I’ve decided to pursue trade (traditional) publication. Here I try to explain the madness that led to this decision.
If you know me, you’ll know you I’m a firm supporter of all writers, whether they write for themselves or an audience, whether they’re self-published or big five-published (except for total jerks–I’m slightly less supportive of them).
I started researching how to publish in 2006 when self-publishing was still very much fringe. (Not by coincidence, this was the year I first completed a first draft. It was 200k words long.)
At the time I was a long way from being ready to publish and I knew it, but I always intended to pursue trade publication.
When I came back to writing seriously a few years ago, the publishing landscape was unrecognisable. I redid my research, and concluded that self-publishing was now a real option, but I still wasn’t sure if it was the right option for me.
I wobbled along the top of the fence for some time, but now I’ve jumped down onto the lawn.
This post is my public declaration that I plan to pursue trade publication. (Though I reserve the right to change my mind at any point for any reason, including His Royal Fluffiness’ say-so.)
If this is a decision you have to make, I strongly suggest you do your own research, but, in case it’s helpful, I’m going to explain my reasons for my decision.
Why I’ve decided to attempt to trade publish
I’m not entrepreneurial and I’m terrible at project management
If you self publish everything is on you.
It’s not that you have to do everything yourself if you self publish–you can and probably should pay specialists to do some things–more that you’re responsible for making sure everything gets done well and at the right time.
Did I mention I have nightmares about packing?
I would rather clean drains with my tongue for a living than be a project manager, even for my own book.
My artistic skills are… limited
You saw my dragons.
Not only am I limited in my ability to create art, I’m also limited in my ability to evaluate it, and that includes book covers.
My understanding of a good cover goes something like this:
Dragon? Check. Castle? Check. Sparkly magic? Check. It’s a winner!
Some people have put years of work and considerable artistic talent and business research into the question of what makes a good cover.
I’m not one of them.
Sure, there’s a chance I might end up hating what I get, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Especially because I won’t have to pay for it.
I’m not a control freak
Sorry, I can’t say that without laughing.
I’m totally a control freak, but it mostly only bites in relation to things I know I could do better than the people I’ve handed the job to.
This describes no aspect of the publishing process.
The money isn’t important
I know trade published authors tend to get less per copy sold that self-published authors (depending on their pricing decisions, obviously).
Though they also sell more copies on average.
Either way, I already have a job that pays the bills, and I don’t expect to make enough from writing to affect my need for that. (Obviously I’d be thrilled if I did earn dump-trucks full of money. Who wouldn’t?)
If I earn money from writing, excellent. If I don’t, I’ll keep doing it anyway. A bit more money or a bit less is not worth the horror of having to deal with my own formatting.
I’d like the validation
Many self-published books are wonderful, but many are drek because anyone can self-publish.
The proof of a good self-published book comes from the readers.
However, there’s still something in having an industry professional read your book and say, “yes, I love this and I think other people will too.”
Maybe the book stills sell abysmally, but someone whose job it is to know saw something worthwhile in it.
Please excuse my vanity, but I want this.
I want to learn from others my first time through
I will do my own research on publishing to the best of my ability, but research can take you only so far.
The first time I’m published, I want to be led by the hand by an experienced guide.
I’m not a fast writer
Some writers choose to self-publish because trade publishing can’t keep up with the speed of their output.
Thankfully this is not a problem for me.
Why do I think I’ll succeed at trade publishing?
I know the odds are against me, but I’m quietly confident that I have a better shot at this than the average aspirant. Here’s why.
I’m willing to wait
I know this isn’t going to be easy, but I’m in no rush. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’m impatiently patient. Or patiently impatient.
That is, I’m willing to wait, though I’d prefer not to.
My current WIP isn’t the first novel I’ve completed, but it’s the first I’ve believed has a chance at becoming publication-worthy.
Maybe it won’t be good enough.
That’s okay. Maybe the next one will be, or the one after that. And did I mention how much I enjoy editing? (Feel free to hate me now.)
I’d rather take my time and not publish something that will later be an embarrassment.
I don’t know anything
I don’t know everything about writing yet. It’s possible I don’t know anything.
But I’m continually reading about writing, studying how other authors achieve effects, and working on my technique.
I’m happy to admit I’m wrong about things and learn better ways of doing them.
My psychic tells me this means my writing is going to keep improving. I pay her enough that she has to be right.
I’m good at using feedback and criticism
At least, I think I am.
When I hear the things someone thinks are wrong with my manuscript I get excited over how I can use the information to improve it. Then I make the improvements.
(That’s the appropriate response, right?)
I’m good at setting my sights on something and working until I achieve it
Yep, pure stubornness. More valuable than chocolate wrapped in gold-coloured foil.
Of course, getting trade published is only the beginning. The first book is only the first book, and there’s a lifetime of writing and new challenges that come afterwards.
Bring them on.
Have you chosen or will you choose to trade publish or to self-publish? Why? If you’ve done it already, are you happy with your decision?
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41 thoughts on “Why I’ve decided to pursue trade publication”
In general I’m still on the fence about self- vs. trade-publishing. I’ve had all the same revelations you’ve just described here about going traditional, which is why I plan on publishing traditionally for at least my first book. However, I’m all for going hybrid. Have you thought about that?
I’m entirely open to some combination of trade and self-publishing, but I think getting at least one book trade published first is the right call for me.
Good luck to you, Alecia. I went that route and wasn’t happy, but I learned a lot, which made a shift to self-publishing much easier. There are downsides to both, but no reason not to pursue your dreams. And one good thing about either choice is you can always change your mind. Go for it. 🙂
Thank you! I have heard a lot of stories about people who trade published and weren’t happy, but a lot of people self-publish and aren’t happy too. And, as you say, I can always change my mind later.
Add to your reasons you’re likely to succeed: You already have an awesome platform! That will go a long way with potential agents and editors.
Also, you’re just plain awesome! Good luck! 🤞
That’s so kind of you to say, Gregory, though I expect agents aren’t going to be too thrilled with the current size of my mailing list. But there’s plenty of time. 🙂
I’m going to try for traditional publishing too, which if funny because when I first researched it myself, I was set on self-publishing! I could write a whole blog on my reasoning too. You covered several points in this one 😉
If you do write it I’d love to read it!
I’m still researching and trying to figure out what I want to do.
I agree with a lot of your reasons, except the control freak part. I can be one of those, especially about something like a book where I’ve put so much into it.
Thank you! I’m glad you liked it.
I know what you mean – it’s hard to put your baby in someone else’s hands. 🙂
I’m self-published. I have no experience with traditional publishers, but based on the research I did prior to publishing, I decided being independent was more my thing. I like having full control over my own books and their publishing schedule. So far I’m really happy with the decision, but I haven’t ruled out other options. Being a hybrid might work for me, too.
Good luck with traditional publishing Alecia, I hope you land yourself a sweet deal! 🙂
You seem to handle the whole “managing everything” thing way better than I would. I’m glad you’re happy with your choice (and that I didn’t have to wait all the time it would have taken your books to be traditionally published for me to read them). 🙂
I actually think you would manage the “managing everything” thing better than me. 😉 You seem to be a natural talent at platform building, blogging and social media, and I’ve been trying to learn from you ever since we met. I’m sure the rest of the self-publishing tasks would be a breeze for you. But I understand why you’d rather go for trade publishing, you listed good reasons up there. 🙂
Haha, but you haven’t seen me trying to self-publish a book, whereas you’ve actually done it. Twice.
Thank you, though I’m not convinced there’s anything natural talent-related in it. I just like to read about how to do things, and then throw out all the bits that don’t sit well with me. 🙂
I wasn’t going to comment. Then I typed out a comment, but deleted it. Now I’m giving it another go. I think it’s awesome that you know your path and why you’re choosing it. No matter which way you go, I think the world will be that much better once your stories are a part of it. 🙂
I didn’t mean to make this a big existential challenge. 😉 Thanks for commenting. Part of my reason for writing this post was to lay out my reasons for my choice and see if they made as much sense in writing as they did in my head. I’m glad you think they do. (And thank you so much.)
Wishing you all the luck in the world. 😀 … and if you do get as far as a contract, please, please, please, go over it with a fine-tooth comb, or pay someone (a literary contract lawyer or someone who has a great deal of knowledge on the subject) to do it, because no matter how nice and supportive your editor/s may be, or how many times you hear the words ‘it’s just a formality’, if it’s in the contract, it’s legal.
Thank you! And yes, I absolutely will get professional help with any contract.
You pretty much nailed it on the head for my money. I will probably only go the self-publishing route once I’ve thoroughly expended my option for traditional publishing. I hate querying agents, though. One of the worst parts of the whole process I expect
I love the idea of querying agents. So many chances and you only have to win once! It’s way better than the lottery. Plus, you can actually do things that improve your chances. (But yea, it’s probably frustrating as hell. 😉 )
I have heard that larger publishers are sort of sink or swim, so I would suggest a smaller publishing house for the hand-holding. This is advice is I heard from someone who has published several manuscripts traditionally. Not to mention that you don’t have to invest the money in editing and cover art. I look forward to hearing how more about the publishing experience as you progress.
That’s a fair point, though I’ve also heard the larger publishers can do some things for you that small publishers can’t. There are so many things to think about – I’m going to need to do a lot more research when it comes to submission.
Thanks! I’m sure I’ll post about my progress from time to time.
“I’m not entrepreneurial and I’m terrible at project management.” That’s the one that really worries me about self-publishing – I honestly don’t know if I’m organised enough for it. I haven’t ruled out self-publishing altogether, but I do find the idea pretty intimidating. However, I may be re-thinking after I’ve tried my hand at querying…!
I strongly object to the idea that your dragon drawings aren’t marvellous.
That’s a fair point. All dragon drawings are marvelous.
This is entirely correct.
Th great thing about querying is that you get lots of goes at it. Send out five, tweak, and repeat. There are lots of agents.
Absolutely. The querying’s fine. It’s the rejections that will be less fun… 😉
It’s wonderful that you are daring, willing to take this step. I really hope you succeed. It would be an encouragement for many others.
Regarding your reasoning…..
I share your view on project management 👅!
With self publishing, you all got to do it yourself🤔
Artistic skills, yours are way better than mine. Love your dragons (perhaps too cute?) I’ve only a vague idea how my cover should look like. Else 💸💸💸.
How can a control freak give it all out of hands? At writers-Meetups I heard horrible stories how scripts were altered and re-sold, without the authors knowledge ( let alone, approval) You got to be a very tough negotiator, and as author, you’re in the weak position.
I share your view on money, (same position) I dont want it, don’t need it. Or truthfully, I’m not allowed to ask for it (part of the deal with Blairpartnership LTD) So, as a consequence, I’ll have to bear all costs (editing, graphics, etc)
Publishing houses select their artists, you will have no saying in it.
You wrote, you’re willing to wait. Wait for what? Waiting on slush-piles?
As you mentioned that you are good at incorporating feedback in your MS, I presume you’ve plenty of constructive readers? So far, I’ve seen many cheerleaders, mindless trolls, and paid semi-auto-reviewers. Sure they to need to make a living, but some have rates that only a publishing house can afford🤔
Hoping you can pull it off, really!
Thanks so much for the good wishes.
Supposing I did self-publish, I would absolutely pay for a professional cover designer, but I’d still worry that I’d chosen the wrong designer, told them the wrong things about what I was after, or requested terrible tweaks.
I too have heard horror stories about “agents” and “publishers” (and I use quote marks because these people do things no reputable agent or publisher would do). Whenever you send something into the world you risk being taken advantage of, but I think the best protection is to do a lot of research in advance. It doesn’t eliminate the risk, but it makes it much less likely you will fall prey to bad or outright criminal practice.
I plan to approach agents rather than publishers, on the advice that a good agent knows which parts of a publishing contract are negotiable and which are not, and can open publishing doors that I can’t open for myself. I realise I’m unlikely to get an especially favourable deal the first time and I’m okay with that.
On waiting, yes, I can wait in the slush pile. I can wait while on submission, I can wait while I write a better book, and another. Though I’d absolutely rather not. 😉
You mention your deal with Blairpartnership LTD. I’m very curious what kind of deal this is and how it works, if you’re willing to share. But no worries if you can’t or don’t want to.
Good luck 🙂
I worked at Penguin books for a couple of weeks work experience a few months ago, (and wrote about it on my blog as part of #AuthorToolboxBlogHop)
I learned a lot about submissions, marketing and traditional publishing in general.
If you go for one of the big 5, make sure you get an agent first. Most of them don’t accept submissions from independent authors. Agents usually help negotiate contracts too (which according to the editors I spoke to can be pages and pages long!)
That must have been a very educational experience. Would you mind giving me the link to your post? I’d love to read it.
I definitely plan to get an agent.
You’re welcome, and of course:
All 4 posts are listed under that link, although the recent one on meta-data is probably more helpful for self-publishing 🙂
It was really fun, and definitely an eye opener!
Fascinating posts. Thanks so much for sharing!
You’re welcome, I had a lot of fun with them 🙂
Right there with you, and it’s almost scary how you articulated the reasons that have been swirling around in my head for the past year. I’ve looked long and hard at self-publishing and I am 100% sure that I don’t have the single-minded organizational ferocity it takes. I’m attracted to the idea of a well-regarded hybrid publisher, but my research there tells me I don’t have the budget to give it a credible shot. And like you, I want to test my work by seeing if it will be validated by industry professionals.
Also, my first career was in show biz, so I’m a card-carrying masochist. An occasional reward surfacing from an ocean of rejection feels normal to me.
Your dragons look much better than my dragons.
See! I said I was scary. 😉
I think dealing with rejection is a vital skill in all this, and I get it a lot in my professional life so it doesn’t bother me. Sounds like you’re likely to be a good fit for trade pub too. How far off submission are you?
I don’t think the dragon comparison is fair because you’ve seen mine but I haven’t seen yours. You have to show me your dragons. 🙂
I’m on the trade-publishing path, myself. The reason you didn’t hit already is actually side-incomes: it’s easier to get speaking or teaching gigs with a traditionally published book than with a self-published one. And while that isn’t technically quitting your day job to write full time, it’s definitely a step in the quitting your day job direction. I’m not sure whether that’s equally big an element in towns where people have loads of authors to choose from.
That’s a very good point that I hadn’t really thought about. I would have thought it would be a bigger deal for non-fiction writers, but I could be mistaken.
Excellent reasons. No one can tell you what’s right, and only you can decide which path to follow, the beauty is like you say, we can change our minds. It sounds like all the reasons you’ve listed are absolutely synonymous with Trad publishing, wishing you all the best on your journey we will all be here waving pom poms 😀 *or I will anyway* :p
Thank you! I hope your pom poms have sparkly bits in them. 🙂
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