or memoir, agents and publishers generally want to see a complete manuscript, beginning to end.

If you’re writing narrative nonfiction, a personal or professional development book, or a subject-matter expert book, you’ll typically need to write a book proposal, including one or two sample chapters of your book.

A book proposal is a big topic, and we’ll cover it on another episode, but just know that the paths are different.

With that in mind, lets dive into 5 Truths about Traditional Publishing.

Truth #1: Traditional publishing isn’t always more lucrative than self-publishing.

There are so many factors that go into the financial success of your book.

Is the content engaging and well-written?

Does it have cover appeal?

Is it being sold in the right places?

How big and how effective is the author’s platform?

And how much time, effort, and money is going into marketing the book?

Most of my clients self-publish, but many go the traditional route, and some have done both.

The fact is that some of my clients have made much more money self-publishing than they did or would have with traditional publishing.

The opposite is also true.

Don’t assume that traditional publishing will pay you more than you can make as a self-published author.

Some authors get advances as low as $5000 from traditional publishers.

And most authors never earn any royalties above and beyond that advance.

If you don’t think you can sell more than $5000 worth of books as a self-published author, figure out why and what you can do about it.

Truth #2: Traditional publishers don’t do all your marketing for you.

I’ve heard a lot of new authors say they want a traditional book deal so they don’t have to worry about marketing.

That kind of thinking is way off base.

In reality, most traditional publishers won’t invest a lot in marketing most of the books they publish.

If they gave you a huge advance, then yes, a traditional publisher is likely to invest in marketing your book.

The publisher wants to earn that money back and then some in book sales, so it’s in their best interest to help you sell more books.

But I’ve worked with authors who received 6-figure advances and didn’t get much from their publisher in the way of marketing assistance.

No matter which path to publishing you take, you need to be prepared to market your book.

Truth #3: Traditional publishers aren’t nearly diverse enough.

Some traditional publishers are making an effort to diversify their catalogs.

But the reality is they still don’t publish a representative number of books by those of us who find ourselves grouped under the BIPOC or LGBTQ+ labels.

For decades, it was hard for women of any race, including white women, to get published.

Even now, women are underrepresented in certain genres, especially when you look at the bestseller lists.

We could spend hours talking about how Asian, Latino-American, and Black people have to fight for their place in traditional publishing.

Progress is slow in publishing just like it is everywhere else.

That doesn’t mean you can’t publish traditionally unless you’re a white man.

Of course not.

I have clients who are white women and black and Latina women who have gotten traditional book deals.

It just means you need to understand the game you’re playing and how the odds are stacked if you’re going after a traditional book deal.

Truth #4: The Big 5 Publishing houses are not the only solid, reputable publishing companies.

Most of us have heard of Penguin Books and Random House, which are now one company.

You’ve probably heard of Harper Collins and Simon and Schuster and Macmillan.

But there are also lots of small reputable publishing companies that publish high-quality books.

Several of my clients and even my mentors have successfully published their books with small presses.

There are pros and cons to those deals. For example, a small press may offer a smaller advance but more help with marketing.

Depending on the book you’re publishing, your platform, and your genre, you might be better off with a small press.

Keep in mind, however, that a lot of new companies call themselves publishers and position themselves as small presses, but they’re actually publishing services.

Which brings us to the last truth about traditional publishing

Truth #5: Traditional publishers never charge the author. They pay the author.

If a so-called publisher is asking you to pay a fee for anything, that’s not a traditional publisher. That’s a publishing-services company or a vanity press.

Traditional publishers pay authors advances on their work.

An advance is money an author is given before their book is published, and for nonfiction, often before the book is written.

Publishers pay that advance based on the assumption or hope that the author will sell enough books to cover the advance and still make the publisher a profit.

Some studies have found that less than 30% of authors actually earn out their advance.

But the point is that any company that is asking you to pay them isn’t a traditional publisher.

I hope that clears up some of the mysterious world of traditional publishing.

It can absolutely be the best options for some authors, but you need to go in with your eyes open.

Thanks for listening to “Nothing but the Words.” I’m your Author Coach Candice L Davis, and I’ll see you next time.

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